This is the second half of Daytrippin’s exclusive interview with guitarist Laurence Juber
by Marshall Terrill
Back to the Egg press conference, 1979:
(L-R) Top: Paul McCartney, Laurence Juber
Bottom: Steve Holly, Denny Laine, Linda McCartney
[Photo courtesy Laurence Juber]
Laurence Juber has no need to rely on his past, therefore, he isn’t afraid to revisit it every now and then.
Often considered most famous for playing lead guitar in Wings from 1978 to 1981, he has since had a distinguished career as a solo finger-style guitarist.
The two-time Grammy award-winning artist has developed a reputation as a world-class guitar virtuoso solo artist, composer and arranger, and released 15 critically acclaimed solo albums since Wings folded. His latest, LJ Plays The Beatles Vol. 2 (Solid Air, 2010), is a solo acoustic guitar arrangement of 15 songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It is also the long-awaited sequel to LJ Plays the Beatles (Solid Air, 2000), which was voted one of Acoustic Guitar magazine’s top 10 all-time acoustic albums.
In part two of this candid and definitive interview, Juber discusses McCartney’s reputation for treating musicians like sidemen, how Wings went out with a whimper rather than a bang, his new Beatles tribute CD and his busy life today.
Daytrippin': Let’s address the reputation Paul McCartney had at the time for treating members of Wings like “sidemen”, a charge that was leveled by other Wings members and played up quite a bit in the 1970s.
Juber: A sideman is a typically a musician that is hired to play a role on stage and/or in the studio. For me specifically, to deliver a guitar solo, some groove and texture, a cool rhythm guitar part or whatever was appropriate. For example during the Back to the Egg period, as well as playing the obvious lead guitar stuff, I played bass guitar on “Love Awake,” slide acoustic on “After the Ball,” the Flamenco lead acoustic solo on “Goodnight Tonight.”
So yes, I was a sideman, but the job assignment very much included considering myself a part of the band. I’m a bit of a chameleon stylistically and I think that I got the gig because I could play the bluesy lead stuff, but also other styles like the jazzy intro on “Baby’s Request.” What’s on the recordings represents the creative opportunities that Paul afforded me and he gave me a lot of leeway. The only times he ever told me what to specifically play was when he had a particular lick, like on “Daytime Nighttime Suffering.”
Addressing the question in financial terms it was still a ‘work for hire’ and a reasonable improvement from what I was making as a studio musician. I’ve never had any complaints about the financial end of the arrangement. Early on, Paul had a bit of a reputation for not paying his bandmates well. This really goes back to when Wings first started and Paul had limited cash flow. There were financial issues because of the way the Beatles broke up and it took a while for those to be solved. Part of it was also Paul’s idea of creating Wings essentially from scratch. When the band first started, Paul told me that he [basically only] had an office and a phone, and got to work. I think he wanted to know the basic functions of the business end before he would hand it over to someone else. So basically the attitude was, “This is a small band and we’re going to get in a bus and go to a college and play at lunch time and share whatever money goes into the hat.” It’s a nice utopian kind of vision, but it became hard on the other guys as time wore on and didn’t quite fit with the fact that Paul was a still a megastar. By the time I joined the band things had changed, although the ‘esprit de corps’ was still there.
In all its incarnations Wings sounded like a band, not like a solo McCartney project and I think that reflects well not only on Paul’s ability to share in the creative process, but also on the importance of Denny and Linda’s contributions, too. The other players brought their own personalities to the scene.
Daytrippin': And from what little you’ve stated here, it sounds as if he gave you a lot more leeway creatively than Denny Seiwell, Henry or say Jimmy McCullough?
Juber: I can’t speak for Jimmy McCullough. Regarding the others, you’d have to ask Denny Seiwell, but he’s not expressed any reservations about being creatively inhibited. I do know that Henry McCullough’s solo on “My Love” has his own voice. I’ve heard a couple of different stories about what went on there – according to Paul in Wingspan, Henry recorded it live with the orchestra. According to Trevor Jones (the late Wings roadie), it was an overdub that took all night to record and Henry was pretty much in tears by the time they finished recording. So I don’t know who to believe on that. It’s a very passionate solo and there’s a lot of emotion in there and I’d probably be reduced to tears, too.
Daytrippin': What are your favorite songs on Back to the Egg and why?
Juber: I keep rediscovering tracks. I like “Baby’s Request”; “Arrow Through Me”; “Spin it On”…
Daytrippin': For me, “Spin it On” embodies that particular incarnation of Wings. Like the band, the song has this incredible energy and sense of fun.
Juber: Yes, agreed…it’s like punk-rockabilly and has this really cool relentless vibe. I did all the guitar solo stuff on that song in about 20 minutes. At least that’s how long it felt. It was me sitting next to Paul in the control room, just playing for him. I was just bringing my own personality to it. Steve Holly came up with the double speed drum overdub on “Arrow Through Me.” There’s two drum tracks on that song and almost nothing else, other than the horn lick and the electric piano. I remember Paul Simon came into the studio and listened to the song and said, “Wow, how did you get that incredible bass sound?” When we told him it was the left hand of the electric piano he was truly surprised.
Daytrippin': What do you recall of the studio Rockestra lineup (David Gilmour, Pete Townshend, John Bonham, Kenny Jones, John Paul Jones, Ronnie Laine, to name but a few) when you recorded “Rockestra Theme” and “So Glad to See You Here”?
Juber: It was an amazing session. We did those two songs in an afternoon. These were all seasoned musicians, so they didn’t need much time to learn the tunes. The technical aspect was a bit challenging because the engineers were running two 24-track machines linked together, which was a fairly new thing to do. There were dozens of mic channels all going at once with three drum kits, six guitars, three basses and keyboards, horns and percussion. But everybody checked their egos at the door and played great, and it was such a wonderful experience. Listening to those tracks now, they are huge, although I don’t know that many people have heard the ‘real deal’. The ’90s-era CD master was only adequate and the download version that was available for a while was still a compressed format. Hopefully the Concord release, when it comes, will be an improvement. I’ve got some great unpublished photos of that session. I remember Linda taking a bunch, too.
Daytrippin': Speaking of Linda’s photography, she took some great photos of you…she is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated rock photographers of all-time. What made her a great photographer?
Juber: She was completely unpretentious. She wasn’t about people posing for pictures. It was all candid stuff. A lot of time she shot Polaroids or 35mm using high-speed B&W film in low-light scenarios. She would use Kodak recording film and run it at 3200 and not use flash. So a lot of time you wouldn’t even be aware she was snapping photos. There’s got to be hundreds, if not thousands of photos she took of Wings on stage. I’m sure there’s lot of interesting photos of us in her archives. And yes, I think she should be recognized along with Jim Marshall, Henry Diltz and other rock photographers of that ilk. Her pictures are amazing.
Daytrippin': Most of the songs from Back to the Egg had a music video shot for them, which was an uncommon thing for artists back in the pre-MTV era. What stands out in your mind about making those videos?
Juber: What really stands out was the fact that there was no MTV. Those videos ended up as a half-hour syndicated TV special that I think was sponsored by Coca-Cola. They were state of the art at the time…look at the editing techniques on “Spin it On”- it was sped up in sections to give a special effect. We’re talking 1979, when answering machines were a new-fangled item. Fax machines were just coming into existence; there were no cell phones and a single VHS tape would set you back about $25.
MTV didn’t go on the air until 1981. So in a way, it felt kind of pioneering, but the real pioneers were the Beatles, weren’t they? “Paperback Writer”; “Rain”; “Penny Lane”; “A Day in the Life”; “Hello Goodbye.” Those were all done in the sixties. The Beatles really created the whole original MTV-style with A Hard Day’s Night. I’m sure there was a certain kind of continuity in Paul’s mind to do promo videos. And I must say this: even though I was out of my adolescence, there was still a self-consciousness I had about myself. “I’m a lead guitarist and a serious musician,” and so I had to loosen up a bit to get into the spirit of some of those videos. The video for “Wonderful Christmastime” was great because we got to hang out at the pub and have a bonfire outside. I definitely remember the “Spin it On” video, because we were wearing these fake fur-lined leather flight jackets (this was before the veggie philosophy had really kicked-in). We’re filming in a aircraft hangar in the cool English Spring, but we had massive amounts of lights behind us, so we were roasting. When I got home that day, I hung that jacket up and it was still dripping days later because it was so hot on stage.
Daytrippin': The 19-date UK Tour kicked off with a series of concerts in Liverpool in November 1979. Obviously Liverpool has a special place in Paul’s heart. Any special memories for you regarding Liverpool?
Juber: It is certainly an appropriate place to start a Macca tour. We did some kind of press event on a boat on the Mersey. I remember the free warm-up show we did at the Liverpool Institute, which was Paul’s old school. If memory serves me correctly, on the opening night all the taxi drivers went on strike in Liverpool. They deliberately picked that night because the show was such a big deal.
When you’re on tour, you have your priorities and have to focus on playing for those two hours onstage. It was all a grand experience and I was still in the learning mode. One of the great regrets I have from that period was that by the time we got to Japan, we had worked out the kinks in our show and things were starting to gel. Listen to the Glasgow show, and you’ll hear a real band. The 1979 tour was still thought of as the promotional tour for Back to the Egg, even though it took place almost six months after the album came out. But the repertoire was moving beyond that. We had “Another Day,” “Let ‘Em In”, “Live and Let Die” worked up for that Japanese tour. It was fun playing Beatle tunes, too.
Daytrippin': Two songs that were originally recorded by Paul as a solo artist but certainly played in concert by Wings on that tour were “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Coming Up.” Did you learn them in the studio or live?
Juber: We learned both of those songs to play live. When I first heard the solo version of “Coming Up,” I thought it was a bit fast and quirky. I preferred what we did with it as a band. It had this rock and R&B sensibility to it and it just felt cool when we were doing it. “Wonderful Christmastime” was kind of a novelty number. It’s a nice, jolly tune and is still one of the all-time Top 25 Christmas records. I almost wish Paul had written another classic in the vein of “White Christmas.” Nonetheless, it was an original take on the Yuletide theme. I sang backing vocals on stage and would invariably get a mouthful of the fake snow that they dropped on the stage during that song.
Daytrippin': The fact that “Coming Up” and the entire concert in Glasgow, Scotland, were recorded live leads me to believe there was a live album in the works?
Juber: We were just documenting what we were doing. Paul has subsequently recorded and released a live album of just about every tour. At that time, not much time had passed since Wings Over America was released and it was still too early in the game to determine if he was going to release a live album of this particular tour. “Coming Up” as a live single ended up being a No.1 record in the summer of 1980, because it really ‘hit the spot’ in what radio was looking for from Paul McCartney. Had that song been on Back to the Egg, both it and the album would have been much bigger. It’s a nice piece of classic rock because it had that nice combination of hook, riff and vibe.
Daytrippin': I assume the highlight of that tour for you was the “Concert For Kampuchea” when you played the guitar solo for “Let It Be” in front of a ‘Who’s Who of Rock Royalty’?
Juber: No, no. The highlight for me was the whole second Glasgow concert. Kampuchea was a stage highlight in terms of getting to play with all the rock luminaries and (laughs) having Pete Townsend looking over my shoulder on “Let It Be.” At a certain point, I realized no one out of this huge band was going to step forward to play that solo and I’d been doing it for the whole tour, so I just went for it. It was one of those moments in my career where I was able to say, “Well, I got to do that…” It was a magical moment, but the highlight of the tour from a musical point of view was that last Glasgow concert. That was the point on the tour when we were really cooking as a band. It was also a more complete set than Kampuchea. And to be honest, if you listen to the Last Flight bootleg CD, the version we did of “Let It Be” in Glasgow was even better. I’ll never forget the audience reaction to the bagpipe band marching through the audience that night.
Daytrippin': Paul McCartney’s marijuana bust in Japan meant the tour had to be canceled and appears to have led to Wings’ demise. Had Paul not been busted, were there definitive plans for Wings to tour the United States and other countries in 1980?
Juber: Yes, there were plans but I don’t know how definitive they were. We certainly had meetings about it and looked at designs for staging the show in the US. I also remember all of us watching a news report on Israel with promoter Harvey Goldsmith, who said, “See that area? We could put a stage there for you.” He was suggesting that we should hold a concert in Israel. Back to your question – there was certainly discussion about touring the US in the summer of 1980. In fact, had we done it, we would have been on tour with the No. 1 single (“Coming Up”) and then Wings could have potentially gone out with a bang rather than a whimper.
Daytrippin': Wings officially folded in April 1981. How were you given the news?
Juber: We knew before then that it was over. In fact, I moved to New York at the end of January 1981, so that tells you that, for me, the writing was clearly on the wall. I didn’t want to hang around when I knew there was other work to be done. How was I told? Paul called in November and he was very nice and said, “Listen, I’m doing this album (Tug of War) and George Martin doesn’t want it be a Wings record, but we’re still going to be working as a band in January.” And we indeed were working in January 1981 on the Cold Cuts collection. Things like, “A Love For You” – there ‘s some of me in there. But there was no real reason for there to be another Wings record and why wait around if there was no tour to do. It was also coincidental with John Lennon’s death, but the process was already underway. When John died, it reinforced the insecurity of being a former Beatle and being out in public at that point.
Daytrippin': It also seems like it was fated that Wings broke up the same month you met your wife Hope?
Juber: Listen, you have no idea how fated it was…the whole story of why Hope was in New York in the first place started because of John Lennon’s death.
She is, and always has been, a big Beatles fan and, after John died, she became very depressed. She didn’t seem to be getting over it, and her parents were worried. Her mom called and said, “I know what will make you feel better – you’re going to get your hair done at my hairdresser.” Hope wasn’t crazy about the idea, but she went anyway. So she goes to the Beverly Hills salon, and the hairdresser recognized her sadness and tells her, “You really don’t seem happy, so why don’t we have a cup of coffee. I’ll finish with my next client and you go take a walk around the block, by the time you’re done I’ll be done.” So, she walks around not really looking where she’s going and she bumps straight into somebody. She is actually standing on a pair of boots. She looks up and it’s Ringo! Hope apologizes for bumping into him and mentions how sorry she was about John’s death and he starts to talk to her. He tells her how he’s getting on with his life, making a new record – which, by coincidence, was the record I was playing on (Stop and Smell the Roses) – and that focusing on work at times like these is really important. The next day, her dad (famous TV producer Sherwood Schwartz) called her and said, “I’m doing a show at Paramount and I’d like you to work on it as a writer.” She had not been willing to write for her dad before. It was only because of her encounter with Ringo that she accepted the offer. Subsequently she went to New York with an actor friend she met while working at that studio. They had arranged to to meet at a comedy club. She and I met there and the universe shifted.
Daytrippin': I’ve always felt Paul and Linda McCartney were role models for you and Hope in that rock’n’roll and family can be blended successfully. Were they role models?
Juber: Absolutely! They were a wonderful example of how a husband and wife can work together. Linda was very much the Earth Mother; extremely unpretentious. The McCartneys were, as a couple, very grounded and truly in love with each other. None of the game-playing and complications that often go with the entertainment business. Compare with what happened in Paul’s subsequent marriage with Heather Mills. He and Linda were a definite influence on my life and marriage.
Daytrippin': In July 1980 you recorded “Private Property” and “Attention” with Paul and Linda McCartney for Ringo Starr’s Stop and Smell the Roses. What was it like watching Paul and Ringo interact and work together?
Juber: Simply amazing. The fact that I’m sitting there in the studio watching Paul and Ringo work and I say to myself, “Wow, there’s half of the Beatles. How cool is this?” They had a sixth sense about each other and where to go musically. It was magical to watch the two interact. We also did “Sure to Fall” and Linda’s tune “Love’s Full Glory” that ended up on Wide Prairie.
Daytrippin': Six years later you recorded “Shanghai Surprise” with George Harrison. What was it was like working with him and then, of course, his experience with your lovely wife, Hope.
Juber: There was a producer named Bob Rose I had been working with on a few projects, who produced some stuff for Donovan that was released in Japan, plus an album with Michael Des Barres (the singer from Checkered Past and Power Station), who I had written some songs with. George Harrison had asked Bob to help him out with some of the tracks for the Shanghai Surprise soundtrack, so I went into the studio and played acoustic. I loaned George some of my equipment and he played on one of my guitars, and we spent a lot of time talking about the Beatles, because believe it or not, George was a big Beatles fan. He was just a lovely guy and very gentle.
I literally went directly from being with Hope when she gave birth to our second daughter Ilsey, to the studio with George. Hope was upset because she really wanted to meet him, so I got him on the phone to talk to her when she was in the hospital, and he said, “When you’re ready, come on down to the studio.” So a couple of days later I took Hope and Ilsey down to Village Recorders in West LA and George danced around with our new daughter and said some words in Sanskrit, which he told us was a blessing for ‘the gift of music’. It worked! She is extremely musical and now she has her own band called Walking In Space, who are being produced by Randy Jackson.
Daytrippin': Didn’t Hope push you in the direction of LJ Plays the Beatles Vol.1? Even though you were in Wings, it seems as if playing the Beatles is such a natural fit for you given your analytical mind and adaptability.
Juber: I think that my approach works with tunes from any era and I’ve tackled classical pieces and standards from the 1930s, as well as my own tunes. I tend not to discriminate by decade! The Beatles repertoire is just so rich and resonant to me and my audience.
I had recorded a version of “Rain” on an album of mine called Mosaic. I’d play it in concert and people would say, “Oh, please do an entire album of Beatles.” Well, I was reluctant, because those songs are so iconic and, at that time, I had been focusing on composing rather than arranging. Hope said, “If you won’t do it for them, at least do it for me.” I said, “Well, then you’re going to produce it.” She had already been co-producing with me, but I told her on this one she was totally in charge. And LJ Plays the Beatles turned out well and proved to be quite popular. Acoustic Guitar magazine selected it as one of the top 10 acoustic guitar recordings of all time.
Daytrippin': And in doing the Beatles, did you have a new appreciation for them as writers, players and their styles of music that they fused together?
Juber: Every time I hear a Beatles record I gain a new appreciation. Above and beyond the analytical part of it and creating the arrangements, when I start deconstructing Beatles songs, I find unexpected things. I can never listen to a Beatles record twice and hear exactly the same thing. There’s always something that I’ve missed, or a new discovery where you say, “Wow, what was that little guitar lick?” Or the way in which the backing vocals come in…there’s always something.
And in a way, it’s a reason why I decided to do LJ Plays the Beatles Vol. 2. In the decade since Vol.1 , I’ve learned a lot in terms of my guitar artistry and was willing to apply that to a fresh batch of Beatles songs. (LJ Plays the Beatles Vol. 2 includes “Penny Lane”; “Eleanor Rigby”; “Drive My Car”; “Here There & Everywhere”; “You Can’t Do That”; “Blackbird”; “I Feel Fine”; “Dear Prudence”; “When I’m Sixty Four”; “Please, Please Me,”; “No Reply”; “I Am The Walrus”; “All I’ve Got to Do”; “Michelle” and “The Long and Winding Road.”)
Daytrippin': Was there a particular reason why you chose this batch of songs for the second volume?
Juber: For business reasons, it was conceived as a Lennon/McCartney collection. Some of them are favorites; some of them are guitaristic challenges; some of them are Hope’s suggestions. If Paul had George’s Chet Atkins-style picking skills, he could have written “When I’m 64” on the guitar. As it was, he wrote it on the piano, but it fits so neatly onto the fingerboard with minimal adaptation. With “Penny Lane,” I just wanted to tackle the musical complexity of the song; the same goes for “I Am the Walrus.” Having such a positive experience with “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the first album, I felt “Walrus” was a natural musical heir to that song in John’s musical development.
There’s often a clear dividing line in their work, even though they were a partnership. As you know, “Penny Lane”, “Eleanor Rigby”,“Here, There and Everywhere”, “The Long and Winding Road” and “Blackbird” are very Paul. “You Can’t Do That”, “I Feel Fine”, “I Am The Walrus” and “Dear Prudence” are very John. He talked about intending “Please Please Me” to be a Roy Orbison-style song, so I wanted my arrangement of the song to stay true to John’s intention, rather than using the Beatle arrangement as a template. When I started doing it, Hope said, “Yeah, but where’s the urgency?” There’s a primal, sexual energy to the song and she wasn’t happy until I captured that. Then the challenge was to separate the intro harmonica motif from the melody. I dropped to to the lower strings and managed to capture a little of the Orbison ‘twang’ that I was looking for.
Daytrippin': “Dear Prudence” seems a natural fit for your finger-picking style of playing. With that said, was it an easy or hard song for you to reproduce?
Juber: It was actually kind of hard. Both that song and “Blackbird” were tricky for that very reason. When I did the first album, I stayed away from the already finger-picked tunes. Sometimes you have songs where the guitar part is so familiar that it’s essential to maintain at least the illusion of the original, while still blending in the melody.
Daytrippin': And that’s what I thought was really interesting about LJ Plays the Beatles Vol. 2 – you are not only playing the melody and the chords, but your guitar is actually mimicking the vocals and I’ve never heard that in an instrumental album before.
Juber: Well, yes, that’s my job. That’s really what’s it’s all about, to articulate the tune. I don’t think of it as mimicry, however. The process is to represent the melody with a reasonably ‘vocal’ tone and incorporate this other stuff from the record: vocal nuances, guitar parts, bass parts, backing vocals etc.
For a lot of the album I used DADGAD which is my favorite alternate guitar tuning. The original of “Dear Prudence” is in drop D tuning, and it’s interesting because, even though it’s in D, John twists the pattern so that he’s not leading with the bottom string; he’s actually leading with the fifth, the open A string. It ‘floats’ in a way that a normal picking pattern wouldn’t. Incidentally, it’s actually the same right hand pattern he uses on “Julia,” but there it starts on the tonic, the home key note. Using DADGAD, I was able to configure it so I could get the melody as well as all of the other bits. John, Paul and George all picked up some picking tricks from Donovan in India when they were there with Maharishi.
There’s something quite ‘mantra-like’ about repetitive finger-picking patterns. John had this ability to transcend time in some of his songs. Add the two together and the results can be quite potent. When we were recording “Dear Prudence,” it was Hope’s birthday. As part of her present, she insisted I record it that day, and that evening we were going to see Sir Paul at the Hollywood Bowl. The house behind my studio was under construction and, though we recorded a bunch of takes, we couldn’t use them because there was a low frequency rumble. We had about a brief time-window of 15 minutes from the time the noise stopped to the time we had to leave to see Paul. When I listened to the recording the next day, we got everything in that window. On one hand, it felt like we were stopping time, but on the other hand there was a certain urgency, which I think was appropriate creatively.
Daytrippin': You’re so busy these days with the new CD, the year-round gigs, your web site…what else are you up to?
Juber: The question is what am I not up to? The best thing to do is check my web site at www.laurencejuber.com to find out. There’s always something going on. I recently did a documentary for Dateline NBC called “Children of the Harvest” about children of migrant farm workers. Dennis Murphy, the reporter who did the piece, is a fan and requested me. There’s a CD of that score in the works, also a live CD/DVD from a concert that I did in 2009. I’ve also been doing all the guitar session work on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which is a top show on cable TV. Last year I did a studio album with Barry Manilow, but I don’t know when that’s coming out. It’s a very interesting rock concept album. I played on a Christmas album with Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.
Hope and I have also written a few musicals, one of which was Hope’s creation called It’s The Housewives! The best way I can describe it is Dream Girls meets Spinal Tap. That will get a regional premiere production in Lincoln, Nebraska in March 2011. We also have written the score to Gilligan’s Island, The Musical and just came back looking at a theater in Hawaii for a proposed production.
In early March, I’ll be doing the Eight Days A Week Beatle Cruise, which will be a delightful time. Tony Bramwell, who was with the Beatles almost since the beginning, will be there and, if you’re into in-depth knowledge of the Beatles, Tony is the guy to ask. His book, Magical Mystery Tours is amazing. Plus, the cruise gives me the opportunity to hang out with Beatles fans, particularly guitar-playing Beatles fans. I’m pretty free with the information I put out there and there’s an interesting synergy. This year I’m also doing a lot of live shows. A lot of times my agent emails me and says, “Here’s where you’re playing,” and I just go out and play my ‘guerilla tours‘ where I’ll hit a particular area of the country for a week or so. But then I’ll be back at home for a TV or movie score, some sessions or a production gig. Being a guitarist is what I do, have always done, and the fact that I’m busier than ever is truly a blessing.
Marshall Terrill is the author of more than a dozen books. His latest, Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon (Triumph Books, 2010) is available at www.amazon.com
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