❉ Grammy-winning ex-Wings guitarist Laurence Juber talks to Eoghan Lyng.
GRAMMY® winning guitarist Laurence Juber is a solo performer, recording artist, composer and arranger. First internationally recognized as lead guitarist in Beatle Paul McCartney’s Wings, with whom he won a Grammy, Juber has since established himself as world-renowned guitar virtuoso and entertainer. Known to his fans as LJ, he has recorded more than two dozen albums spotlighting his unique touch and tone on acoustic guitar. Released today (27 March, 2020) is The Fab 4th, Juber’s fourth album in a continuing series of arrangements for solo guitar of Beatles songs.
“Daytime Nighttime Suffering was the b-side to Goodnight Tonight” Laurence Juber explains. “Goodnight Tonight had the dance club thing going for it. We were meant to record in Abbey Road, but it was booked. I think Cliff Richard was recording there. So, Paul was building a replica studio in the basement of his office in Soho Square. At a band meeting, we were discussing the need for a new single. We asked Paul, “What would The Beatles do?” He said “We’d write a song over the weekend!” Steve Holley remembers it as a competition. I don’t necessarily remember it that way, but it could have been. Anyway, Paul wrote Daytime Nighttime Suffering over the weekend. Goodnight Tonight was the obvious hit, but Daytime Nighttime Suffering is one of his better crafted songs of the seventies.”
Wings were brilliant. They weren’t The Beatles, but who was? Wings were as integral to McCartney’s identity as the hardened Plastic Ono Band were to John Lennon’s. Though they claimed to be solo albums, Plastic Ono Band featured Ringo Starr as drummer, Imagine George Harrison on guitar and both had Klaus Voorman taking the four string role. McCartney’s path shook The Beatles entirely. Love them or hate them (and we’re in the former category), Wings were one hundred percent their own thing.
“Wings had such a range of music” Juber recalls. “A lot of the seventies singles like Silly Love Songs, Let Em In had those stacked harmonies from Paul, Linda and Denny. It was like The Carpenters or The Bee Gees – a strong harmony vocal presence. Back To The Egg was much more about rock n roll.”
Juber served as lead guitarist on Wings’ seventh, and final, studio album. Typically, the album wasn’t well received by the music presses,but it did have its moments, something which couldn’t be said for a lot of bands now on their seventh release. As with their raw debut, Wild Life, Back To The Egg has grown with the fullness of time.
“My daughter Ilsey is a songwriter” Juber says with deserved pride. ” She always says that there’s one song frequently referenced at songwriting sessions, and that’s Arrow Through Me. It’s a very vibey track. There’s a new tv series with Lenny Kravitz ‘s daughter, Zoe [High Fidelity] where they play that song. I played the lead guitar parts on Denny Laine’s Again and Again and Again. That’s a special one, because it was the only song Denny put forward for Back To The Egg. It was actually two songs that Paul suggested putting together. Denny’s a very interesting guy, because he’s got a folky side and a very soulful side. ”
Juber’s a very thoughtful, even philosophical, musician. He bandies terms like “Beatleology” and “guitaristic” with due recognition. He says that he always hears something new to The Beatles music whenever he listens to their eclectic back-catalogue. As well as a Beatle studier, he’s also a Beatle mimeo. Alone with a guitar, he’s transcribed whole Beatle tracks into gorgeous finger-picking instrumentals. He’s released his fourth in the series, the cannily titled The Fab 4th.
“It was my wife Hope who managed and produced all this”, Juber chuckles. ” It started on the LJ Plays The Beatles album. I don’t know if there’ll be a fifth, but there was more than enough for four. On this album, I wanted to showcase some of John’s lesser known songs. Songs like Every Little Thing and I’ll Be Back. I’ll Be Back is a nice one that closes the Hard Days Night album, and not as well-known as some of the others.”
As a guitarist of his standing, he recognises the intricacies, nuances, shadings and chords that made The Fab Four sound so fab. “The challenge with A Day In The Life was how to get the orchestral crescendo onto the guitar – I made it work by sliding an E chord all the way up the guitar’s neck. I also enjoyed arranging the John parts of the song, the emotion of the chords he uses. He doesn’t just go for the obvious progressions.
“I also didn’t want to entirely replicate the songs, wanting to put my own spin on them. I have done the replication in the past. I found if I did Strawberry Fields in DADGAD in the key of Bb, it translated well to solo guitar. I also gained some insight into George Harrison’s musical sensibility, having worked with him briefly. Watching his fingers you could see the jazz influence. I know he took lessons from a jazz-style guitarist when he was getting started. Don’t Bother Me which has a cool latin groove was his first contribution to the band, so I’ve done that, and I Need You – both are quite moody tunes.“
Topics in the conversation veer from Joe Meek references (“he was the closest we had in England to Phil Spector”) to working on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack (“I played on Time of My Life, She’s Like The Wind”). He might have missed out on playing on Wings stadium monster Live and Let Die, but he did play on another Bond film. “I played on The Spy Who Loved Me. Playing the James Bond theme was a dream come true. We did an instrumental version of Nobody Does It Better with me on electric, Marvin Hamlisch on piano and the string section. I only found out recently that the track was nominated for an Academy Award. I also played on the Carly Simon record without knowing it: while we were scoring the movie, I played some licks on the instrumental ride-out.
“Wings drummer Steve Holley and I were meant to be at Beatlefest in New York and Abbey Road On the River in Kentucky. At this point everything’s been cancelled, but I’m hoping we can still do Beatle Week in Liverpool in August. I typically play with Steve or with Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell, depending on who’s available. I call them ‘The Wingmen’. Denny Seiwell and Steve Holley are stylistically two completely different drummers. I never worked with Denny Seiwell in Wings, but I’ve got to work with him on sessions and we play in an LA-based club band too. You can really hear his style on the Ram album. He plays with a New York vibe, while Steve is one of the great English ‘heavy backbeat’ rock drummers.”
Another great musician Juber’s worked with is the lyrical Al Stewart. “We recorded at my place” Juber admits. ” Al would come in with song ideas, we’d develop a track, then I’d say “I’ll put the kettle on, while you come up with a lyric”. We did four albums together, Between The Wars was the first and a different side to Al, being set in the 1920s/30s – Night Train To Munich is a killer track from that album. That’s one of the special albums I’ve played on, another being Back To The Egg. One of the highlights of Egg was getting to play with Hank Marvin. I was a fan of his right from the get-go: from The Shadow’s Apache. It was great hanging out with him for an afternoon when we recorded Rockestra. That’s a pounding track – it has to be with John Bonham, Kenney Jones and Steve Holley playing on it!”
And now he plays by himself, beautifully transcribing The Beatles work into his own idiom. The Fab 4th more than happily bridges the hungry gap that covers us all as we wait the explosive Get Back. He’s a terrific finger-smith. To quote Carly Simon; nobody does it better!
❉ Laurence Juber: ‘The Fab 4th’ is released on Friday 27 March by HoLoGram Recordings.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng’s writing has also appeared in New Sounds, Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles. Follow him on Twitter. Visit his homepage.