Although the name -- Laurence Juber -- may not set off a fire alarm of familiarity in the average person’s mind, a litany of the hit songs featuring Juber’s guitar playing would immediately have even the most casual music fan singing along.
The English-born Juber has been a hugely popular session guitarist for most of his life. At age 13 in 1963, the week The Beatles released “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” Juber bought himself a cheap guitar, never dreaming that one day he would be hand-picked by one of his Beatle idols to join a band.
“I was playing gigs when I was in my teens,” recalled Juber, who wisely balanced his rock ‘n’ roll instincts with studying classical music; which contributed to his becoming a top U.K. session musician who came to the attention of George Martin at Abbey Road Studios.
Juber has been the “go to guy” of choice over the years by dozens of artists and producers. The soft-spoken East Londoner has picked and strummed his strings on hundreds of recordings with a virtual Who’s Who – from Charles Aznavour, Rosemary Clooney and Cleo Lane, to Al Stewart, Barry Manilow and Alan Parsons Project – along with playing guitar on one of the most popular “James Bond” movie themes of all time, Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” (from “The Spy Who Loved Me”).
Juber has also bent his strings on songs for a bevy of hit TV shows (“Happy Days,” Family Ties,” “Home Improvement,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” etc.), documentaries (Ken Burn’s “The Tenth Inning”), film scores and soundtracks (“Goodwill Hunting,” “Pocahontas,” and “Dirty Dancing”).
Yep, that is Juber playing guitar on Patrick Swayze’s “She’s like the Wind” and the Bill Medley/Jennifer Warnes' #1 duet, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” two major radio hits from the D.D. soundtrack.
Anonymity is the curse of being a studio session player. Although they are among the most gifted musicians in the world, bringing aural pleasure to millions of people, session musicians rarely get any of the glory for their part in creating hit songs that sell a gazillion copies.
“Tell me about it,” laughed Juber, forever grateful to McCartney for taking him from behind the scenes and putting him in the spotlight as a member of Wings from 1979 to 1981.
“Being in Wings was a real gift,” summed up Juber. “I had been to London University and had a bachelor’s degree in music which gave me the opportunity to establish myself as a studio musician, but then having the opportunity to work with Paul McCartney in Wings was somewhat like getting my masters degree from McCartney University. It was a gift not only because it looks great on your bio, but because it was a real musical education to work alongside Paul, because a large part of what motivated me to first play guitar was The Beatles. So being invited by Paul to be in Wings was something very special.”
One of his first times in the studio with McCartney was as part of the “super session” alongside stars like Pete Townsend of The Who, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, and others.
“We recorded two songs – ‘Rockestra’ and one called ‘So Glad to See You Here’ – in what was about a three hour session,” recalled Juber. “We had five electric guitars, three bass guitars, three keyboard players, three percussions and four drum kits, so there was a lot of microphones and lots of things to set up. We ran two 24-track tape machines synchronized together.” “Rockestra” gave Juber his first of two Grammy Awards (“Best Instrumental Rock Performance”).
“It was great doing that (session) because everyone involved checked their egos at the door, so we really worked as a team and nobody was trying to step into anybody else’s spotlight,” continued Juber. “And producer Chris Thomas, who was a young assistant to George Martin during the Beatle years and later worked on ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and with groups like The Pretenders and the Sex Pistols, was more than capable of running a session of that size. Chris had the rock credentials and a strong classical background as well.”
Since the disbanding of Wings, Juber has carved out a very distinguished career as a solo artist, being hailed as one of the greatest finger-style guitarists in music today by “Acoustic Guitar” magazine. Juber’s second Grammy Award came in 2004 for his tasty treatment of “The Pink Panther Theme” from a various artist compilation album, “Henry Mancini: Pink Guitar.”
“Essentially every note that I’m playing in that song is in the Henry Mancini original, but I reinvented it for the guitar,” said Juber of that Grammy winning tune. “It’s the texture that’s unfamiliar when you hear it, but the actual music is very true to the original. I love it when I can pull that off.”
When not recording and releasing his own albums (23 LJ titles to date), Juber continues as a sideman and session player with artists like Seal and Al Stewart. He is featured on four critically lauded Stewart albums – “Between the Wars” (1995), “Down in the Cellar” (2000), “A Beach Full of Shells” (2005) and “Sparks of Ancient Light “(2008) – and sometimes tours with Stewart.
Juber’s latest solo album “Under An Indigo Sky” came out this summer and features a mixed bag of original songs and unique treatments of classic songs like Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson” and Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” with the latter getting airplay at jazz and National Public Radio stations.
Promoting that album is what brings Juber to the region for a solo concert at Memorial Opera House on Sunday. “I’ll be playing a little of everything at the show on Sunday,” he concluded. “American Songbook stuff, Beatles stuff, my own stuff… I’m an eclectic artist, so expect a pretty eclectic show.”