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The Eye of the Acoustic Storm

Laurence Juber (Wings' guitarist)

Each week, a different artist is spotlighted in "The Eye of The Acoustic Storm." Hourly segments of "The Eye" feature the artist's music along with bio information and sound bites.

 


 

The Acoustic Storm Interview

Laurence Juber is best known for having been Paul McCartney & Wing's guitarist in the late 1970's and early 80's.  
He's also carved out a career as an acoustic guitarist, having recorded 24 albums, including the 2016 seasonal release "Holidays & Hollynights" and in 2017, Juber will release his third album of Beatles cover songs.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
You’ve been on tour, having recently performed at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, among other venues. How have your concerts evolved over the years?


JUBER:
When I first started doing solo acoustic guitar concerts, they were really recital style. So, I’d sit down and my repertoire was very almost classically, kind of intensive. And then, I started adding pop songs to that and standing up. It really became much more of a show. So, I get to be an entertainer as well as a guitar player. And that’s really evolved significantly over the years…now to the point, where I might do a show that’s entirely a set of Beatles or maybe, Great American Songbook material. And it’s an ongoing evolution. And I’ve, over the years, I’ve included working with my trio like on my Christmas album; “Holidays and Hollynights.”


ACOUSTIC STORM:
Just in time for the holidays, you’ve got a new release entitled “Holidays & Hollynights.”  What was that like putting together a seasonal album, and how did you go about selecting the Christmas music you wanted to record?


JUBER:
“Holidays and Hollynights.” is actually my second Christmas album. My first one “Winter Guitar” was released in 1998. Like the previous one, the choice of material is just down to favorite Christmas tunes and ones that I kind of gravitate to every December and start to get under my fingers.  I always promised myself that if I did another Christmas album, I’d record it in December. I’ve played many years as a studio musician and played on many Christmas albums that were recorded in July or August in Los Angeles. It’s hard to get into Christmas spirit when it’s hundred degrees out and the sun is shining. But this time around, I had my trio out on the road in California and we did a run of concerts and selected tunes that just really felt right for the band and then, went straight into Capitol Studios the next day and recorded the whole album in six hours. So, there’s a real kind of live feeling to it. And I think, part of my motivation in the selection was not to go too much into the more intricate, classical side of things, but to be more a little more improvisational and play on the kind of jazz, blues, and folk aspects of what I do.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
“Holidays & Hollynights” features you playing in a trio.  How did the dynamics of recording with two other people compare to your solo work?


JUBER:
In terms of recording with the other musicians, it doesn’t really change very much of what I do.  When I’m playing completely solo, obviously, I’m the whole band. When I’m playing with the rhythm section, it does give me the freedom to allow my fingers to move away from that complete musical statement and be able to rely on the bass player to provide the support. So I have more room to improvise and I can get a little bluesier or a little jazzier in the approach to it. I work with musicians that are very sensitive to the dynamics of the acoustic guitar. So, we really work well together as an ensemble.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
Growing up, what got you into music, and what genres were you exposed to?  Also, who were some of the artists that you listened to in your formative years that may have influenced the way you play guitar today?


JUBER:
When I was growing up, what got me into music was essentially Beatlemania. It wasn’t exclusively the case.  There was an English group called the Shadows, an instrumental group that played Stratocasters. The lead guitarist, Hank B. Marvin was really somebody that all the up and coming guitar players in England would idolize because he was just so cool…kind of looked like Buddy Holly with a red Stratocaster. When Beatlemania came along, I just had fallen in love with the guitar and I was nagging my parents. And then, on my 11th birthday, I got a guitar and I just never put it down. Coincidental with all of that was really kind of the folk movement of 1963, especially with the emergence of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and then a little bit later in England, Donovan and various other kinds of folk luminaries. Particularly for me, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, folk guitar players who subsequently had a band called Pentangle. That is a little bit of a model for me of the idea of combining acoustic guitar with kind of a semi- jazz rhythm section. Certainly, they were a big influence on my approach. Although, it’s been refined and added to, by my years as a studio musician but also having played with Paul McCartney & Wings, and bringing that pop sensibility into the process as well. So, kind of, all working together to give me a particular kind of direction.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
Most kids don’t really know what they want to do when they “grow up,” but you were focused on music from an early age, having studied music at Goldsmith College in London, and being the featured guitar soloist with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.


JUBER:
I decided that I was going to have a career in music actually very early on, probably about age 13. I had been playing for a couple of years, and I was making pocket money by washing my neighbor’s car and doing babysitting, and working at the supermarket on Saturdays. A local band-leader kind of adopted me musically and took me out on playing some weddings and some corporate events. I really was enjoying it. I was learning a lot. I was using my music reading capabilities and it just felt very natural for me to be making money playing guitar, and so, that became my ambition was to become a studio musician. A pathway to that was becoming a member of the National Youth Orchestra. It’s kind of a farm team for the studio scene. And it was really, while I was in college doing that, I started getting professional gigs and then as soon as I left college, I found myself working as a full time studio musician.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
When did you decide to make music your career, and was there a defining moment when that decision became clear to you?


JUBER:
I think the defining moment was really the very first time I played a gig with this band leader and I was sitting on the stage surrounded by much older musicians and the bass player leans over and says, “Listen, lad…if you don’t know the chords, just play the bridge of “I Got Rhythm.” I think that moment of being taken seriously by an experienced musician, somebody that recognized that I actually had the commitment and the passion for it to really make a go of it.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
You’ve worked as a session guitarist; how does that experience compare to life as a solo artist?  Also, besides Paul McCartney, who are some of the artists you’ve enjoyed working with most?


JUBER:
Being a studio musician is really quite different from being a soloist. For one thing, there’s a lot less traveling involved. I mean, I spent 30 years in Los Angeles working in the studios where typically, I’d go from my house to Capitol Studios or one of the other Hollywood studios about 20 minutes away. Being a musician in a studio is a collaborative art because you’re playing with other people typically and working with record producers or TV and movie composers, to try and find a particular sound, a particular vibe that will make their record or their score come to life. Of the people that I’ve worked with, I’ve worked with some very memorable ones. On the movie side, I played on the soundtrack of “The Spy Who Loved Me” with Marvin Hamlisch. And being able to play the James Bond theme was really kind of a dream come true for me because that’s the kind of guitar sound that first got me excited, that twangy 007 theme. I worked with Danny Elfman on the score of “Goodwill Hunting” and that was pretty cool. Alan Menken, I worked with him on “Pocahontas” which was really an eye-opener…I was in a recording studio with a full 60-piece orchestra and three harps, eight double basses, and a big choir and one acoustic guitar. when we recorded a song called “Colors of the Wind.”


Being in Wings had its periods of being a studio player because we would work collaboratively at Abbey Road or on Paul’s farm in Scotland or some other location to create the band sound. I got to work, at point one, with Paul and with Ringo at one point, which was just so cool being in a recording studio with half of the Beatles. And some time later, also worked with George Harrison. And those kinds of experiences, just getting the insight into the process of being an artist and how that works. And it’s really kind of across the board; I’ve worked with so many different people, and very many different types of genres. So, it’s really been kind of a remarkable education for me.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
How did you connect with McCartney, becoming guitarist for Wings?


JUBER:
My introduction to Paul McCartney was through Denny Laine, who was another member of Wings. Denny, being the original lead singer with the Moody Blues sang the hit “Go Now,” the first of the Moody Blues’ hits. And I had worked with Denny on a TV show with an English pop star named David Essex and we did that song “Go Now,” and I played a guitar solo and Denny liked my playing. And some time later, many months later, Paul apparently said to him, “Do you know any guitar players,” and Denny recommended me. Actually, when I got the phone call to go and audition, I was working at Abbey Road at Studio 2, which was the iconic Beatles studio. A management person on the phone said “Denny wants to know if you can come and jam on Monday. By the way, Paul and Linda will be there.” Now, I didn’t know any Wings’ tunes, so I borrowed some LPs from my brother, because this was the era before CDs, and did some studying, realizing that there was no way I was going to be able to cover all the bases and so, I just kind of went in, and if you’ll excuse the expression, I decided I would wing it. And as it turned out, we played some Chuck Berry tunes and we did some reggae grooves. And they asked me what I was going to be doing for the next few years. I had to think about it for a nanosecond, because I had really worked really hard to establish myself as a studio musician and I knew, I’d be giving that up. But there was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity to work with a Beatle.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
What was it like being a member of Wings, and what were some of your fondest memories of those years?


JUBER:
I like to think of my period with Wings as getting my master’s degree from McCartney University, because it was a real education. I learned a lot about record production, song writing, and about the business of music. As you can imagine, just being in a band with Paul McCartney was an amazing experience. It was certainly a highlight of my career and gave me a launch pad to be able to move from England to America and re-establish myself on this side of the Atlantic. But it was just great being able to get up on stage and play with Paul and having the incredible concert experiences too. One particular memory is, we were in Glasgow on the last night of a UK tour and earlier that year, Paul and Wings had a big hit with a song called “Mull of Kintyre,” which was almost like a Scottish anthem. And on the tour dates we had bag-piper that would be silhouetted above the stage playing along with the tune, because there are bagpipes on the record. On the final night of the tour, we actually had the Campbelltown Bagpipe Band come marching through the audience, and just the feeling of this audience reacting to a bag pipe band, marching from the back of the hall up on to the stage was really just an incredible thing.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
You released a book called “Guitar with Wings,” which is a photographic memoir of the time you spent with Paul McCartney & Wings.  Have you always been fascinated with photography, and did you take most of the photos in that book?


JUBER:
A couple of years ago, I released a book called “Guitar with Wings.” It’s what I call a photo memoir of mostly my period with the band because I had a lot of pictures that I had taken that had just been in shoe boxes for 30 years and really deserved to see the light of day. I was not a photographer prior to that, but joining the group and seeing Linda McCarthy constantly taking pictures and realizing that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I got myself a good camera. And I did kind of fly on the wall type photography with no flash and using fast film for low light conditions. And it was cool, I enjoyed taking photos and something I wish I had more time and attention for. The visual is something that I never really kind of, truly appreciated when I was younger because I was always listening, I was listening to music and figuring things out on guitar. So the hobbies really kind of fell by the wayside as I completely became absorbed in the instrument. But joining Wings and having the time to actually be taking photographs, looking back on it, was actually kind of a really cool thing. And while I’m traveling, I still try and get pictures of the different environments that I’m in.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
You’ve recorded a couple of albums of Beatles’ material.  How did you decide on the songs for those albums; were they your favorites, or did you feel that those songs lent themselves to an acoustic instrumental approach that fit your style of guitar-playing?


JUBER:
I just completed my third album of Beatles tunes. First one was “LJ Plays the Beatles.”  LJ, that’s me, I’m known as LJ. Some years later, I did Volume 2. My wife, Hope, who produces these records insists that I have to keep playing Beatle songs because she loves my playing and she loves what I do with those songs. So, I’ve just completed for release in 2017 another album. This one is “LJ Can’t Stop Playing the Beatles.” There’s no shortage of great tunes to work with. And typically what will happen is, I’ll pick up the guitar and I’ll start playing a Beatle tune and think “Oh,this could make a really good arrangement.” Sometimes, they come really quickly, and other times they really take a lot of work. Trying to find a good balance between John Lennon songs, Paul McCartney songs and George Harrison’s songs can be a challenge. But they all have their own particular kinds characters and they have certain favorites. On the new album, I did an arrangement of “And Your Bird Can Sing,” which has a very characteristic guitar line that is played with two guitars on the Beatles’ record. Doing it as a solo piece, I have to be able to play that whole thing on one guitar. So, I enjoy those kinds of challenges to be able to capture the spirit of the Beatles records but be able to integrate that into a solo guitar arrangement. That’s happened a number of times. I just had this challenge of being able to do “I Saw Her Standing There” and capture the bass line and the melody at the same time. Some of the quirky John Lennon tunes like “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Am the Walrus” and on the next album, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” They’re musically interesting and I like to get into the granular detail and try and capture some of the elements that we associate with the recording itself, not just the song but the actual Beatles’ record.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
Can you describe some of your guitar approach?


JUBER:
One of the tools that I use in my arranging process is to use altered tunings on the guitar rather than typically standard tuning. I use a tuning we call Dad Gad, D A D G A D. And that changes the range of the guitar slightly. It allows me to play some of the lower bass notes and arrange the voices within the instrument in a different. And I have some very special guitars that lend themselves to the intensity of this kind of playing. I have a signature model with Martin Guitars which has been an ongoing project, where we’ve tried different wood combinations and always with the same body size. And it’s really evolved to the point where the instrument that I now play is just about as good as it can get.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
What’s your creative process like when composing new music?


JUBER:
My creative process when I’m composing is very quite variable and it might be that I’m sitting in an airport at 6 o’ clock in the morning and suddenly, I’m sitting with my guitar and an idea will just flow under my fingers. Other times, I might wake up with a melody in my head. I have a composition called the “White Pass Trail” that was inspired by a trip to Alaska. White Pass Trail being one of the routes that prospectors took into the Yukon during the Goldrush. It’s just the imagery of that and then taking a narrow gauge railroad through the White Pass Trail kind of inspired a train type composition. It could be any number of things. I mean, I’ve written tunes for some of our dogs, for example. I’ve written tunes for romantic moments. I’ve got one that’s called “Love At First Sight” which is from when I first met my wife. And you know, whatever the inspiration comes along, but composing is something that I actually have to have a fair amount of time for, so that I can just sit and hyper-focus on that. And the last few years, I’ve been tending to go more with the arranging like with “Holidays and Hollynights,” the Christmas album and “LJ Can’t Stop Playing the Beatles.” Audiences like to hear familiar tunes, but my audiences have also now come to recognize my own compositions as familiar. So, I try and keep a balance. I started out mostly just writing my own stuff and I’ve written about 150 pieces. I kind of allow myself some time to let those kinds of fields lie fallow and draw some inspiration from great songwriting, too.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
How do you go about creating music or soundtracks?  Does the visual component of movies, TV shows and video games inspire you in a certain way when it comes time to compose the music?


JUBER:
When I’m doing any composing for a soundtrack, for a movie, television or video game, the inspiration comes in a very different way because the rhythm of the scene in a movie really demands a certain type of approach, and of course, the character interaction and the circumstances, all conspire to direct the style of the music. I did a documentary a few years ago called “Children of the Harvest” that was about the children of micro-farm workers in America and that really demanded a certain kind of rural approach with some slide guitar and a little bit of banjo here and there…certainly not an urban approach to it, whereas, if it was something that would be much more urban and dynamic, I’d be more likely to pick up an electric guitar and go for something more rock-driven. So, there’s no set rules other than just for me, it’s just a question of being organized, watching the picture and getting a feeling for the dynamics of it and of course, collaborating with the director in order to be able to get the right kind of feeling for what that particular creative direction should be.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
What’s it like working with your wife Hope in terms of composing music?


JUBER:
The work that I do with my wife really divides between her producing or co-producing my records…and also helping out with my stage act because she’s a comedy writer, so it’s kind of handy to have a writer as your spouse when it comes to generating stories and tweaking the patter in between tunes for a live show. But she and I also work together as songwriters. We’re written a number of theatrical pieces. She used to have a comedy rock ‘n roll band called the Housewives and we turned that into a musical called “It’s the Housewives.” It’s going to be published in 2017. Her dad was Sherwood Schwartz, who created both “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch,” and he was a fan of our songwriting. So, he asked us to write scores to the musicals for both of those. “Gilligan” in particular, we have seen produced multiple times and that’s about to be published also. And in that process, Hope tends to take the lead because being the lyricist typically, she’ll come up with lyric direction which then inspires some kind of musical twist for me. But it’s not always the case. I mean, there have been songs that she’s written entirely herself and I’ve simply arranged. And other times when I’ve jdone most of the lyrics work and she’ll help tweak the music. But generally, it kind of divides into lyrics and music. But we do enjoy collaborating. Although, sometimes when inspiration strikes, at 3 o’ clock in the morning. It’s like “nudge, nudge…Honey, I have an idea.” When we were writing “The Brady Bunch” score two weeks straight, we did nothing but compose. You walked into the house and you could see the electricity crackling, because there was so much creative energy going.


ACOUSTIC STORM:
You’ve released 24 albums thus far.  Are there other particular musical projects you are hoping to work on in the future?



JUBER:
“LG Can’t Stop Playing the Beatles” would be number 25. There are many projects that I still want to do. You know, I’d love to do an electric blues album, that’s definitely on the agenda. I’ve been getting more and more into improvisation, whether it’s on acoustic or electric guitar. And I still play a fair amount of electric guitar. I just have really focused my career on the acoustic, because it was something that I was just drawn to. And certainly from a practical point of view, just being able to put my guitar on my back and check a suitcase and go off to China or to the Czech Republic or anywhere around the world, and be able to do concerts without the complication of having a band. But I really enjoy playing with other musicians too, whether it’s in the studio or whether it’s live and having my trio is a step in that direction. And even with a trio doing acoustic gigs, we still end the evening with me playing electric guitar too. So, I think that’s a future direction.