Back to the Eggs
Back to the Eggs
A Q&A with Laurence Juber
By Geoff Gehman
Laurence Juber is in a groovy time-warp groove. His new book, “Guitar with Wings” (Dalton Watson), is a photographic memoir of his stretch as a crazy-busy go-to session man in the ‘70s for the likes of Charles Aznavour and James Bond and his three packed years as the last lead guitarist in Wings, Paul McCartney’s first post-Beatles band. His newest record, “Fingerboard Road” (Solid Air), is an aural memoir of the ‘60s and ‘70s sounds and vibes that developed his fingers and ears. His celebrated fingerstyle playing—tasteful, lyrical, soulful, orchestral—animates songs as disparate as “Georgia” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”; the latter version received a rave from its composer, Pete Townshend.
On May 29, at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Juber will perform solo and with opening act Craig Thatcher, a fellow Martin Guitar front man. Expect an evening of dynamite playing and dynamic storytelling. In the conversation below, the affable, effusive English-raised Californian discusses his love of twangy guitars, his degree from McCartney University and his resemblance to Burt Bacharach’s younger brother.
Q: What was the first song you couldn’t forget, that absolutely laid you flat?
A: For me, it’s not one special song, it’s more the era when I really became aware of music, around ’60, ’61. The first record that made a big impression on me was the Shadows’ “Apache” , an instrumental with these great twangy guitars. I started playing guitar in November 1963, when I was 11, dreaming of twangy guitars and red Stratocasters.
Another important record was [Davey Graham’s 1962 instrumental] “Anji,” which I heard on the second Simon & Garfunkel album [“Sounds of Silence,” 1966]. Paul Simon’s fingerstyle accompaniment was very influential; I loved the way he played bass and melody at the same time. It was a rite of passage for all the guitar players I knew: Can you play “Anji”? That style, which was mastered by Bert Jansch and Pentangle, which they called folk baroque, had a very strong impression on me.
The first time I heard Django Reinhardt was a revelation. The first time I heard Eric Clapton was a revelation. They both opened doors for me.
The idea of being a self-sufficient performer–I can track that back to playing clubs in London as a teen. I remember watching Martin Carthy with his guitar and voice and no amplification and this roomful of people hanging on every word. It was mesmerizing.
Hearing the James Bond theme from “Dr. No” , which had more twangy guitar, led me to learn how I could make a living playing twangy guitar in James Bond movies. I made that dream come true when I played on “Nobody Does It Better,” the theme song for “The Spy Who Loved Me” . It was while doing the book that I learned that they played me about 24 to 36 bars of music and said “We need some guitar licks here” without bothering to tell me the name of the track.
You know, I never embraced professional guitar playing with the aim of becoming a studio musician, just like I never embraced the concept of being a singing guitarist. It was once I joined Wings [in 1978] that I realized with all the musical knowledge and experience I had, I had never considered music from the perspective of an artist. I learned so much from Paul as an artist, a singer, a writer, a player, a producer, a business man. I like to say that I received my master’s degree from McCartney University.
Q: What were your most meaningful, indelible lessons from Mac U?
A: It was really Wings that allowed me to find my spotlight. I remember sitting in a studio with Paul, eye to eye, just playing guitar licks for “Spin It On” [a track from the 1979 album “Back to the Egg”], when I realized that I had my own lead guitar voice, that I really had a distinctive style, that I could hold my own. I also loved recording the “Rockestra Theme” with half of the Who [Pete Townshend, Kenney Jones] and half of Led Zeppelin [John Paul Jones, John Bonham], as well as Hank Marvin from the Shadows, who was my original guitar hero.
When we doing the  benefit concerts for the [starving refugees] of Kampuchea, we played “Rockestra,” “Lucille” and “Let It Be” with the Rockestra orchestra. When it came to the guitar solo in “Let It Be” I realized nobody else was going to step forward, so I played it because that’s what I did in Wings. What made it really memorable is that I soloed in front of all these rock luminaries I grew up emulating and appreciating. And all of a sudden I smell brandy fumes and then I see Pete Townshend leering over my shoulder [laughs].
Q: Decades later you would debut your solo version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” with Mr. Townshend in the audience. What was his review?
A: He sent me a note saying it’s beautiful and you’re a master. You should get that sort of accolade from Pete Townshend. That was priceless.
Q: What surprised you while preparing the book “Guitar with Wings”? What had you forgotten? What did you have to learn all over again?
A: It’s funny, I get so wrapped up in making music, my musical memories are much more powerful than my social memories. I was so busy during that period, I had forgotten that I played on a Mary Hopkins record. I had no idea that an album I made with Charles Aznavour in Paris in 1977 was No. 1 for 48 weeks.
I was surprised when I discovered photos I had forgotten I had taken, the last picture on a roll of undeveloped film that never made it onto a contact sheet. I was surprised that my father’s genealogical tree had a branch of musicians. I had never known where the music in me came from because my parents weren’t musical and my immediate relatives weren’t musical. Connecting with my personal musical heritage—that was a very pleasant surprise.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that I could actually write a book. If anybody had told me, “You’re going to write 45,000 words” [with the help of journalist/biographer Marshall Terrill], well, I would never have believed them.
Q: Session players are front and center thanks to “The Wrecking Crew,” the documentary about a busy bunch of crackerjack musicians who ramped up a huge number of huge pop hits in the ’60s and ’70s. One of the film’s stars is bassist Carol Kaye, who invented that infectious hook in “The Beat Goes On” and who made Beach Boys songs really snap, pop and crackle. Can you put your finger on a song for someone else that you truly transformed, that you took to another universe?
A: You know, in session work you’re so immersed in playing, so immersed in the process, that you forget what you’ve played and who you’ve played with; the sessions just tend to blur together.
I can tell you that Carol Kaye can sit down without being plugged in and play the bass and it immediately sounds like she’s playing on a Beach Boys record. That’s her tone, that’s her touch. I can also tell you that the Beatles records that I really loved—“Revolver,” “Rubber Soul”—were shaped by McCartney listening to the bass playing of Carol Kaye and [Motown main man] James Jamerson. Paul and Carol are musicians who began as guitarists and then picked up the bass. That’s why their bass playing is not conventional; it’s unusually melodic, with a linear sensibility. I always found that fascinating. That really affected my playing as a soloist, the way I play melody with the bass line. That counterpoint really derives from working with Paul, who listened to all those Beach Boys and Motown records. And of course Johann Sebastian Bach, too.
Q: On the cover of “Fingerboard Road” you bear a striking resemblance to Burt Bacharach. I know you played two songs on the Bacharach tribute CD “This Guitar’s in Love with You.” Would you consider cutting a record of nothing but Bacharach tunes or even touring with him? Hey, you might get extra bonus points for being mistaken for his younger brother.
A: I think Bacharach is a phenomenal composer, but I couldn’t see doing an entire album of his tunes. He doesn’t tour much and his world is really not my world. Besides, I’ve been down that road before. I’ve made albums of Harold Arlen tunes, two albums of Beatles tunes, an album of Wings tunes. I still take my inspiration from Bacharach and Arlen and McCartney and Beethoven and Bach. An entire album of Bach would be an interesting challenge; it would be lovely to wrap my guitar around the great composer’s music, But it’s not one of my priorities.
Burt Bacharach’s younger brother? Hmmmm. Must be the gray hair. Although I have to point out that I’m taller.
Laurence Juber: The Scoop
He was recommended to join Wings by original guitarist Denny Laine, with whom he played “Go Now,” a Laine hit with the Moody Blues, on a 1977 episode of a British television show with a house band featuring Juber.
He received Grammy awards for rock instrumental (Wings’ “Rockestra Theme”) and pop instrumental (his solo arrangement of “The Pink Panther Theme”).
Last year he played the “Rockestra Theme” and “Hi, Hi, Hi” with former fellow Wings members Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell at a Beatles fan festival,
He’s recorded with Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Al Stewart and performed on the soundtracks of “The Big Chill,” “Home Improvement” and “The Tenth Inning,” the 10th installment of Ken Burns’ baseball documentary.
His latest CD, “Fingerboard Road,” contains a tribute to composer Paul Williams, a frequent collaborator.
He’s scored musical adaptations of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch” with his playwright wife, Hope, whose father was Sherwood Schwartz, a creator of the hit TV shows. Schwartz died a month before Juber joined Wings. Hope Schwartz met Juber at a Manhattan comedy club the day after Wings officially expired.
Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call. His favorite Wings numbers include “Junior’s Farm,” “Mull of Kintyre” and “Rockestra Theme.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.