Striking a chord for a friend in need

After British rock duo Peter & Gordon reunited during a benefit for a paralyzed friend, they decided to extend the tour.

By Bill McFarland

Northeast Times Staff Writer

Beginning with the Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971, rock musicians have always demonstrated a willingness to band together for a common cause. It was during one such benefit that one of the top pop duos in the 1960s finally agreed to reunite after nearly 40 years.

The date was Aug. 2, 2005, and the event was the Mike Smith Benefit Concert at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grille in midtown Manhattan. Smith formerly was the lead singer and keyboardist for the Dave Clark Five, one of the many English bands that were part of the pop music phenomenon known as the British Invasion in the mid-1960s.

After the success of the Beatles in 1964, many British bands also had hits in the United States over the next few years, including the Dave Clark Five with Top 10 hits like Glad All Over, Because, Catch Us If You Can and Over and Over. Smith broke his neck in a fall at his home in 2003 and is confined to a wheelchair.

Some of his contemporaries from the '60s music scene banded together for the benefit at B.B. King's, including Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, formerly of the Zombies (She's Not There, Time of the Season), Billy J. Kramer (Bad To Me, Little Children) and Denny Laine, the first lead singer of the Moody Blues (Go Now!) and later a longtime member of Paul McCartney's Wings.

Headlining the benefit show was the reunion of Peter & Gordon, who compiled an impressive string of worldwide hits during the British Invasion era but then headed separate ways in 1968. And it was friendships, in both cases, that finally brought the two together after so many years.

"Mike (Smith) is actually a personal friend of mine," said Gordon Waller, who will again perform with Peter Asher at the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans on Saturday, April 1, at the Crowne Plaza Meadowlands Hotel in Secaucus, N.J.

"I knew him from the music business in the 1960s when he was with the Dave Clark Five because we had done some television shows together," Waller continued. "We also knew Mike D'Abo, who used to sing lead for Manfred Mann (Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Mighty Quinn). In the 1970s, when the fire had pretty much gone out (in our recording careers), the three of us used to hang out together."

"It was more from my friendship with Paul Shaffer," Asher said of his involvement in the Mike Smith Benefit Concert.

Shaffer, the bandleader and musical director of The Late Show with David Letterman, organized, co-produced and hosted the show.

"It was Paul who called me and asked me to do it," continued Asher. "When Paul told me what had happened to Mike, I couldn't turn him away."

Peter & Gordon met at the Westminster School for Boys in London in the early 1960s. After playing small clubs and coffeehouses, the duo attracted the attention of EMI producers Norman Newell and John Burgess, who signed them to a recording contract.

Their first hit, the John Lennon-Paul McCartney composition A World Without Love, was given to them by McCartney, who at the time was dating Peter's sister, actress Jane Asher.

After a string of hits over the next few years, including I Go To Pieces, True Love Ways and Lady Godiva, the duo split up, reportedly because Peter had tired of the road and because the two were unhappy with their financial arrangements.

"We weren't having much fun, and tours were getting kind of boring," recalled Asher. "I was surprised to find out that we weren't making any money, but nobody was in those days."

Many recording artists in the 1960s were victims of unfair contracts that sometimes shifted the publishing rights, and consequently the bulk of the income from the music, to others besides the performers.

After the breakup, Waller continued to record as a solo artist for a time and eventually went into acting, most notably portraying the Pharaoh in Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat all over the world. He currently heads his own company, Steel Wallet International Ltd., with his second wife, Georgianna Steele-Waller.

Asher went into production and management in 1968 and has enjoyed enormous success over several decades. He has worked with such artists as James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Elvis Costello, the Dixie Chicks and 10,000 Maniacs.

Asher has produced 37 gold and 22 platinum albums and has accumulated a number of Grammy awards, including producer of the year in 1977 and 1989. He is the president of Sanctuary Artist Management in Los Angeles.

The Mike Smith Benefit Concert, however, opened up a can of worms for the duo because it was so successful.

"A lot of the magic is still there," said Waller. "It was a big thrill doing B.B. King's in New York. I was happy, and Peter was happy, and the audience was just thrilled. You'll see it on DVD someday. It just hasn't been released yet."

"It was a pleasant surprise to see so many people turn up who were interested in seeing us again after all these years," said Asher.

But there was some serious work involved before the engagement.

"Peter had to learn the songs again because he hadn't done them in thirty years, and I had to learn to sing them properly, so it was a lot of work," said Waller.

"Gordon was singing them differently as a solo performer, and I hadn't done them at all, so I saw a voice coach to work on the high notes and to make sure that my voice was back in shape and could hold up for a whole show," said Asher.

The appearance also generated additional offers for the duo.

"As a result of that show," Waller said, "there were loads of offers to perform together.

"I had gone to the Philippines, and the guy who had set me up (for those engagements) asked if there was any chance that Peter would be interested in joining me," Waller explained. "He came up with some good money, and we ended up doing two shows over there. And then Mark Lapidos approached us about performing at the Beatles show in New York."

Since Asher is busy with his management company, the duo will perform together infrequently.

For Philadelphia-area fans, this is probably the first opportunity to see Peter & Gordon since a 1965 appearance at Atlantic City's famed Steel Pier, which had presented popular music artists since the 1930s and even had a television show, Summertime on the Pier hosted by Ed Hurst, which used to broadcast live every Saturday afternoon during the 1960s.

"We didn't do the television show," said Asher. "We did a regular gig with Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, if you can remember them."

That band had several hits, including Woolly Bully and Lil' Red Riding Hood.

"And Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, who had a song called The Ballad of the Green Berets, was also on the bill," Asher continued. "We played poker with (Sadler), which was about the only common ground that we had with him.

"And Gordon had an affair with the girl who rode the diving horse," Asher happily noted, referring to Steel Pier's big attraction during its heyday — a lovely lady aboard a horse that leaped from a high platform and splashed into a swimming pool.

"That's my recollection (of Steel Pier), anyway," said Asher. "I thought it was quite cool."

This story was published on April 5, 2006, in the Northeast Times in Philadelphia, which owns the copyright. It may not be reproduced anywhere else without permission.


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