Laurence Juber, the two-time Grammy winning guitarist, arranger and composer, has recently released his memoir recounting his days as the lead guitarist with Paul McCartney’s last line-up of Wings. Co-written with Marshall Terrill, Guitar with Wings: A Photographic Memoir (Dalton Watson) includes a foreword by the founding Wings guitarist, Denny Laine.
Juber was the house band guitarist on a television show hosted by David Essex when he provided a memorable solo to accompany Laine’s new piano and vocal arrangement of “Go Now,” his hit song for The Moody Blues. Good guitar licks never fade and, in 1978, McCartney took up Laine’s enthusiastic recommendation to hire Juber as the new lead guitarist for Wings.
The opening pages of Guitar With Wings evoke 1950s London, as Juber recalls his family life in the Stepney Green part of London, above the family grocery shop. He received his first guitar on his 11th birthday in 1963, coinciding with the wave of Beatlemania washing over the globe. Some readers might be inclined to skip forward to the juicy Beatles tidbits but if they do, they’ll entirely miss out on reading what motivates someone to become the kind of guitarist Juber is and the qualities that lead to an opportunity to play with Sir Paul in the first place.
When it came to writing this book, Juber first had to win a staring match with a large, sloppy box of photographs. “Marshall Terrill suggested that I should do a photo book and he took the idea to his publisher Dalton Watson,” Juber says. “Once I got over my initial reluctance, it took well over a year of sorting through shoe boxes full of slides, negatives and memorabilia, plus creating two parallel narratives for the photos and the text.
“Marshall, who edited the text and graphic designer Jodi Ellis, helped me through it all.”
Growing up in the early 60s, he provides many glimpses of what it was like to be discovering the guitar through the radio and the movies on top of devouring music store primers on how to play. By age 13, Juber discovered that earnings won by playing his guitar easily outstripped the small change that could be cadged by more mundane adolescent chores-for-hire.
Juber honed his studio skills with a stint in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra before he entered the music program at Goldsmith’s in London, where he was mentored the South African-born composer Stanley Glasser. From here, Juber took it on himself to learn classical guitar and Renaissance lute.
Interestingly, he describes how the texture of lute music insinuated itself into his fingerstyle playing. “Renaissance music is more modal and is not driven by the harmony and counterpoint that evolved in the Baroque and later. It has more in common with folk and Celtic styles. There is a direct link from lute technique to my ‘no nails’ finger style approach,” Juber says. “I occasionally play lute-like with the right hand thumb inside, rather than in the classical thumb position. I was not particularly accomplished as a classical player but it gave me a decent technical basis and some insight into the use of plucked fretted instruments in the history of western music.”
After obtaining his Bachelor of Music, he became a full time session player who would earn credit for his work on such albums as Tales Of Mystery & Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project, Travelling by guitarist John Williams and Je n’ai pas vu le temps passer by Charles Aznavour. Juber also performed on the score of The Spy Who Loved Me, produced by Marvin Hamlisch, which included a session where he contributed guitar on the Carly Simon hit, Nobody Does It Better.
Juber was offered the position with Wings in 1978, which he humorously describes as my “Master of Music from McCartney University.” Realizing an incomparable dream, though, came at a bittersweet time of his life, as Juber’s father died unexpectedly several weeks before Juber was offered the gig. That summer, the band gathered together at the Spirit of Ranachan Studio on McCartney’s Scottish farm to produce their seventh and final album, Back to the Egg.
When recounting his experience of recording Back To The Egg on McCartney’s farm and speculating how it might have been otherwise if recorded in a London studio, Juber says, “It was a more relaxed workflow than the strictly budgeted world of ‘stacked’ sessions. Paul could afford to take his time. And it was a rustic locale with fewer distractions than the urban studios. I found inspiration simply for finding myself in a new and different location.”
This is another one of the remarkable parts of the book because, as the photos show, it is easy to discern what a close-knit family environment McCartney surrounds himself with when creating his music—hard-working yet unpretentious. Juber clearly depicts the warmth of Linda and Paul’s relationship and mentions the impression it had on him. (Just to set the record straight, Linda McCartney was not related to George Eastman of Eastman Kodak but she was the camera-toting daughter of entertainment attorney Lee Eastman. By merit of her skill and talent, she was the first woman to have a photograph, of Eric Clapton, featured on the front cover of Rolling Stone.)
What did he learned from Linda McCartney, regarding how best to use the camera? “I learned how to be unobtrusive,” Juber says. “No flash, fast film. It was a natural passion for Linda. I can’t say that I’m a devoted photographer. I just took advantage of the circumstances of being in Wings to keep a visual journal of some of the experience.”
The vintage gearhead fans will delight in Juber’s detailed descriptions of what instruments were used to lay down certain tracks right down to which strings were split along either side of the stereo mix. And then nothing beats the beautiful simplicity of the photograph Juber features in the book of the cottage front steps where he felt inspired to write his track, “Maisie”—a fingerpicking piece with Chet Atkins flavor, recorded on his Gibson Super 400 that he bought at Manny’s in New York.
The book makes one keenly aware of just how much music and photography has evolved technologically in this time, which begs the question of just how much technology has altered session work.
“There’s still session work, but it’s not as consistent as it used to be,” Juber says. “The union is being somewhat sidelined and hasn’t really kept up with the technological changes. It’s mostly become quite decentralized, as well as outsourced. There’s a lot of Dropbox stuff going on, as well as in-home studios. Budgets have been shrinking, studios and scoring stages closing, but there is still a solid echelon of music makers who champion the old school approach.”
“As for the technological shift with music, the EDM (electronic dance music) world is laptop driven,” Juber. “It’s a producer/top liner medium, with little in the way of live instruments. There’s still a need for real players on more mainstream records and scores. I’ve seen an uptick recently, which is quite encouraging, as I’m scaling back my touring.
In August of 1978, the band shifted their recording location the 13th century Lympne Castle in Kent on the English Channel, where Juber discovered the fantastic acoustics of a medieval staircase for recording his 12-string guitar on the track “We’re Open Tonight.” It’s another fun contrast to different times to see photos of the gigantic recording consoles, enormous tape machines and heavy amps that had been lugged up winding staircases and squeezed inside the rooms of the castle. Today’s session would more likely entail a one skinny chrome laptop set out upon a table.
“As a studio player, I hadn’t paid much attention to how the instruments were being recorded,” Juber says. “Phil McDonald was the first engineer whom I’d worked with on a day-to-day basis. So I started to learn the basics of engineering from him, such as signal routing, compression, EQ, large versus small diaphragm mics, etc.
“Digital audio is so much more convenient,” he says. “At the higher sample rates, it captures much of the feeling that was missing when it first took over from analog. I’m a fan of tape and vinyl. It seems to have a better sonic ’shelf life’ than digital and, as long as the tape medium isn’t deteriorating, it stays fresh sounding.
“Guitar-wise, now that budgets for cartage have mostly disappeared, I’ll typically arrive at a session with essentially the same gear I did 40 years ago–a Strat, a Les Paul, a few acoustics, a pedal board and a small amplifier,” Juber says. “As much gear as I can fit in my Mini Cooper. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Juber mentions, in the book, the revolutionary development of the polyphonic synthesizer, which the band used to loop simulated orchestral sounds. He has also managed to unearth and include photo insets of all their original advertisements
At one point, production for the Back to the Egg album moved to Abbey Road Studios in October of 1978 to record its Rockestra Theme for which McCartney seemed to enlist nearly every rock star in London. Jimmy Page was invited to perform and his amp, at least, made an appearance along with John Bonham and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. Pete Townshend, Kenny Jones, Dave Gilmour, Hank Marvin, Ronnie Lane and Bruce Thomas also participated along with Wings.
The book features fascinating photographs, which capture the organized chaos of the ensemble session of five electric guitars, three bass guitars, three keyboard players, three full drum kits and additional percussion with a horn section.
For Jimmy Page fanatics who must know what kind of amp made a brief appearance at the Rockestra session without their owner, Juber recalls, “There was a Vox AC30 and an Echoplex, plus what I think was a Supro. They were gone by the time we started recording after the crew learned he wasn’t going to come to the session.”
Pictorially, it’s clear what a staggering production the entire Back to the Egg album had been as Juber writes of the launch, promotion and UK tour on through the unexpected events surrounding the tour’s cancellation in Japan.
Attracted by the abundance of studio work, Juber moved to New York during the early 80s, joined the musicians’ union and worked as the house guitarist at the Catch a Rising Star comedy club, where he met his future wife, Hope, under dazzlingly synchronistic circumstances (he lets her tell the story.) Later, he would learn that his fiance’s father was Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch.
At one point during this interview, all the happy nattering over vintage recording gear brought to mind a similar sentiment that Dave Grohl expressed over the custom analog Neve 8028 console in his recent film documentary, Sound City, on the legendary Van Nuys, California recording studio. Juber, of course, had been there.
“There’s a picture of George Harrison in my book that was taken when I worked with him at Sound City in 1986,” Juber says. “There was a period when I did a lot session work at that studio. We tracked the score to the pilot of Roseanne in that room. Paula Salvatore, who gets lots of face time in the movie, is now the studio manager at Capitol, another iconic Los Angeles studio.”
Guitar With Wings closes with an overview of Juber’s career accomplishments, which include 22 solo album releases. In acknowledgment of his talent, the C.F. Martin Company has created the OMC-18LJ Laurence Juber Signature Edition guitar. Juber is readily conversant on the history, make and models of Martin guitars and has teamed several times with Martin Guitars’ in-house historian, Dick Boak, to provide in-depth lecture demonstrations of their guitars at such venerable institutions as The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Readers have probably heard Juber’s playing well enough to know some of his riffs by heart. Among some of the television theme shows he has recorded are Home Improvement, Happy Days, and Family Ties, as well as such films as Dirty Dancing, Good Will Hunting and Disney’s Pocahontas. His guitar playing can be heard on the Ken Burns’ documentary, The Tenth Inning and his solo arrangement of “The Pink Panther” theme on Henry Mancini : Pink Guitar earned him a second Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
“My arrangements develop from the nexus of the musical information (melody, bass, harmony) and the geometry of the fingerboard. I describe myself as a ‘vertical’ player,” he says. “If you take a vertical slice at any beat, you’ll see how I’m making choices in fingering, string assignment and resonance to enhance the musicality. DADGAD tuning is especially useful, as it offers not only a more open palette of sonority, but also keys like F and Bb that are less amenable in standard tuning.”
Acoustic Guitar Magazine named his album, LJ Plays the Beatles, among their All Time Top Ten albums. The arrangements faithfully and magically capture the essence of the original song without any compromise on part of the guitar.
“When it came to playing rhythm guitar parts, what I learned from Paul McCartney is mostly in terms of evenly strummed acoustic parts in the Beatles vein,” he says. “Also, from the occasional glimpse, I learned how he played some of his songs. ‘Michele,’ for example, he plays with the second chord of the verse as a 7#9, rather than the minor 7th chord that the sheet music shows.”
You can read more here on Juber’s approach to the arranging process and check his calendar for workshops that he offers.
At the moment, Juber is working on many projects, some of them in theatre. “I also have an album in pre-production that I’m calling Fingerboard Road,” he says. “It’s a more rock approach than my last one, Under An Indigo Sky, which was more of a moody, late-night project. The overriding sensibility is still pop music but there’s some jazz in there, too and a bit of ragtime.”
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Guitar With Wings is available in signed and numbered editions of 1,000, packaged in a hard slip case with a bonus CD of Juber’s 1979 Standard Time album, featuring the unreleased Back to the Egg track “Maisie.”
The CD tracks will soon be available as high resolution downloads on the Guitar With Wings site. The book can also be purchased in hardback through Dalton Watson Fine Press and regular retail distributors.
Visit here for more details on Laurence Juber’s forthcoming concerts and projects.
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