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Laurence Juber Q&A: New Albums ‘Selected Blends’ and ‘Journey to My Heartland’ with Dan Foliart; Paul McCartney & Wings Memories
Laurence Juber is a guitarist’s guitar player. Equally adept at conjuring roaring and accomplished electric or intricate and exquisite acoustic guitar lines, he’s an in-demand session guitar player and an acclaimed solo artist with a deep catalog of over 28 albums showcasing his epic six-string skills. Ever prolific, he’s released two albums this year, first Select Blends, and most recently, Journey to My Heartland. He published Guitar with Wings: A Photographic Memoir, back in 2014.
His celebrated tenure in the last lineup of Wings, which produced the underrated album, Back to the Egg, further demonstrated his wondrous musical and creative facility and technical ability.
Juber also took a few minutes out at the NAMM Show in early June to discuss his current projects and what else he has going on in the months ahead …
Rock Cellar: Let’s talk about your latest record.
Laurence Juber: There are two latest records. The first one, Select Blends, which came out in March, is a collection of 16 tracks that I drew from my over 250 Facebook Live Tea Time with LJ sessions and with that it’s half originals and half cover tunes. When the 2020 pandemic shut down all live-in-person performance, artists were able to continue to entertain a worldwide audience from their own living spaces and studios via social media.
Tea Time With LJ was born of this imperative, with a loyal audience ready and willing to embrace it. For 15 months, at first five days a week, it then settled into a three-day routine of “Moody Monday,” “Workshop Wednesday,” “Fingerbuster Friday,” or occasionally, “Fab Friday.” For these mini solo concerts, I was able to take a deep dive into my own guitar compositions, and my repertoire of Beatles, Wings and standards. There were “instant” arrangements and improvisations, with a side of music history and “guitarology.”
The new one is a little different. The new one is called Journey to My Heartland and the featured artist is a composer named Dan Foliart and this is all music that came from a TV show that ran for eleven years called 7th Heaven.
Dan Foliart, the composer of the show’s musical score, is a guitarist who wrote some of most challenging but musically satisfying guitar parts I’ve seen in my 50+ years as a studio musician. His altered tuning, fingerstyle guitar cues melded roots, jazz and infectious grooves into an Americana style that gave the score a uniquely identifiable tone. The cold open of the show very heavily featured me on fingerstyle guitar along with drums, bass, piano and soprano sax.
But this is an archival collection because during the sessions, which ran from ’96 to 2007, at the end of the session we would do an actual performance of a key composition from the show and those were all collected on this album, which is very much kind of an Americana roots album with elements of New Orleans, jazz and groove.
The album features Michael Jochum on drums, Domenic Genova on bass, Jim Cox on piano and Gary Herbig on soprano sax.
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Rock Cellar: When did that pivotal moment hit you where you said, “Playing guitar is what I want to do with my life”?
Laurence Juber: I got a guitar for my birthday in November of 1963, and it was right after the Beatles did the Royal Command performance, the “rattle your jewelry” show, with that famous quote from John Lennon. So once I got a guitar in my hands, I just never put it down. It wasn’t for a couple of years until I discovered that I could actually make a living doing it, but I realized that that was going to be my life path.
Rock Cellar: Your first gig as a session guitar player was with Cleo Lane, right and it was produced by George Martin.
Laurence Juber: Yeah, that’s right.
Rock Cellar: So you had your pulse on Beatles magic right at the beginning of your session career.
Laurence Juber: Yes, I guess I did. The reality of it is that I kind of found myself being what I call Beatles-adjacent, and that was certainly one step in the process. I don’t think that it had any direct bearing on the fact that I ended up working with Paul and George and with Ringo, too, but I was very new to the studio team. Working with somebody of George Martin’s experience and maturity was kind of intimidating, but it was also inspiring.
Rock Cellar: You graduated from London’s Goldsmith College, so you received that musical education. What were the greatest lessons you gleaned from that? And as for the intangibles that you wouldn’t learn in school, can you identify those as well?
Laurence Juber: When I was 13, there was a local band leader who started taking me out and playing casual stuff like weddings and corporate gigs. I had already learned to read music because the band would be playing standards — this is only the mid ’60s, when that was a core repertoire rather than pop songs, which for me came a little bit later when I started playing in a Top 40 band. But I got my ear training on the bandstand, just listening out for what the chord changes were.
That for me was a significant part of my technical musical education. I studied classical guitar in high school because I wanted to study music and I needed to have a certain grade level on an instrument in order to be able to study music. And of course, guitar was a logical one because I’d been fascinated by fingerstyle guitar in general. Classical was a logical step when I went to college.
I did not go to college to study guitar. In fact, I’m mostly self-taught on guitar. My college experience was really based on understanding musical style, which was part of my career path to becoming a studio musician. To be able to understand style sufficiently, to be able to fake it whenever I needed to.
Rock Cellar: Well, you’ve been faking it for decades and doing it quite well.
Laurence Juber: [Laughs] Yeah, I guess so. Next year will be 60 years of playing.
Rock Cellar: Starting in 1982 with your first solo album, Standard Time, I think you’ve put out in excess of 28 albums. Looking back at this deep catalog of solo material, which one for you is the personal watermark?
Laurence Juber: It’s hard for me to be objective because each one of the albums has its own kind of universe to it, whether it would be an album of all Beatles songs or an album of all Harold Arlen songs or an and album of all original competitions. I think that my Mosaic album, which I think came out in 1998, is a very important one for me on a few levels. One, because there are tracks on there that still get radio airplay. So in terms of a measure of an album’s intrinsic worth in the commercial field, something that actually makes money has a kind of a value to it.
But I think artistically, for one thing, it was the first album that was fully produced with my wife, Hope, and she had a big influence on the artistic sensibility of things. That eventually led to me doing my first album of Beatles arrangements. But at that particular time, with Mosaic, it was still very much focused on my own composition. There are not just solo pieces on there, there’s ensemble pieces on there, too. There’s some electric guitar work on it. It was recorded at Capitol Studios and it’s a very analog-sounding record. So I’ve always been pleased with just the sound of it and the fact that it had some longevity.
Beyond that, it’s very hard to identify one album in particular. My Solo Flight album, which was the first acoustic one I did, started the whole process and it got radio airplay and introduced me as a soloist. I think it was important. My LJ album, which was my third, was my first foray into altered tunings and that got me attention in Europe and in Asia, which hadn’t happened up until that point. But then, for example, Winter Guitar, which is my first Christmas album, is still my No. 1 airplay on Pandora, so that has a life of its own, too. I’m answering your question with almost every album I’ve put out. [laughs]
Rock Cellar: That’s okay. It will be good for people to explore the catalog. And what’s quite interesting is, you’re a superb electric guitar player and soloist but a lot of your records have spotlighted your exquisite acoustic guitar playing. Talk about your choice of favoring acoustic guitar as an interpretive instrument.
Laurence Juber: Well, I think that from a personal and artistic point of view, it was something that I’d always been fascinated with. When I put out my Solo Flight album and I’d actually carved out a period of time where I could truly hyper focus on playing fingerstyle, it kind of set me on a path that I realized had a number of advantages. One being that it allowed me to develop a voice of my own, which is much harder to do when you’re playing electric guitar in ensemble situations, especially as a sideman or as a studio musician. So this was my own unique path that I could pursue, and it dovetails very well with the fact that I was doing a fair amount of commercial composing in that time period, whether it was some TV or movie stuff and then later on video games.
But I was active as a composer separate from my studio career and my solar guitar career, so it gave me of a niche at a time. It was a timely niche, because in the ’90s especially, there was a burgeoning acoustic guitar scene on the back of the MTV Unplugged phenomenon. So Acoustic Guitar Magazine was launched and Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine was launched and eventually I got to be on the covers of both of those.
There was a space for me to operate as an artist and at the time I was playing live I was playing a Taylor guitar, and I ended up getting quite involved with them for a number of years when they were really starting to develop their reputation doing clinics and workshops in addition to my concert work. During that time period, I ended up working with Al Stewart, producing four of his albums and touring with him as a duo. So I would open the show doing fingerstyle and then I would also do a set with Al where it was just the two of us and I was playing acoustic guitar, too. That helped expand my audience as well.
I was really seeking to establish myself as my own voice.
On April 24th 1978, thanks to a recommendation by Denny Laine, I auditioned for Wings, along with drummer Steve Holley. Happily, we both ‘fit the suit’ and within a few weeks, we were recording and rehearsing with the band. A life-changing day! @DbhLaine #PaulMcCartney pic.twitter.com/SSKORTvVRu
— Laurence Juber (@OM28LJ) April 24, 2022
Rock Cellar: What are your most vivid memories of working on the Wings album Back to the Egg?
Laurence Juber: There were a lot of wonderful moments in that album. One that I remember in particular which really stands out was when we were working on “Spin It On” and we had done the track and then when it was time for me to do the solo, I was sitting in the control room right next to Paul, like eye-to-eye, and he was kind of coaxing stuff out of me that I didn’t know what I could do. And it was in that moment I really understood his creativity as a record producer, not just in terms of Paul McCartney songwriter, Beatle, etc. but the fact that his ability to engage artistically with a musician.
Rock Cellar: From your experiences working with him, what do you think is the most underrated thing about Paul McCartney?
Laurence Juber: That’s a tricky question to answer, because I think that for me, it’s kind of the totality of Paul McCartney as an artist and everything that goes into that, whether it’s his songwriting, singing, his keyboard playing, his drumming, his bass playing, his guitar playing, all the ingredients that go into Paul McCartney as an artist.
For me, at any rate, it’s important not to make a distinction between Paul McCartney the Beatle and Paul McCartney beyond the Beatles. But everything that he did within the Beatles is still reflected in his solo work. In terms of the whole package, that’s really kind of the point that I want to make, is that there’s just so much there there, and that even though sometimes perhaps the sound of a record may not necessarily be something that I find fully satisfying on a sonic studio kind of level, he always gets it done.
And his work ethic, I think probably more than anything else, it’s just this incessant work ethic, whether it’s the constant making of records or the constant desire to be performing, is something that helped me learn a great deal about what it meant to be an artist.
Rock Cellar: Looking back decades, you participated in the Concert for Kampuchea at the Hammersmith Odeon which featured an incredible jam session on three songs, “Let It Be,” “Rockestra Theme” and “Lucille.” Here you are playing with Paul McCartney and you look around and there are three members of Led Zeppelin on stage, John Bonham, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, Dave Edmunds, James Honeyman Scott and many more — and you’re not going to take a second seat to anyone on lead guitar, you’re going for it. Talk a bit about that experience.
Laurence Juber: Well, it was very much all of that. Wings had been doing “Let It Be” on our UK tour. For me, that was the highlight of the set, playing “Let It Be” and looking over and there’s Paul McCartney at the piano and it’s like, “I’m playing ‘Let It Be’ with Paul McCartney. How cool is that?” But when we were doing the “Rockestra Theme” and the solo was coming up, I looked around and I didn’t see anybody who was ready to step forward. I mean, it would be kind of an interesting move that somebody had, but knowing that it was right under my fingers I just stepped forward and did it. I wanted to take advantage of the moment and it wasn’t until the very end when I smelled brandy fumes and there’s Pete Townshend kind of leering over my left hand, [laughs] it was like, “Oh, my goodness.”
Rock Cellar: There’s an amazing story about you working with George Harrison on Shanghai Surprise.
Laurence Juber: Well, what happened was that I had been booked to work with George on a song for Shanghai Surprise and my wife, Hope, was nine months pregnant. We had made arrangements that she was going to come and meet George at the studio, except the night before she went into labor and at seven o’clock the next morning, our daughter Ilsey was born. I basically went straight from the hospital to the studio, well, almost straight, I had to go home and grab my guitars.
But by noon, I was at Sound City Studio, which later became famous, of course, for Nirvana, but at the time was just one of the studios that we were working. And so I’m at Sound City working with George, and at one point I got him on the phone with Hope and he said, “Whenever you’re ready, come and visit.” So two days later, George is at Village in West L.A. and we went with Ilsey. It was her first outing, she’s two days old. We go into Village and George picks her up, takes her out of the baby carrier and starts dancing around and then as he hands it back to us, he touches her on the forehead and said something in Sanskrit.
And we said, “What was that?” And he said, “Well, I was so taken with this young life that I gave her the gift of music,” and as it happened, it took because Ilsey is a successful songwriter — just have to look at her Wikipedia page. So it was literally going from instead of “Here Comes the Sun” to “Here Comes the Daughter,” and then two days later Ilsey is getting blessed by a Beatle. It’s a very personal thing.
Rock Cellar: Didn’t he go into his car and grab some gifts?
Laurence Juber: Yeah, he had some gifts in the trunk of the car and as we were leaving, he pulled them out. In fact, there was a bear, which subsequently was named George. Both of our kids enjoyed playing with that bear. It was very special.
Rock Cellar: What impressed you about him as a player, working with him?
Laurence Juber: He was always a fabulous guitar player. In conversation with him, there were a few things that struck me. One was he talked about the fact that at home they would listen to a lot of Hoagie Carmichael records, and you can hear that kind of influence on him as a songwriter. He also said that when he was about 14, he became quite aware of Django Reinhardt, for example, because he was taking lessons from a jazz guitar player. So when you watch George’s fingers on the first Ed Sullivan Show, you see him playing 9th and 13th chords. These were not cowboy chords.
As a teenager, he had already developed a pretty advanced kind of musicality and it’s very much reflected in his work with the Beatles.
Rock Cellar: I’d be remiss not to ask about you playing on Ringo’s solo album, Stop And Smell The Roses.
Laurence Juber: Well, Paul produced tracks for Ringo. We went to Super Bear Studios in the south of France. Paul produced the songs “Attention,” “Private Property,” the Carl Perkins tune “Sure to Fall,” which was very exciting because we had Lloyd Green there to play pedal steel on that. Lloyd’s one of the great pedal steel players from Nashville. We also did an outtake called “You Can’t Fight Lightning” that was basically a jam and we did an instrumental at the time called “Love’s Full Glory,” which ended up on Linda [Ronstadt]’s Wide Prairie album. It was quite productive for a week or so.
Of course, in July in the south of France, there are a lot worse places to work. [laughs].
Visit Laurence Juber’s official website to keep tabs on his many projects.
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