Versatile rock star Laurence Juber unchains ‘Guitar with Wings’ coffee table memoir
Laurence Juber, the lone surviving lead guitarist in Paul McCartney and Wings, grants an exclusive conversation below scrutinizing his stunning debut memoir, the photographically-enhanced Guitar with Wings.
Inspired by the earliest wave of Beatlemania that swept Britain in 1963, Juber developed a passion for the guitar and the ambition to make playing it his livelihood. Becoming one of London’s top studio guitarists, his noodling was featured on the soundtrack of the James Bond caper The Spy Who Loved Me, as well as recordings by the Alan Parsons Project, Sarah Brightman, Rosemary Clooney, and Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, among many others.
In March 1978, Juber was on the precipice of one of the lowest points of his life when his father Norman died suddenly of heart failure. Still grief-stricken one month later, McCartney serendipitously plucked Juber from the studio world, asking him to play lead guitar in what was to become the final incarnation of McCartney’s post-Beatles group. “That was quite a rebound that the universe handed me,” admits Juber.
Juber recorded and toured with Wings for three predominantly halcyon years, during which time they accumulated the chart-topping “Coming Up” live single, won a Best Rock Instrumental Performance Grammy for “Rockestra Theme,” and claimed the mantle as Billboard’s third most successful act of the 1970s behind Elton John and the Bee Gees.
After Wings was unable to fully recover from McCartney’s controversial marijuana bust on the eve of a lucrative 11-city Japanese tour, the guitarist sought a fresh start in Los Angeles and raised two girls with Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz’s daughter Hope. Since then, the two-time Grammy winner has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand studio players, being heard on soundtracks to such diverse movies as Dirty Dancing, Good Will Hunting, and Pocahontas.
Nicknamed “L.J.,” he has also gained worldwide recognition as a virtuoso concert performer, recording artist, composer, and arranger. He has distributed 24 albums, including LJ Plays the Beatles, which was voted one of Acoustic Guitar magazine’s all-time Top Ten. His stylistic approach fuses folk, jazz, blues, pop and classical, creating a multi-faceted performance that belies the use of only one instrument.
Guitar with Wings excavates hundreds of unpublished stills and memorabilia from the acoustic finger-style maestro’s brief tenure as chief axeman for Wings. The 250-page career retrospective coffee-table book was co-written by veteran hard-hitting scribe Marshall Terrill. Both authors candidly shed further light in a fresh dialogue starting now.
The Laurence Juber Interview, Part Three
Will there be a way for fans to purchase an autographed edition from your website?
Absolutely. Simply visit my Guitar with Wings official website. The special edition of 1,000 copies is signed and numbered with a slip case and a bonus CD containing my debut solo release, Standard Time.
Standard Time came about when Paul asked me to record various tunes out of his music publishing catalogue — MPL Communications — in the summer of 1979. “Maisie,” recorded a tad earlier in July 1978 during the Back to the Egg sessions, was my songwriting contribution to Standard Time. It was really my first finger-style guitar piece. It was recorded with Paul, Denny Laine on harmonica, and drummer Steve Holley, so it’s essentially a Wings song.
I was able to get a high resolution digital transfer of Standard Time for the special edition of Guitar with Wings. Now that I have my label — HoLoGram Recordings — I can more readily organize a stand-alone digital release of Standard Time for folks who do not own the special edition.
What was the genesis of Guitar with Wings?
Marshall Terrill convinced me to do it. It took over a year to complete, and it was quite a challenge to scan and organize the photos from my Wings archive as well as to write a narrative to provide the context. There are extra Wings snapshots not in the book, mostly those that didn’t fit the narrative.
Denny Laine wrote the foreword. Can you recall a particular moment that led to you being friends?
In September 1978, I was playing lead guitar in the house band on David Essex’s television show in London. Denny was a guest, and we did “Go Now” together [Author’s Note: Laine was the lead singer of the Moody Blues in 1964 when they struck paydirt with the haunting ballad]. He liked my playing and subsequently recommended me for Wings. The foreword of the book begins with his recounting of the conversation with Paul that led to my audition.
We have stayed in touch over the years and I’ve played on stage with him a few times recently. He’s authentic — a passionate artist, an imaginative songwriter, a soulful voice.
As for my fellow bandmates, I talked to Steve Holley and confirmed some recollections. It is an unimagined joy whenever we can share a stage together. I met Joe English once years ago — he’s been out of the music business for a long time — so he has no involvement with the book.
Has Paul read Guitar with Wings or sent any comments to you?
I’ve been dealing with his office, so he knows about it. I didn’t expect any comments. I think that it is hard for him to go back to that period since Wings was Paul and Linda’s band.
Did Paul display any wariness when he initially noticed your camera?
My camera work was quite discreet — no flash. Linda was constantly taking pix, so it was all par for the course.
Did you take all the photos in the book?
Mostly mine, some publicity shots, a few from fans, and a few licensed from MPL’s archive. The majority of the concert photos were taken by my brother Graham at London’s Wembley Arena.
Can you identify several images that hold a very special place in your heart?
It’s a narrative, so it’s tough to isolate specific photos. There were many nuances to the experience: band, family, and studio environment. They are all postcards from the past and it depends on what one is looking for.
There are some shots of Paul with his guitars that are red meat for the gear heads. There’s a cool one of Pete Townsend and another of Linda at the Hammond organ with John Bonham and Ronnie Lane in the background — both from the “Rockestra Theme” session at Abbey Road [October 3, 1978].
The more personal ones appeal to me: the pictures of Linda with James — then a toddler — in particular.
The Marshall Terrill Interview
What are some of the most fascinating photos?
To me the most fascinating shots are of the candid photos of Paul McCartney in the studio working, but I noticed his family was always within arm’s reach. Wings was truly a family affair. One gets the sense that his wife and kids kept Paul grounded.
During your research, what were you most surprised to discover about Laurence’s tenure in Wings?
How diversified Wings was musically. During Laurence’s time with Wings, they played all sorts of styles: rock, pop, folk, reggae, disco, new wave, techno, big band, orchestra, Rockestra, ballads, everything.
Laurence was the perfect pick for Wings because he could play anything that was thrown his way and had to adapt quickly. This is where his studio experience came in handy. LJ is a musical chameleon but he was also able to put his own stamp on the Wings catalog from ’78 to ’81. To see him live is to witness a master class in guitar.
Why do critics tend to dismiss Wings’ vast accomplishments and music? And might Guitar with Wings lead to a critical reappraisal?
You have to understand it wasn’t just the critics who dismissed Wings’ accomplishments — it was McCartney who was the most dismissive of the group. Because Wings came along in the shadow of the Beatles, nothing was ever going to be good enough. It was never an apples to apples comparison.
But let’s look at Wings strictly from a historical and musical point of view: they were about as organic as you could get and eventually they became the third most popular act of the 1970s. Only Elton John and the Bee Gees fared better from a chart perspective.
In the U.S. alone, Wings charted 23 Top 40 singles with 14 of them going Top 10, five of which went to No. 1. “Silly Love Songs” was the No. 1 song of 1976. They released 10 albums, nine of which were in the Top 10, and five of them went to No. 1. Band on the Run is as good as any Beatles album.
Can you even think of the last time a group ever did that? They would be considered a super group in today’s music world…but because it was right on the heels of the Beatles, those accomplishments were summarily dismissed by critics.
The other thing that gets overlooked is the 1975–76 Wings Over the World tour. That was truly a groundbreaking tour of the 1970s. In many ways it set the tone of sound technology, staging, and what became the template for the modern arena rock band.
McCartney had an opportunity to set the record straight with Wingspan — the 2001 documentary, the book, and the album — but didn’t do the story and Wings’ history justice. The project was more about Paul and Linda. I felt like it was a lost opportunity. That said, when the album was released, it shot straight to No. 2. That tells you there’s a big market for Wings product.
With the 2013 re-release of the Wings Over America boxed set CD and several of his earlier works, I think McCartney is starting to realize that there is a Wings audience completely separate from the Beatles. I hope Guitar with Wings will lead to a critical reappraisal of Wings’ work, especially where it concerns Back to the Egg…that album just gets better with time.
How did you meet the acoustic finger-style maestro?
I first met Laurence back in the early 1980s when I was a vendor at what was then called Beatlefest, working my way through college. LJ wouldn’t have any recollection of that because I was just a small time dealer at the time. But he and his wife Hope were always so kind and made the effort to shake everyone’s hand and say hello. Just a class act.
Fast forward to 2010 — LJ had just released LJ Plays the Beatles Vol. 2, and I interviewed him for Daytrippin’ magazine. He answered every one of my questions and gave me so much more than I expected. We chatted for a good two hours.
I finally just said, “LJ, your story is a book and if I can find a publisher to say yes, will you do it?” Because LJ gave me so much information in that interview, I ended up writing a proposal for Dalton Watson Fine Books and they were intrigued.
When the publisher, Glyn Morris, met LJ, he was struck by how bright and articulate LJ is…and of course, both men are British and they just hit it off. I think LJ liked the fact that Glyn was going to allow him to write and design the book the way he wanted to without any interference. Trust me when I say this is truly LJ’s book.
Why should folks add Guitar with Wings to their collection?
For many reasons…first and foremost, it’s a beautiful book. Second, LJ is the person you want telling the story. No member from Wings has ever written a book from the inside. The guy has an encyclopedic and photographic memory for the details. He is in many ways a historian/custodian of that era.
Then there are the wonderful photos, which no one has ever seen and are outrageously cool. He also added tons of great sidebars about his favorite instruments as well as a few of the Wings bootlegs. LJ truly did all of the heavy lifting on this and worked really hard on this book. I’m just lucky that I got to come along for the ride.
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