Finding Ken Ascher
Updated: Mar 20, 2022
I answered my phone Saturday night, not knowing who it was, and it wasn’t about an automobile warranty.
It was Ken Ascher. You might not know the name, but he’s a legend as a session musician and composer. Thanks to thousands of hours of reading album liner notes and musician biographies, I've known of him for decades.
I knew him as the keyboardist/arranger/conductor for John Lennon and James Taylor albums. I could have called it a life after that.
It was a blip on Ken Ascher’s screen.
He’s best known as the composer, with Paul Williams, of Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie. He wrote songs for the Streisand version of A Star is Born, did arrangements for the Meat Loaf album, Bat Out of Hell, and played on everyone’s album in the 70s, and after.
I reached out to him about his collaboration with Williams on “You and Me Against the World” by Helen Reddy. Last year, I wrote a story about it for my book, Unruly Mix. It tells of my mixed emotions about the song and how it affected me growing up.
Before publishing, I reached out to Paul and Ken - not knowing either one - for their approval. I didn’t need their okay, but I wanted it. I eventually got through to Paul, and he read it and gave me the thumbs up. That was all I needed.
I knew Ken plays with The Birdland Big Band in New York and that I’d catch up with him one day. That happened this past December. Susie and I went to New York, saw the Birdland show, and approached him afterward. He couldn’t have been nicer, although we were both rushed out of the room for the next show and audience. I got his contact info, and we were out of there.
Fast forward to last Saturday. I recently sent the book to him at Birdland, which I should have done a long time ago. He got it and called me a week later.
I had to make an effort to relax when I picked up the phone. “Hi Bob. Ken Ascher here. Sorry we couldn’t talk long but thanks for stopping by to say hello.”
At Birdland, it was crowded, and everyone was wearing a mask. Not the ideal situation for talking.
What a nice guy, and he took the time to ask about me and where I was. He not only read the “You and Me Against the World” story but my whole book. I was impressed with that. He’s an avid reader, so he’s in his comfort zone and paid me some nice compliments.
This is before I had the chance to say much of anything. I’ve listened to some of the songs he’s written and played on thousands of times. I always recognized the name, Kenny Ascher, on the albums, and knew if he was on it, it must be expensive.
We talked for more than an hour and I mostly listened. Why interrupt the guy who did arrangements for John Lennon?
For years I thought he was the brother of Peter Asher, of Peter & Gordon fame, producer for James Taylor, and brother of Jane Asher, who dated Paul McCartney. I always figured what a talented and connected family. Of course, the surnames are spelled differently but, you know, text on album covers is small.
I can and will continue but I must save it for next week or I’ll make an unreadably long blog post.