Laurence Juber is a world-renowned guitar virtuoso, recording artist, composer and arranger. Coinciding with the impending release of the artist's first memoir, the photographically-enhanced Guitar With Wings, he agreed to an exclusive interview exploring his halcyon days as the lead guitarist in Paul McCartney's Wings. Co-author Marshall Terrill joins the thrilling ride, too.
The two-time Grammy winner has had a parallel and distinguished career as a studio musician, being featured on hundreds of recordings and soundtracks. His solo playing fuses folk, jazz, blues, pop and classical styles, creating a multi-faceted performance that belies the use of only one instrument.
Inspired by the wave of Beatlemania that swept the UK in 1963, Juber developed a passion for the guitar and the ambition to make playing it his career.
Becoming one of London’s top studio guitarists, his playing was featured on the soundtrack of The Spy Who Loved Me, as well as recordings by The Alan Parsons Project, Cerrone, Sarah Brightman, Rosemary Clooney, Charles Aznavour, Lucio Battiste and Colin Blunstone, among many others.
In 1978, Juber was plucked from the studio world by Paul McCartney who asked him to play lead guitar in what was to become the final incarnation of Paul’s post-Beatles group Wings. Laurence recorded and toured with the band for three years, during which time they won a Grammy and scored numerous chart hits.
When Wings folded in 1981, the guitarist relocated to the USA and settled in Los Angeles to raise a family. Since then, he has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand studio players being heard on soundtracks to such movies as Dirty Dancing, Good Will Hunting and Pocahontas.
Juber has gained worldwide recognition as a virtuoso concert performer, recording artist and composer. He has released over 20 albums, including LJ Plays The Beatles, which was voted one of Acoustic Guitar magazine's all-time Top Ten.
He is currently recording Fingerboard Road, the follow-up to 2013’s critically acclaimed Under an Indigo Sky. In the studio, he most recently contributed to composer Christopher Young's score for the Chinese mega-hit movie The Monkey King and George Lopez’s new FX-TV comedy show Saint George.
Juber just finished a tour of shows in Germany and the Czech Republic. This spring he will tour the US showcasing his evergreen talent and debut some tunes from the upcoming record.
The spring tour will take the artist to a variety of venues throughout the country starting on March 29 at Denver’s Swallow Hill. In April, he will swing to the coast of California, then work his way through the Midwest, culminating at New York’s The Met, with a special presentation of “The Evolution of the Acoustic Guitar” sponsored by C.F. Martin Guitar Co. Memorial Day weekend will find him as headliner at the Beatle celebration ‘Abbey Road On The River’ in Louisville KY, alongside Ambrosia, John Sebastian and The Beach Boys. Visit his official website for a complete list of concerts.
In case you're still sitting on the fence concerning whether or not to attend, Juber granted a far-reaching interview in 2012 pleading his case in admirable fashion. Entitled "Have Guitar, Will Travel: A Long and Winding Road...," the self-sufficient artist remembers the thrill of performing Leiber and Stoller's "Charlie Brown" in front of an audience at age six, why his goal was always to master the guitar instead of singing, what to expect at his one-man show, the perfect day, and why he took the leap and became a bona fide citizen of the USA.
The acoustic finger-style maestro will also promote Guitar With Wings, a photographic journey which includes hundreds of unpublished photos and memorabilia from his years as lead guitarist for the third most popular artist of the 1970s. Both authors candidly shed more light on the 250-page career retrospective coffee-table book in a fresh dialogue that begins now.
The Laurence Juber Interview
Will there be a way for fans to purchase an autographed edition from your website?
Absolutely; while the book doesn't arrive until May, I've already been taking pre-orders from my Guitar With Wings website. The special edition of 1,000 copies is signed and numbered with a slip case and a bonus CD containing my debut solo release, Standard Time.
It came about when Paul asked me to record various tunes out of his music publishing catalogue – MPL Communications – in the summer of 1979. “Maisie," recorded a tad earlier in July 1978 during the Back to the Egg sessions, was my songwriting contribution to Standard Time. It was really my first finger-style guitar piece. It was recorded with Paul, Denny Laine [he’s playing harmonica], and drummer Steve Holley, so it’s essentially a Wings song.
What was the genesis of Guitar With Wings?
Marshall Terrill convinced me to do it. It took over a year to complete, and it was quite a challenge to scan and organize the photos as well as to write a narrative to provide the context.
Denny Laine wrote the foreword. Can you recall a particular moment that led to you being friends?
In September 1978, I was playing lead guitar in the house band on David Essex's television show in London. Denny was a guest, and we did "Go Now" together [Author's Note: Laine was the lead singer of the Moody Blues in 1964 when they struck paydirt with the haunting ballad]. He liked my playing and subsequently recommended me for Wings. The foreword of the book begins with his recounting of the conversation with Paul that led to my audition.
We have stayed in touch over the years and I've played on stage with him a few times recently. He's authentic – a passionate artist, an imaginative songwriter, a soulful voice.
As for my fellow bandmates, I talked to Steve Holley and confirmed some recollections. It is an unimagined joy whenever we can share a stage together. I met Joe English once years ago – he's been out of the music business for a long time – so he has no involvement with the book.
Has Paul read Guitar With Wings or sent any comments to you?
I've been dealing with his office, so he knows about it. I didn't expect any comments.
Did Paul display any wariness when he initially noticed your camera?
My camera work was quite discreet – no flash. Linda was constantly taking pix, so it was all par for the course.
Did you take all the photos in the book?
Mostly mine, some publicity shots, a few from fans, and a few licensed from MPL's archive. The majority of the concert photos were taken by my brother Graham.
Can you identify several images that hold a very special place in your heart?
It's a narrative, so it's tough to isolate specific photos. There were many nuances to the experience: band, family, and studio environment. They are all postcards from the past and it depends on what one is looking for.
There are some shots of Paul with his guitars that are red meat for the gear heads. There's a cool one of Pete Townsend and another of Linda at the Hammond organ with John Bonham and Ronnie Lane in the background – both from the "Rockestra Theme" session at Abbey Road [Oct. 3, 1978].
The more personal ones appeal to me: the pictures of Linda with James – then a toddler – in particular.
The Marshall Terrill Interview
What are some of the most fascinating photos?
To me the most fascinating shots are of the candid photos of Paul McCartney in the studio working, but family was always within arm’s reach. Wings was truly a family affair. One gets the sense that family kept Paul grounded.
During your research, what were you most surprised to discover about Laurence’s tenure in Wings?
How diversified Wings was musically. During Laurence's time with Wings, they played all sorts of styles: rock, pop, folk, reggae, disco, new wave, techno, orchestra, Rockestra, ballads, everything.
Laurence was the perfect pick for Wings at that time because he could play anything that was thrown his way and had to adapt quickly. This is where his studio experience came in handy. LJ is a musical chameleon but he was also able to put his own stamp on the Wings catalog from '78 to '81. To see him live is to witness a master class in guitar.
Why do critics tend to dismiss Wings’ vast accomplishments and music? And might Guitar With Wings lead to a critical reappraisal?
You have to understand it wasn't just the critics who dismissed Wings' accomplishments – it was McCartney who was the most dismissive of the group. Because Wings came along in the shadow of The Beatles, nothing was ever going to be good enough. It was never an apples to apples comparison.
But let’s look at Wings strictly from a historical and musical point of view: they were about as organic as you could get and eventually they became the third most popular act of the 1970s. Only Elton John and The Bee Gees fared better from a chart perspective.
In the U.S. alone, Wings charted 23 Top 40 singles with 14 of them going Top 10, five of which went to No. 1. “Silly Love Songs” was the No. 1 song of 1976. They released 10 albums, nine of which were in the Top 10, and five of them went to No. 1. Band on the Run is as good as any Beatles album.
Can you even think of the last time a group ever did that? They would be considered a super group in today's music world…but because it was right on the heels of The Beatles, those accomplishments were summarily dismissed by critics.
The other thing that gets overlooked is the 1975-76 Wings Over the World tour. That was truly a groundbreaking tour of the 1970s. In many ways it set the tone of sound technology, staging, and what became the template for the modern arena rock band.
McCartney had an opportunity to set the record straight with Wingspan – the 2001 documentary, the book, and the album – but didn't do the story and Wings' history justice. The project was more about Paul and Linda. I felt like it was a lost opportunity. That said, when the album was released, it shot straight to No. 2. That tells you there's a big market for Wings product.
With last year's rerelease of the Wings Over America boxed set CD and several of his earlier works, I think McCartney is starting to realize that there is a Wings audience completely separate from The Beatles. I hope Guitar With Wings will lead to a critical reappraisal of Wings' work, especially where it concerns Back to the Egg…that album just gets better with time.
How did you meet and ultimately befriend the acoustic finger-style maestro?
I first met Laurence back in the early 1980s when I was a vendor at what was then called Beatlefest, working my way through college. LJ wouldn't have any recollection of that because I was just a piss ant dealer at the time. But he and his wife Hope were always so kind and made the effort to shake everyone's hand and say hello. Just a class act.
Fast forward to 2010 – LJ had just released LJ Plays the Beatles Vol. 2, and I interviewed him for Daytrippin' magazine. He answered every one of my questions and gave me so much more than I expected. We chatted for a good two hours.
I finally just said, "LJ, your story is a book and if I can find a publisher to say yes, will you do it?" Because LJ gave me so much information in that interview, I ended up writing a proposal for Dalton Watson Fine Books and they were intrigued.
When the publisher, Glyn Morris, met LJ, he was struck by how bright and articulate LJ is…and of course, both men are British and they just hit it off. I think LJ liked the fact that Glyn was going to allow him to write and design the book the way he wanted to without any interference. Trust me when I say this is truly LJ's book.
Why should folks add Guitar With Wings to their collection?
For many reasons…first and foremost, it's a beautiful book. Second, LJ is the person you want telling the story. No member from Wings has ever written a book from the inside. The guy has an encyclopedic and photographic memory for the details. He is in many ways a historian/custodian of that era.
Then there's the wonderful photos, which no one has ever seen and are outrageously cool. He also added tons of great sidebars about his favorite instruments as well as a few of the Wings bootlegs. LJ truly did all of the heavy lifting on this and slaved really hard on this book. I'm just lucky that I got to come along for the ride.
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