Saturday, July 18, 2009

RIP Gordon Waller (1945-2009)

He was my best friend at school almost half a century ago. He was not only my musical partner but played a key role in my conversion from only a snooty jazz fan to a true rock and roll believer as well. Without Gordon I would never have begun my career in the music business in the first place. ... The idea that I shall never get to sing those songs with him again ... is an unthinkable change in my life with which I have not even begun to come to terms. - excerpt from statement of Peter Asher, on the death of Gordon Waller

This is so peculiar and eerily prescient - only last week I was thinking about all the noteworthy Peter and Gordon songs that I might write about and had been listening to various of their many Top 40 songs from the mid-60s.

The duo with the mellifluous harmonies were the British equivalent of the Everly Brothers, some felt, and certainly both credited Don and Phil Everly with being direct influences on their style.

Oddly, Peter and Gordon were the first British Invasion musicians after the Beatles to have a #1 hit in the U.S. - something I neither remembered nor would have guessed to be true. (I'd have said maybe the Animals, with House of the Rising Sun, but actually it took another 3 months for them to be the third group of British artists to top the charts). How would their story have been different if Peter Asher's sister Jane hadn't been Paul McCartney's girlfriend in those early Beatlemaniacal days? Fortunately, they didn't have to find out, and shared their talents with the whole world.

Mates from boarding school, Peter and Gordon discovered each other's musical bents and began performing together early. At first, they had to scale the wall on school grounds to work their late-hours coffeehouse and pub dates. Later, they were noticed in a ritzy supper club by a man who repped for EMI, one of the UK's three major labels at the time. Still teenagers, they were signed and suddenly in need of songs to take to their first session. McCartney had previously played a version of World Without Love for them, they liked it (Paul and John, not so much, apparently) and he offered it up to them for their maiden voyage in the studio.

Although A World Without Love became the breakout #1 hit, I always thought the less Beatle-esque songs like I Go To Pieces (by Del Shannon) and To Know You Is To Love You (by Phil Spector) showcased their vocal talents most effectively. The latter is a good vehicle from which to appreciate Waller's booming baritone. Both are beautifully rendered.

Connected as they were to the Beatles, they toured the world with the Fab Four as well as other acts, and became internationally recognizable.

Waller pursued a solo career after the duo split but he never found the kind of success he had known with Peter and Gordon. In addition to writing and performing his own music, he became involved in musical theatre. Asher headed up A&R for Apple Records and for decades has been a fixture in the music industry, producing California acts such as Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. Friends forever, in 2005 Peter and Gordon reunited for a performance to benefit the Dave Clark Five's Mike Smith, who had been seriously injured in a fall, and continued to perform intermittently as a duo for special occasions.


H. Harvey said...

My first live show was a Dick Clark Caravan (Cavalacade?) of Stars at what is currently known as the Akron Civic Theater. The headliners were supposed to be Them, which meant nothing to any of us, as "Gloria" was a regional hit performed by The Shadows of Knight.Van Morrison, the legend , was still 'cooking,' ultimately meaning nothing to the Beatlepop gang anyway.

The big news was that a) Them had to cancel and was replaced by the far more appreciated Turtles, and
b) Peter and Gordon did two songs.
They were the closest thing I saw live to the Beatles, so it was a heady experience for tender little me.

Thanks for the nice note.

KarmaSartre said...

Wendy, I had no idea about his deep voice, thanks for the "To Know You..." link. Underrated. Thanks.

wendy said...

Harv - thanks for the Civic history. Since I didn't grow up here I'm always fascinated by the goings-on downtown during those days. Funny note about Them. They're on my list (probably Here Comes the Night). I also didn't fully appreciate until today how much P&G were associated (musically) with the Beatles. Or let's say it was a vague association at best, beyond the obvious connection of Peter-Jane-Paul.

Barry - you're more than welcome! I've been listening to that incessantly today. Just get the chills whenever I listen to it.

Anonymous said...

I love the guest posts! I of course love your writing -- but it's fun to read what others have to say. Love the Beatles and love covers - will have to check out the CD.