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Exclusive Interview: Laurence Juber: A Guitarist with Wings (and fingers)

GuitarWithWingsCoverCIn 1978, Laurence Juber was plucked from the London studio world by Paul McCartney, who asked him to play lead guitar in what was to become the final incarnation of Paul’s post-Beatles group, Wings. He recorded and toured with the band for three years, during which time they won a GRAMMY and scored numerous chart hits.

When Wings folded in 1981, the guitarist relocated to the U.S. and settled in Los Angeles to raise a family. Since then he has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand studio players and has gained worldwide recognition as an innovative fingerstyle guitar composer, performer and recording artist.

Looking back, Wings has enjoyed a popularity that goes beyond simply that of Paul McCartney’s 70s era backing group. In his new book Guitar With Wings: A Photographic Memoir, Laurence Juber brings the final chapter of Wings to life with a unique collection of unseen photographs, stories and memorabilia that show the band at work and play.

In an exclusive interview with Daytrippin’, Laurence Juber talks about the writing of his new book, his relatively unknown past and all things Wings.

Q: Why did you decide to write Guitar With Wings at this point in your life and career?

LJ: You can thank my co-author Marshall Terrill for that. Without his prompting, the photos would still be in the closet.  Once he proposed the book, my reaction was “if not now, then when?”

The timing was somewhat auspicious, coinciding with my ’50 Years on Six Strings’ anniversary and the book’s release coming 33 years after Wings folded – a number that has spiritual import.

The ancient Greeks referred to 60 as the ‘age of philosophy.’ I turned that milestone as I was starting to work on the book, so I suppose thanks can also go to the cosmos.

Q: Reading about your family history and early life was especially interesting given that fans didn’t know much about your past. What did you learn about your family history in your research that you didn’t know before?

LJ: Having to put it into words gave me a different perspective on my experiences. In revisiting my European roots, I learned some interesting things about my family tree, mostly about creatively-inclined relatives that I didn’t know I had.

Laurence Juber at age 13

Laurence Juber at age 13; Photo courtesy Laurence Juber

Q: Your ‘studio years’ prior to joining Wings was also educational reading. Looking back, how did those years prepare you for Wings and your subsequent career?

LJ: It was all about making a living by playing guitar and being versatile enough to walk into any musical situation. London was an exciting place to grow up musically in the 60’s and 70’s. I studied classical, played in jazz bands, blues bands, top 40 groups – you name it.

Paul was looking for someone who could handle a lot of different styles and Denny Laine recognized that when he recommended me. At that point, the McCartneys needed a stable professional to carry the lead guitar role and I ‘fit the suit.’

Q: You joined Wings at the tail end of the band, or as you call it, ‘The Indian Summer.’ What do you feel was particularly special about Wings from 1978-1981?

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Paul McCartney; Photo courtesy Laurence Juber

LJ: Any period in Macca’s career is special – he’s not an artist that stands still. There were a lot of factors at play. For one, other than Paul himself, Steve Holley was the first English drummer in the band (discounting Geoff Britton, who was only there briefly). Denny Seiwell has a jazz drummer’s approach to orchestrating his parts. His work on Ram should be essential study for drum students. Joe English played with an American rock swing. Steve has that ‘Big Backbeat’ that is characteristic of the best British rock drummers.

Wings was, at least commercially, a pop group. Having Chris Thomas as co-producer brought out a level of rock sensibility that perhaps went deeper than the earlier incarnations of the band. Back to the Egg wasn’t a concept album, but Chris tends to bring that consciousness to his projects. His Beatles credentials are impeccable and I think he opened up some fresh creative space for Paul.

Even though Paul was the major creative force, Back to the Egg evolved as a band album, with a batch of material that lent itself to a ‘group mind’ in the studio with Chris as the ‘real 6th Wing.’

Q: Your recollection of your time in Wings is near encyclopedic. Can you explain why you remember those years so well?

LJ: I was substantially sober and doing a fair amount of meditation too, which seems to focus the mind. In writing the book, I had to dig deep to get the timeline right. I only kept a diary sporadically, so there was a lot of Googling in the process. Mostly it was the photos themselves that brought back the memories and documents too, like my old passports.

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‘Back to the Egg’ album cover

These are my recollections and the others could no doubt tell things from a different perspective. I appreciate the opportunity to tell my side of the story.

Q: You wrote extensively about the recording of Back to the Egg, which seems to draw extreme reactions from fans. How should music historians view this work?

LJ: Always in the context of Paul McCartney, artist. I’ve talked to many musicians that came of age with this album, as well as many fans for whom Egg was a conduit to discovering the Beatles. The critics didn’t like it at the time, but it seems to be better appreciated today.

In the digital era, albums in general have fragmented into their constituent tracks, so it’s reasonable to look at the individual songs and gain a fresh appreciation for the writing and performance aspects, regardless of the stylistic context.

Q: The picture you paint of Paul McCartney is not only a family man but as someone who encouraged collaboration and fraternization of his band members, which was not always the case with earlier incarnations of Wings. Do you think he loosened up by the time you and Steve Holley joined the group?

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Paul and Linda McCartney; Photo courtesy Laurence Juber

LJ: Regarding the previous line-ups, I don’t have anything to compare it to. We were certainly collaborative creatively and the period we spent in Scotland and at the castle was great for developing the band sensibility. Paul and Linda still valued their family privacy, but when we were in the studio, it felt like a band.

Q: What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing Guitar With Wings?

LJ: I didn’t know I could write that much! Also, that I enjoy the process of archiving the material.

Q: As you recently stated at your appearance at The Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago, Guitar With Wings only covers the first half of your life. Will there potentially be a second book one day to cover the second portion of your career?

LJ: I’m more inclined to let my music tell the story, so a subsequent book will likely focus on my compositions and be a music folio with stories, a few photos and glimpses of my solo career.

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Guitar With Wings is available at www.guitarwithwings.com and www.daltonwatson.com.

Laurence Juber will be signing copies of Guitar With Wings at the Los Angeles Fest for Beatles Fans Oct. 10-12. For more information about Laurence Juber, visit www.laurencejuber.com

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Want more Laurence Juber? Read our in-depth interview with him from 2010:
Ex-Wings guitarist, Laurence Juber, talks about attending ‘Paul McCartney University’

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