December 8, 2010
October 26, 2010
By Marshall Terrill
STARTING OVER: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy by Ken Sharp (MTV/Gallery Books; October 2010; $26.99) provides an intimate collection of personal accounts and never-before-seen photographs behind the creation of the groundbreaking album which forever changed the face of music, and proved to be John Lennon’s final work.
Three decades since its release, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy is recognized as one of music’s most beloved albums and marked the creative rebirth of one of rock and roll’s most influential artists. For the first time ever, Starting Over offers the definitive text and visual account behind the creation of the historic record, which would ultimately serve as John’s last musical statement to the world. A number one record around the world, the GRAMMY award-winning Double Fantasy (1981’s “Album of the Year”) yielded the smash singles, “(Just Like) “Starting Over,” “Woman” and “Watching the Wheels.”
Constructed as an oral history by Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and author Ken Sharp, the story is told by the album’s key players including Yoko Ono, producer Jack Douglas, Geffen Records head David Geffen, the entire studio band, Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick who played on the sessions, engineers, arrangers, videographers, key record company personnel, media who interviewed John and Yoko during the promotion of the album (David Sheff/Playboy, Andy Peebles/BBC Radio, Dave Sholin/RKO Radio), photographers (Annie Leibovitz, Bob Gruen, Kishin Shinoyama, Paul Goresh), music journalists and Lennon himself via archival interviews. Starting Over weaves together the most comprehensive and extraordinary portrait of Lennon’s last days by one of rock’s premier writers.
Daytrippin’: What do you want Starting Over to convey to your readers?
Ken Sharp: In light of the horrible tragedy, the creative period prior to his murder signaled a creative rebirth for John Lennon. I wanted to covey that burst of creativity through the tapestry of people I interviewed for the book.
Daytrippin’: How old were you in 1980 and what affect did John Lennon’s death have on you?
Sharp: I was 17 and living back east in Fort Washington, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa. I didn’t hear about his death until the next morning. My sister woke me up and told me. It just felt like a horrible, horrible nightmare. I feel very fortunate — through my mom, I grew up loving perhaps the two most important icons in popular music – Elvis and the Beatles. I specifically remember my mom buying Beatles VI for me at the grocery store. To this day that album is an important record to me. I remember looking at the back sleeve with John wearing that polka-dot shirt and thinking he was the ultimate rock star. I still think that to this day. While I was certainly too young to see the Beatles live, I can say I’m a first generation fan who got into them in the sixties. I’ve released a couple of CDs on my own (1301 Highland Avenue, Happy Accidents and Sonic Crayons) and I can say with certainty that the Beatles and specifically John, have been the greatest influences on me. His death felt as if I’d lost a family member. There’s still a huge void and I think we all feel that. Doing this book was my way of wanting to honor John’s legacy.
Daytrippin’: When did you conceive of the idea of the book and how did it come together?
Sharp: I think it was a few years back when I listened to the album again and started thinking that a lot of his other albums have received pretty extensive coverage but the story of Double Fantasy has always been somewhat obscured by the horrible tragedy that occurred less than a month after the album was released. I thought I should investigate the idea of writing a book on the making of the album. I started with a series of interviews with producer Jack Douglas and then the story started to unfold.
Daytrippin’: I’m surprised this book wasn’t attempted on the 10th or 20th anniversary of his death; it seems more appropriate for some reason this book is coming out approximately the 30th anniversary of his death.
Sharp: What I can say is that Andy Newmark, the drummer on the Double Fantasy sessions, recognized my passion and my sense of honoring the record. I think he sensed I wasn’t going to do a hatchet job and that my intention was to present a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective from as many people as possible about the creation of the album. He sensed the genuineness of my intentions and he helped open some doors with a few band members who were reluctant to speak. Obviously, that helped open the door for the book to happen. Since publication, the band has received copies and I’ve spoken to a few of them and they seem real pleased, Andy especially. It meant a lot to me to get his approval and that his faith in me was rewarded. I feel I delivered on my promise to assemble the most extensive chronicle of those times. Maybe their reluctance to talk over the years was due to the sadness and somber nature that surrounded this great event in which they participated and was perhaps tainted by John’s murder. If I can surmise, as the years have passed, they can embrace the positive, uplifting nature of those sessions. John was on such a high and he was creatively reborn. He was back to doing what he was meant to do, and that’s making music. There’s always that sadness of the promise of “what would come next” that was stolen from all of us on December 8, 1980.
Daytrippin’: Yoko Ono granted you an interview. What was your interaction with her and what role did she play in the shaping of this book?
Sharp: I’ve interviewed Yoko twice before and both times were at the Dakota, which was a very exciting thing for me to do. I interviewed her in 1986 for the Live in New York City album and again in 1992 for Onobox. She’s just fantastic and a very gracious lady. I remember waiting in Studio One, the famous all-white office that is head-to-toe with file cabinets. If you recall, there’s a few famous photos of John in that office: one signing the back of Double Fantasy and the other of him reading a newspaper with his feet up on the desk. We did the interviews in Yoko’s office, which is on the same floor. It’s an intimate, beautifully decorated office with plush couches. What really affected me was seeing in person the painting done of John and Sean Lennon in Bermuda, which hung in Yoko’s office. John’s piano was also in the office and I remember playing a few chords on it.
Regarding this book, I reached out to her fairly early in the process and we did one interview. Again, she was gracious as always. I have a feeling it was a little painful for her to speak about that period but she was a trooper and very forthcoming. I’ve never had anything but positive dealings with her. I like her songs on Double Fantasy and believe they pointed the way towards a very futuristic sound. Ironically, John was right about Walking on Thin Ice being her breakthrough record. The evening of December 8th, John told her as they finished that session, “Mother, I think you’ve just made your first No. 1 record.” Now, it wasn’t No. 1 immediately, but it was her first No. 1 record on the dance charts and she’s had a few since. My experience with her was completely positive. She didn’t have a role in shaping the book beyond being one of the few key people that I interviewed.
Daytrippin’: Why did you decide to make this an oral biography?
Sharp: I like to utilize the format. In a sense when constructing an oral history, I approach it like a filmmaker, in that sense, sculpting the voices of the people I spoke to. It also helps to tell the story as seamless as possible, and doesn’t allow me, the writer, to pontificate or speculate. This is told by all the people who were there as it happened. By the way, the last interview I did was with renowned photographer Annie Leibowitz. As you can imagine, she’s a very busy lady and initially when I reached out to her. She was not available. It turned out to be a very busy period for her. I approached her again near the end of the book because I felt that for the “December 8th” chapter, I wanted to revisit the events of the day without getting into the tragedy that later unfolded and I felt she was a crucial voice. So I went to her again and through a good friend of mine, Bernie Hogya, who worked with her on the “Got Milk?” campaign, she said yes. It turned out to be a great interview. So great that she got so emotional in the middle of the interview that she started crying a little bit. It was sad but it also conveyed the deep well of love she had for both John and Yoko. She wasn’t just a photographer, she was a friend to both of them. For me, that being the final interview was a great way to close out the book.
Daytrippin’: I get the sense from reading your book that all the session players and engineers had a genuine affection for John Lennon.
Sharp: It is apparent when you read this book that John was such a strong spirit and certainly was a three-dimensional character. He was a real person and that’s what we connect with. The people on those sessions were all new in working with John and Yoko, and brought an excitement to the project. In speaking to everyone, there was such a sense of joy and rebirth in the air for the sessions. Everyone I spoke conveyed a deep love and affection for John as well as Yoko. And I hope that Yoko will be proud of this book because it’s an honest but very uplifting chronicle of the time. For me it was a matter of historical record to get it down on paper while all of these folks are still with us. It was such a key and pivotal part of John’s and Yoko life, that I feel very fortunate and privileged to be the one who did it.
Daytrippin’: I know at the time a lot of fans and especially critics, thought that Double Fantasy was the ‘househusband’ John and didn’t really get the whole ‘joys of domesticity’ message. How, in your opinion, has that changed over time?
Sharp: Well, it’s interesting that you say that because when the album did come out it did receive mixed reviews. There were some who loved Double Fantasy and some who were disappointed. Surprisingly, Yoko was the one being championed as the avant-garde artist and some critics were a little disappointed in John’s songs. I believe a lot of the critics wanted the angry John; the John who was filled with angst and rage; the Plastic Ono Band John. There were critics who wanted the cutting edge John and this was a different man. He was 10 years older; the guy who was a househusband for five years. He extolled the joys of domesticity, being a househusband, being a father. Of course, “I’m Losing You” carries some of the pain and angst of the old days. He painted his life in song so yes, there were some critics who didn’t like the album.
In the book I interviewed a slate of critics who reviewed the album when it was originally released and garnered their take on the record. One of those was British music writer, Charles Shaar Murray who originally reviewed the record for the New Musical Express in England. He slammed John’s songs and championed Yoko’s. His opinion has since changed and that’s because he’s now in the place that John was when he originally wrote Double Fantasy. He’s reevaluated the work and is much more objective about it today, which I felt was an interesting take and an important point to address.
Daytrippin’: How do you view producer Jack Douglas’ role in the shaping of Double Fantasy? He says in your book (and I think he’s just being humble) that he stayed in the background and let it happen because John was such a force of nature. There’s no doubt that his assembly of this studio team for Double Fantasy was brilliant. What credit should he rightfully get for this album?
Sharp: I think he deserves major credit, especially for allowing John to lead but providing the solid expertise when he needed to intercede. He had major success with artists like Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper and Miles Davis and it’s ironic that while he was working with John on Double Fantasy, his major act, Cheap Trick, was working with George Martin on the All Shook Up album. I think Jack was someone who not only valued John but Yoko, and someone who knew his place and knew when to intervene on a creative level. I also think he was able to create a real positive environment in the studio as well, which is crucial. By creating that environment, as a performer it inspires you to even greater heights. Jack was able to connect with the right players and surround John with a team that made him feel comfortable and inspired.
Daytrippin’: Your book also revives the theme once again that Lennon liked to work fast in the studio. Can you comment on the speed in which Lennon worked and perhaps why?
Sharp: I think it goes back to the days of the Beatles when they knocked out three songs in a session. That’s the way he grew accustomed to recording, but there was also another aspect and that he wanted to capture the moment, the freshness of the song. He was impatient and had the mindset of, “Let’s just do it. Let’s capture it and move on.” There’s an authenticity to his songs because of it.
Daytrippin’: The Cheap Trick saga in this book was absolutely fascinating. How did you hook up with Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos, and what were their memories of those sessions?
Sharp: I co-wrote a book on Cheap Trick with Mike Hayes called Reputation is a Fragile Thing: The Story of Cheap Trick. That came out over 10 years ago, and they’ve always been one of my favorite groups. In many ways, the Cheap Trick chapter is one of my favorites in the book. I recently received a really nice compliment from the band’s drummer, Bun E. Carlos, who said of all of the accounts he’s read, mine is the best and most accurate one. That made me feel really good. I was always fascinated by those sessions. I remember hanging out after a Cheap Trick show in 1985 in Philadelphia where they were sharing a bill with R.E.O. Speedwagon. On a little walkman, Bun E. Carlos played “I’m Losing You” and “I’m Moving On.” You don’t forget hearing something like that – it was a mind-blower. I loved their raw and primal Plastic Ono Band approach to those songs. So because of that history, I’ve always been fascinated with those sessions.
Cheap Trick was obviously heavily influenced by the Beatles and John Lennon, and when I told them I was working on the book and who I had spoken to for this project, both Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos consented to speak to me and they both supplied a great interview. I wanted to create a chapter that would be the final word on those sessions. The story is that they came in for one day and Rick was on guitar, Bun E. on drums, Tony Levin on bass, George Small on keyboards and John was playing guitar and singing. They knocked out two songs and John seemed to be really happy with them. Rick presented John with a white Hamer guitar, and I tracked down an image of it in the book. To see a photo of John playing that guitar in the studio was pretty mind-blowing for me. The other interesting thing was the day they did the session, Rick’s son Daxx was born. He remembers smoking cigars with John and John showed Rick his Rickenbacker guitar. There’s also a great little story in the book about how the band found all of these guitar picks leftover from the session where Rick had flicked them just like he does in concert. And four our Cheap Trick book, Bun E. Carlos kindly allowed us to reproduce a piece of sheet music for “I’m Losing You” that John signed. He wrote, “To Bunny, enjoyed the hop. Love, John Lennon.” John didn’t know his name was spelled Bun E. and Bun E. certainly wasn’t going to correct him. I also found the pun quite funny as well. Could there be a cooler possession in the world?
Daytrippin’: Why were those tracks not used on Double Fantasy?
Sharp: There’s a story in the book about John being upset that the session was mentioned in Rolling Stone but I’m not convinced that’s the real reason. I believe it’s simply due to the fact that the versions they did were so raw and so different than the lush and polished nature of the other tracks. It didn’t mesh with the rest of the album and would have stuck out like a sore thumb. I think that’s the real reason why they were not used the first time around, but I’m glad “I’m Losing You” was officially released on [John Lennon] Anthology. I’d also like to see “I’m Moving On” get officially released as part of a Yoko project.
Daytrippin’: Another great story in the book is the tale of Matthew Cunningham, a street musician who played hammer dulcimer and was recruited by Jack Douglas to play “Watching the Wheels.” Can you recall for the readers the hilarious exchange Lennon and Cunningham had in the studio?
Sharp: Jack Douglas brought in Matthew Cunningham, who was a hippie long-haired street musician and he seemed like he was in the dark about who he was doing the session for. He was playing a little out of tune and John was in the control room and speaking to him on the talkback button. Cunningham squinted his eyes, looking at the control room window, but couldn’t see who it was. He asked, “What’s your name?” John replied, “My name’s John,” but never let on to Cunningham he was John Lennon. Cunningham said, “Hi, John.” And then John says, “Hi, Matt.” Everyone in the control room was laughing because this poor guy Cunningham didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. But two days later he finally figured it out and called Jack Douglas on the phone to ask, “Did I just play for John Lennon?” Douglas said, “Yeah, you did.” He was paid something like $200. I tried to find Cunningham, too, but I was unsuccessful (laughs). But that is a wonderful story and shows the openness of John and Jack to bring someone in off the street to add a little sparkle to the sessions. It’s one of Double Fantasy’s great surprises.
Daytrippin’: I’m still a little confused on the sessions for Milk and Honey. Were those songs semi-recorded during the Double Fantasy sessions and put on the shelf and then finished after Lennon died?
Sharp: Essentially, yes. They would lay down tracks, but then later there were additional overdubs on Milk and Honey. I think the songs that grabbed them at the sessions that they felt they could flesh out and felt were more immediate at the time, were the ones that ultimately comprised Double Fantasy. Ironically, the first track that was recorded for all of those sessions was “I’m Stepping Out.” It’s a great track and one of the best on Milk and Honey and certainly would not have been out of place on Double Fantasy. Perhaps it was Jack Douglas who honed in on the songs that were connecting a little quicker and could sculpt and get in the can for an album. These two albums are truly brother and sister, Yin and Yang and equal in terms of content. A great sadness for me was that “Grow Old With Me” was never done the way John had envisioned. In the new Box of Vision set, there are some handwritten lyrics for the songs on both of those sessions and he had listed he wanted to use bagpipes on that song. The haunting demo certainly has its own magic but I would have loved to have seen “Grow Old With Me” really fleshed out.
Daytrippin’: Your book also shows, through the words of those who were there at the time, that John and Yoko were in love with each other and he was very happy at the end of his life. I’ve heard so many different things over the years. What are your thoughts on this particular subject?
Sharp: If he wasn’t happy, he really put on a good front for all of those musicians and I just don’t think that was the case. The music really shows his joy at the time; the joy of being back in the studio and Lennon never could fake it. That wasn’t in his character. I spoke to all of the studio musicians and Jack Douglas and the only thing that was ever conveyed to me was how much in love they were and how they connected as husband and wife and as creative partners. The record was subtitled “A Heart Play” and it was a dialogue between husband and wife. It was an intense relationship, and seemingly they were in a really good space. I just don’t think you can fake that.
Daytrippin’: Starting Over has the most detail I’ve ever read regarding John’s plans to tour again.
Sharp: According to the people I spoke to in the book, a tour was going to happen in the spring of 1981 following the release of another record, which I guess would have been Milk and Honey. There was a dinner commemorating the end of the sessions where there was specific talk of players’ availability and confirmation that John was going to hire them to go out on the road. Yoko mentioned that John was going to perform Beatles songs like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” Wow, can you imagine John singing those songs? I would have loved to have seen John sing “Help.” Ideas regarding the production of the show were bandied about, talk of a futuristic spaceship with a mechanical Octopus arm. Earl Slick, who was very much an in-demand session player at the time, said John spoke to him of setting aside some time to tour. For me, that was a very exciting part of the book to explore and uncover. Ultimately, we’re talking about a mythical tour but just to even imagine it is exciting. John was in that mind space and so free and open to new ideas and opportunities, he was going to face the world again in a very spectacular fashion and on his own terms.
Daytrippin’: The saddest part for me was that Double Fantasy was not only John’s big comeback, but that Act III of his personal and professional life was wiped out by a madman. How hard was it for you to compile this book, knowing that doom was right around the corner for Lennon?
Sharp: I spent very little time on the tragedy. I feel that’s for other books to examine. My focus was on the sessions, the idea to reconstruct that entire period leading up to the release of the album. During the whole process of recording the album and in the months afterward, John was really enjoying himself and was on a professional upswing. It was a time of creative birth and renewal. I made a very conscious decision not to cover his murder in any depth. However, I do think the chapter “December 8, 1980” is a pretty powerful one because it does provide a “fly on the wall” perspective as to what he was doing that day on a creative level, starting with the Annie Leibowitz photo session through the RKO interview through the final “Walking on Thin Ice” session.
Daytrippin’: Why does Double Fantasy still touch people 30 years after its release?
Sharp: I think the album still resonates because everything John Lennon did resonates. He was real, he was authentic. He was just like us. I also think the fact that he was espousing the joys of domesticity and family, a subject certainly everyone relates to, especially as we grow older. You can also sense a great joy in the record. And as we grow older, the songs mean more to us.
Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy is available on www.amazon.com.
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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October 15, 2010
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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August 9, 2010
Exclusive Daytrippin’ interview: Guitarist Laurence Juber talks about how he became a member of Paul McCartney’s other band, Wings, and his new instrumental tribute to The Beatles
by Marshall Terrill
[Paul McCartney and Laurence Juber in Scotland in 1978;
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 fingerstyle 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), released on August 10 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 this candid and definitive two-part interview, Juber discusses the influence of the Beatles on his life, his career as a studio musician in London, the making of Back to the Egg and how he earned his musical degree from ‘McCartney University.’
Daytrippin’: I heard a curious story about you that almost seemed too good to be true, and so I have to ask – the first week that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was released in Britain, it was also the same week you first picked up a guitar…true or false?
Juber: That’s essentially true. I had been wanting to pick up a guitar for some time, but there was a period in the summer of 1963 where Beatlemania came into full force in the UK. As a result, you really couldn’t get away from the fact that everything was all about pop music, especially at such an impressionable age. I really wanted to play the guitar, not specifically because of the Beatles, but because of The Shadows, who were Cliff Richard’s backing group and they performed all of these instrumental hits – that was just wonderful stuff. Then at the same time it was the start of the James Bond films, which had great twangy guitar sounds, which also influenced me.
In England music lessons started in junior high, so that was right around the start of my musical journey. My dad had wanted me to play the saxophone and at the time, I didn’t want to play the sax, so I compromised and said I’d play the clarinet. It turned out there weren’t enough clarinets to go around, so I got a guitar for my 11th birthday, which was in November of 1963. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came out about a week later. So it wasn’t specifically the Beatles as much as it was the entire pop scene and all the energy that was going around at the time.
The Beatles were a significant part of the whole thing happening in music. It was like jumping into a river and being carried along by the current because it was all going in that direction. I went into my teen years being swept along in this amazing Renaissance that was happening in pop music in England at the time.
Daytrippin’: And so who are the other musical influences you had as a youth?
Juber: It’s an extremely long list, too long to detail here because I was listening to everything. I was not only into rock ‘n’ roll but jazz and folk too. By the time I had turned 13, people were paying me to play. It was then I realized that this was something that I wanted to do for a living, but I also recognized that I had a certain kind of versatility. I was interested in a lot of different styles of music. I learned to how finger-pick Bob Dylan tunes, learned to play the Bossa Nova, taking jazz records and slowing them down from 33 1/3 to 16 so I could figure out what the guitar was doing. There were also a lot of West Coast jazz and studio players like Barney Kessell and Howard Roberts, as well as the Belgian gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who was very popular in England. There was also the English folk scene with people like Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy, who are still great folk singers, and finger-pickers.
I also had a band with a group of friends, and we’d play every Saturday night. We were always buying the latest Beatles records, the Stones, the Who and we’d learn it, rehearse it, play it and that was our Saturday night thing. Then I got into Clapton, Beck, Page — the English blues-driven players. There was also Radio Luxembourg, which played all the Top 40 tunes before the BBC got hip. I guess they had to because of all the pirate radio stations. They played all the big American hits as well as Motown, which of course, was great. I’d listen at night, focus in on what the bass player was doing, what the drummer was doing, and really deconstruct the music. I also started listening to orchestral music and became very analytical about how I listened to that too. So, a lot of influences, way more than I could repeat.
Daytrippin’: I assume your parents must have been quite encouraging?
Juber: There was some encouragement up to a certain point. Both of my parents grew up in London in World War II during the blitz and the evacuations so they never had much of an education. My dad left school at 14 and my mom at 15. They were encouraging to the point where they thought it was great I kept myself occupied with a hobby but they wanted to make sure that I had something to fall back on. They had visions of me being a doctor or at the very least a pharmacist or accountant or something like that. I told them at a very young age I intended to make my living as a guitar player, so they were supportive to a point. I also didn’t grow up in a very musical household, so that level of nurture really came from inside. I was very self-directed.
[Photo courtesy Laurence Juber]
Daytrippin’: After you graduated from London University with a Bachelor of Music in 1975, how did you start getting booked as a studio musician and where were some sessions/albums you played on pre-Wings?
Juber: My ambition in life was to become a studio musician, so after high school I took a year off, which is what they now call the “gap” year. I was a pioneer of the gap year (laughs). What I did was work professionally for that one year, and I was playing jazz and folk clubs and demo sessions, generally making myself available as a musician and paying dues in London. I also joined the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, which was something of a training ground for studio musicians. I then attended London University but I was still gigging, playing clubs and being the substitute guitarist for the West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I was supporting myself with music and learning as much as I could, but more importantly, making those connections to be able to transition full-time into a studio musician when I graduated. My reputation got around and I eventually was introduced to various record producers and arrangers.
One of the albums I played on was Alan Parson’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. I had no idea at the time what the session was for. I found out from a magazine interview that Alan did 30 years later. I played on the score for The Spy Who Love Me, which was a James Bond film. I played on a cool record that Rosemary Clooney did in London. I also worked with Shirley Bassey, John Williams and Jimmy Rafferty. One of the first album sessions I did was for Cleo Laine, who is a great English jazz singer and the producer was George Martin. Sessions for European artists too: Charles Aznavour from France, Lucio Battiste from Italy. A lot of stuff that didn’t necessarily make an impression on the US market. I played on a lot of records for a French artist named Cerrone, who was the ‘other’ Euro disco king, sort of like Georgio Moroder. Again, I had no idea how successful the releases were until many years later. I was very busy in that period.
Daytrippin’: Tell us how you got the gig for Wings?
Juber: I was working in the house band for “The David Essex Show” and Denny Laine was as guest on the show. Denny played “Go Now” and liked how I played the solo. We bonded musically and that was it. About six months later I got a call from Paul’s office MPL – ironically I was playing a session at Abbey Road Studios 2. They said, “Denny wants to know if you can come jam on Monday, and, oh by the way Paul and Linda will be there…”
In the period between when I first met Denny and the audition, I actually ran into all of them at Air Studios. I was early for a session and they were in there mixing the soundtrack for “Oriental Nightfish,” Linda’s tune for an animated film. They were running late and invited me in to see what was going on, so I got to meet everybody and hang out. Jimmy McCullough was already out of the band at that point, but it really wasn’t on my radar that they were looking for a guitar player. I do remember that around that time I was working on a TV show in Manchester, which was a weekly pop show and it was the first time that I had seen the video for “With a Little Luck.” It was the first thing where Steve Holly was visible and I remember someone saying, “That’s the new Wings drummer and I hear they’re looking for a guitarist.” Then I got this call from out of the blue.
Daytrippin’: From what I understand, the audition process was very informal, jamming and playing a bunch of rock (“Johnny B. Goode”) and reggae songs, and hanging out.
Juber: Very much so. I really didn’t know much of the Wings’ repertoire and I had to borrow a bunch of albums from my brother the previous weekend. I tend to do well at cold auditions and I was lucky. Really, I was quite busy with my session work and I had a big choice to make: do I continue along with my career, that I had been working on since I was a teenager or do I join Wings? I thought about it for a nanosecond. It seemed like one of those gigs that you shouldn’t turn down and I’m glad I didn’t, because I learned so much from that experience.
Daytrippin’: What was your first official gig for Wings?
Juber: The first official gig was when we recorded a song at RAK Studios in London called “Same Time Next Year” and I believe that was in May 1978. (Editor’s note: Curiously, the song was released on the final credits of the 1985 Ann-Margret film, Twice in a Lifetime) I had another gig playing on a variety show, so I couldn’t be at the session for the string overdubs. Then we went up to Scotland (at McCartney’s farm) getting to know each other. During that period is when we filmed the video for “I’ve Had Enough” (the second single from London Town).
Daytrippin’: I always thought it was strange that you had to mimic a guitar part that Jimmy McCullough recorded. Did it seem strange to you?
Juber: It wasn’t strange at all. That’s kind of par for the course as a musician because you often find yourself playing someone else’s part, especially if it’s a famous song. To be honest, I knew I was stepping into Jimmy McCullough’s shoes and it was a perfectly reasonable transition. I really didn’t give it much thought, but what was interesting was the filming of the video. We shot it all night and it was a one-camera shoot with film that was transferred to video. I had never done a video before because I had only done live TV shows up to that point.
Here’s a funny story: years later I played a guitar part for Eric Carmen on a song called “Make Me Lose Control”, which became a hit. As the record was about to come out, I got a call from a company who wanted me to be in the video. Well, they had no idea I had played on the record and thought I would be mimicking someone else’s performance. So I got to mimic my own.
Daytrippin’: Back to the Egg was a big concept, had a big sound and certainly was an ambitious undertaking (i.e. Rockestra, videos, touring, promotion). Do you think that was tied to the fact that McCartney had just signed a new multi-million dollar contract for Columbia or that he had felt it was time to do something bigger with Wings?
Juber: There was no perception in the doing of it that it was ‘bigger’ than normal. I think what happened with that album, and the title was reflective of the fact, was that Paul had been heading in a softer direction and this was a change. After Wings Over America, he recorded “Mull of Kintyre” and “With A Little Luck” and the London Town sessions. There wasn’t really as much of a rock component to those sessions. “I’ve Had Enough” was about as heavy as things got at that point. Steve Holly was a heavier and more rocking drummer than Joe English, which is not a jab at Joe, it was just a matter of styles. Steve had more of a British backbeat.
Producer Chris Thomas (Pink Floyd, Elton John, Roxy Music, INXS) had already been brought on board to co-produce the record. If you look at Chris’ timeline, he did Back to the Egg between the Sex Pistols and The Pretenders. He tends to raise the concept level of his projects and is a Beatle insider going back to the White Album. Phil McDonald engineered, who was one of the Abbey Road-era people too. We knew from the get-go that it was going to be a more basic vibe. There’s certainly a significant rock element to that album especially in the “Rockestra” bits, and there’s also, which was typical in the 1970s English rock scene, a folk element. I mean, you saw that a lot with Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, but of course, Paul articulates it in his own way. So yes, it was going to be a rock-flavored album, but it was still just an eclectic bunch of songs.
There was a richness to the Columbia record deal that had given Paul a substantial publishing catalog and the label certainly had ambitions at the time. It was overseen by Walter Yentikoff, Bruce Lundvall, Don Devito, Paul Atkinson and other people who were quite legendary figures in the record business. Certainly there was an expectation that putting Paul McCartney on your record label would have a certain kind of size to it, but by the time it was released in June 1979 the economy was not doing that great and the record business hit the wall. All of the labels had gotten it into their heads that somehow every album that was released should do better than Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors or Saturday Night Fever. That was a phase and sales went back to normal, relatively speaking. Just the ebb and flow of things. Nevertheless, Back to the Egg did quite well and could have done even better had he put “Goodnight Tonight” on the album.
Daytrippin’: Agreed. I’ve always felt that was a major mistake on his part and the difference between going platinum and triple platinum had he included “Goodnight Tonight” (a Top 5 hit in America) and “Daytime Nightime Suffering” on the album.
Juber: Absolutely, it would have made a significant difference. But that goes back to the Beatles and the mentality about singles and albums. The Beatles deal with EMI was two albums a year and and four singles, A and B sides. So, with very few exceptions, in the UK you didn’t get the singles on the albums. But we had talked about it…he said, “They want to do this but I’d rather give more value for money…” So it didn’t get put on the album.
Daytrippin’: And the same thing happened again with “Coming Up,” which Paul was later forced to put on McCartney II as a 7-inch single.
Juber: That was interesting, too, because what happened with Back to the Egg, and continued through the UK tour was that we kind of forged ourselves as a rock band. You can hear it on the Last Flight CD (a bootleg CD from their last live show) from Glasgow, Scotland, and the released live version of “Coming Up” came from that show. There was a dichotomy going on where we were a tight rock band and Paul had just done the solo album McCartney II, which was kind of quirky and a bit left-field. And quite truthfully, Columbia didn’t know how to market Paul’s music like Capitol did. But they did take notice when US rock radio started playing the live B-side of the single and it went to No. 1 for three weeks in the Summer of 1980. Columbia were obliged to add the 7-inch single to the McCartney II album as people were expecting the single to be on there. Paul’s video was cool though.
We did the UK tour with the Japanese tour lined up right behind it, and the intention to tour the US in the summer of 1980. So when you listen to the live stuff, there’s this rock band, a certain kind of heaviness that evolved out of the Back to the Egg sessions. The problem was that where Paul was going in terms of his writing was a different direction, which ultimately turned out to be Tug of War and Pipes of Peace. It was a body of material that wasn’t as well suited to a rock band, and neither of those are rock albums. Tunes like “Ballroom Dancing” and “Average Person” are coming from a different place. It’s more of a mature sound and it’s an artist who is settling down into a true solo career, who has his kids settled in school and has moved out of London. After John Lennon died, which had to play some role in all of this, Paul didn’t tour again until 1989.
Daytrippin’: So Wings had actually rehearsed the material for the Tug of War sessions?
Juber: Yes, but most of those sessions were unproductive because we were working on songs that were more mature and not reflective of Wings. We had evolved a band identity and this was feeling more like a Macca solo project; I would have been happier developing the tunes in the studio rather than rehearsals. It was a step back in a way for me, because, working within the band context, Paul gave me a great deal of latitude on Back to the Egg. There I’d offer up an idea and he’d either nod or he’d kind of raise an eyebrow and then I’d tweak it. I remember very specifically when we were mixing “After the Ball,” I’d played an acoustic slide part and sat there just thinking, “I’d like to get my hand on that fader.” I’d never been an engineer at that point and Paul noticed my discomfort and said, “Laurence, you run that fader.” Not only did he accept my contribution but encouraged me to put it to the forefront.
Daytrippin’: Your personality certainly shows on Back to the Egg, which is interesting given your versatility and adaptability.
Juber: It’s interesting because at the time I was being my chameleon self as a studio player. In the course of time, and this is something you don’t recognize at the time, I can listen back and say with some objectivity, “Hey, I had a sound and style back then.”
Daytrippin’: And it was a nice fit in that particular incarnation of the band – each of you had roles within the band and you not only played them perfectly, but there was room enough for everyone to shine and let your personality show through.
Juber: I think so, certainly in the musical sense. Obviously there were other dynamics going on within the band in terms of where Paul and Linda were at in their lives, what was going on with Denny in his life, the more personality-driven aspects of the band.
Daytrippin’: You’ve stated before that watching Paul in the studio was an eye-opening experience because you were able to see him as a composer and how he fleshed out songs. So with that said, did he come into the studio with the finished song in his head and you just laid down the tracks, or was it a situation that he fleshed them out with your help?
Juber: A lot of the time it was a finished song, but not always. In the case of “Old Siam, Sir,” we were jamming one day and Steve Holly was playing keyboards and had this chord sequence. I’m not sure if Paul was playing drums or if it was Linda because we’d trade off in a jamming situation, but what ended up happening was that ended up in the instrumental section of the song. I always felt that Steve should have received some sort of nod for that. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the process in that you don’t always get full credit for what you contribute as a musician, especially as the song-writing is traditionally words and melody, not chords, licks and grooves. If you could copyright a rhythm, Bo Diddley would have been very happy.
Daytrippin’: But was there a time when you did see Paul flesh out a song that was half-finished or not a full idea?
Juber: Yes, Denny had written two incomplete songs and Paul suggested he merge the two, and that turned out to be “Again and Again and Again.” That was Paul kind of wearing his producer hat at the time, but to the best of my recollection, most of the songs he brought in for Back to the Egg were complete to the extent where there might be a minor change to a lyric, but the song itself was pretty much there.
“Getting Closer” and the unreleased song “Cage” were off of demos, the latter being one that Paul and Denny did together. There were times when there was a demo aspect to the sessions, and in some cases we created demos to see how the tune was shaping up. We did a version of “Love Awake” that wasn’t a final version, as well as a demo of “Rockestra Theme” with just Wings so that everybody else could hear before the big session. Typically the song was there, but in terms of production, getting the sound and arrangements right, that mostly took place in the studio. I remember “Daytime Nightime Suffering”, which he composed over the weekend and came in with that on a Monday morning and we went right to work on it. Paul was always very concise with his writing and was usually complete by the time we came to record it. So the fleshing out was always on the production end of things, and occasionally we’d hear something that he was working on and then the next time he played it you could hear the progression. “Ebony and Ivory” comes to mind.
Daytrippin’: The group recorded “Back to the Egg” in several different places – McCartney’s farm in Scotland; Lympne Castle in Kent and Replica and EMI Studios in London. In your opinion, did your surroundings have any influence on how you played or recorded a song?
Juber: I certainly think the surroundings impacted the sound of the record. For example, we were recording “We’re Open Tonight” at Lympne Castle and I was sitting in the middle of a spiral staircase in a 13th Century castle with a 12-string acoustic guitar. There’s certainly something to be said for the ambient aspect of your surroundings. Being on the farm in Scotland definitely added to the rawness of “Spin It On” “Old Siam, Sir” and “To You”.
Daytrippin’: Wouldn’t it be fair to say that Back to the Egg is a British-sounding album?
Juber: It is very British. Other than the Fender, Gibson and Martin guitars, there’s nothing American about the sound of it and some of that is purely technical. Amplifiers sound different at 50 cycles than they do at 60 cycles. Just the AC power makes a difference to the sound of the equipment, the way the record was produced, the way the drums were miked, was more English than American; the players were English. Look at Ram…it sounds so much like a New York album. It was recorded in there and the players were all from the area, and there’s kind of a New York energy to it. Denny Seiwell shines on that record.
Conversely, we did a lot of stuff at Abbey Road, which is about as English as it gets. We created Replica Studio in the basement of Paul’s office Soho Square primarily for mixing, but we did some recording there too. The track for “Daytime Nightime Suffering” was all recorded there. The drums were placed in a room where the coffee machine was. That’s where I also did the acoustic solo for “Goodnight Tonight.” It’s a different kind of vibe.
Daytrippin’: Back to the Egg was not only a big and powerful album, but it was eclectic. The range of songs from full on rockers (“Rockestra Theme”; “Spin it On”; “So Glad to See You Here; “Old Siam, Sir”) to mid-tempo (“Arrow Through Me”; “Again and Again and Again”) to ballads (“Winter Rose/Love Awake”) to original standards (“Baby’s Request”) to instrumentals (“Reception” and “Rockestra Theme”). I recall seeing a Brian Wilson interview on television saying how much fun and wild Wings were because he never knew what to expect.
Juber: I had no idea he said that…that’s great because, if anyone is equally eclectic to Paul in terms of the production process, it’s Brian Wilson. And, of course, Brian was revered in England. Pet Sounds was not a huge hit in America but it was the Sergeant Pepper precursor in England. I’d have to say Paul was the most eclectic artist I’ve ever worked with. It’s in his nature. This goes back to the Beatles. They were a very eclectic band. How many bands can you look at and say this was an incredible live rock ‘n’ roll band, before they ever made a record! They were also an incredible R & B band…look at their R & B influences, especially John. “All I’ve Got to Do” is proto-Al Green. Take that song and look at it, it’s in that Smokey Robinson kind of area. In fact, it was one of the songs I did for LJ Plays the Beatles Vol. 2. It was so cool to do because it had such an immediate vibe about it. Their version of the Shirelles “Baby, It’s You” is as good, if not better than the original version. Fantastic R & B group, but you add that to the fact they were the most phenomenal pop group and the greatest bunch of studio musicians. What they did in the studio as musicians was amazing, beyond the obvious progression as recording artists and songwriters.
It really hit home when I listened to Let It Be…Naked a few years back and what was going on in terms of the guitar parts. Quite often John and George would really work out these cool two-guitar parts – “And Your Bird Can Sing” for example – sometimes you don’t even realize that it’s two guitars, but they were very much into that. Paul was always eclectic because he was so versatile. I believe Back to the Egg exemplifies a rock album, a folk album, a pop album, and certainly less geared to an American consciousness by comparison let’s say to Venus and Mars. It was also a blessing and a curse. At the time, that eclecticism wasn’t appreciated. It was a two-star album in 1979 and it’s a four-star album in 2010. As time has gone on, I think people have come to re-evaluate it in terms of Paul’s body of work and what was going on at the time in the music scene.
When you deconstruct the music, for example “Arrow Through Me”, harmonically it is almost like Duke Ellington could have had written it. I think “Again and Again and Again” was one of Denny’s more immediate and interesting contributions…
Daytrippin’: And speaking of Denny, I know it’s a rather obvious thing to say, but in doing my research for this interview, including watching a lot of videos, it really hit home for me that Denny was quite visible and a major presence in this band. I know there are reports from him that he felt like a sideman at times, but his face was out there front and center.
Juber: Absolutely. There is no question that Wings as a core group is the Paul, Linda and Denny ensemble. This is where it carries over into getting Wings into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Wings was not just Paul McCartney post-Beatles. Wings was Paul McCartney’s group post Beatles, if that makes sense. If you go see Paul now and when he does a Wings song in his set, it’s great but there is something missing. You’re not hearing Linda’s voice; you’re not hearing Denny’s voice; you’re not getting the qualities that they brought to Paul’s work. It was a tempering. I think Paul recognized that he needed a foil, without John being around. Obviously, no one could fill in for John Lennon but Denny has his own eclecticism with his gypsy/folk sensibilities with an R & B voice and rock guitar prowess. And Linda was kinda the glue. Things just worked better with Linda there in the room because she was Paul’s soulmate and the female balancing part of his creative energy. There was a dynamic that happened and, as much as Paul will perform a Wings song and you tap your foot and sing along with it and think, “What a great song,” it doesn’t sound like Wings. I do appreciate the fact that he plays some of those tunes though.
Daytrippin’: I’ve always felt that he personally never gave Wings enough credit despite the fact they had 14 Top Ten hits in America (six of those going to No. 1) and eight Top Ten albums (five of those at No. 1). Today they’d be considered a supergroup.
Juber: Well, Wings was a supergroup. I remember listening to Kasey Casem’s American Top 40 on the radio and they had the top groups of all-time. The Beatles were No. 1 and Wings was something like No. 3. I had no idea we were quite that big.
Daytrippin’: I guess my point is that I get the feeling that Paul never viewed them as a supergroup…that they were just his little band and they were forced to live in the shadow of the Beatles. Wings’ music was the soundtrack of many young lives in the 1970s, including mine, and I don’t believe he’s ever reconciled that part of his musical career. Look at Wingspan (the CD) – he padded it out with solo material that simply didn’t belong on there.
Juber: Wings were simply above and beyond Paul’s solo career. But I think Paul, in the nature of writing his own legacy, he’s certainly entitled to write his version of history or how he perceived it, but the fact is there are other factors in the scenario and other people have their opinions, too. I too was a little disappointed with Wingspan (the documentary) that so much time was devoted to the breakup of the Beatles and not enough time was spent on Wings and the progression of the band and what it really represented from a musical point of view. But that’s just water under the bridge. For me, Wings was a great experience and anything that happens in the history books is sort of a bonus thing. I got my Master’s degree from McCartney University and that’s good enough for me.
LJ Plays the Beatles Vol. 2 is available on www.laurencejuber.com and www.amazon.com. Look for Laurence Juber at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans August 13-15 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, or visit www.thefest.com
Marshall Terrill is the author of more than a dozen books. His latest, Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool (Dalton Watson Fine Books, 2010) is availble on www.daltonwatson.com and www.amazon.com.
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May 12, 2010
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Paul McCartney wrote an exclusive essay called “Meat Free Monday” for the new Ether Books iPhone App released last week. The Ether iPhone app offers short stories, essays and poetry by new and established authors.
McCartney launched the Meat Free Monday campaign in 2009 with his daughters Stella and Mary McCartney to urge people to designate one meat free day a week to help save the environment.
Paul McCartney spoke about his recent essay in an interview with BBC Radio 4 on May 6. McCartney admits he doesn’t keep up to date with all the new technology.
“What was great was when you had one telephone under the stairs and when you weren’t in, you weren’t in and there wasn’t even an answering machine,” McCartney told the BBC. “That was great. Now nobody has any time.”
You can listen to audio from the interview here.
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