Fan to collaborator

Laurence Juber was inspired by The Beatles to learn guitar long before playing with Wings

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comFebruary 9, 2012 

When Paul McCartney asked Laurence Juber to join his band Wings in the late 1970s, there was one thing Juber didn’t mention: When he was a teenager, the walls of his bedroom were covered with Rolling Stones posters.

“From a guy’s point of view, the Stones were more of an edgy thing,” Juber explained. “I mean, I loved the Beatles in terms of record-making and songwriting. But through the Stones I discovered Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. I was discovering the roots blues stuff.”

Not that McCartney’s Beatles didn’t have an impact on a young Juber, who performs at a sold-out show at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden on Sunday. In fact, it was the Beatles who inspired him to ask his parents for a guitar.

While his parents were reluctant to get him one, the Fab Four’s appearance at the Royal Command Performance in 1963 sealed the deal.

“The fact that the Beatles were on television, performing for the queen, gave it all such legitimacy that it prompted my parents to get me a guitar for my 11th birthday, which was the following week,” said Juber, who grew up in England and now lives in Los Angeles.

Of course, no one knew then that Juber would wind up working with three of the four Beatles, plus their producer. Or that he would one day release two albums covering Beatles songs. But they’d know soon enough that Juber was a quick study.

By 13, he was already earning money playing the guitar. And he was study- ing classical guitar before majoring in music at London University. By the time he graduated college, he had already done so much work that his first job as a session guitarist — working for English jazz artist Cleo Laine — entailed working with Beatles producer George Martin.

Juber continued to do session work — through the years, he’s worked with artists such as Air Supply, Belinda Carlisle, Al Stewart and Barry Manilow — and he performed in the house band of an English TV show. One of the guests on that show was Denny Laine, who was working as a guitarist for McCartney’s Wings.

Laine and Juber bonded during Laine’s visit, and Laine later introduced Juber to McCartney and the former Beatle’s wife at the time, Linda.

“Sometime after that, I got a call for what turned out to be an audition,” Juber said. “It wasn’t presented that way. It was like, ‘Denny wants to know if you can come and jam on Monday. And, oh by the way, Paul and Linda will be there.’ ”

While it wasn’t sold as an audition, Juber knew they were looking for a lead guitarist.

“I was really not expecting to get the gig, so it was something of a surprise when they offered it to me,” he said. “Of course, that radically changed things for me because I transitioned immediately from being a full-time studio player to being full-time in a rock ’n’ roll band.”

As a member of Wings, he toured with the band, appeared in promotional videos and performed on the critically acclaimed album “Back to the Egg.” Getting to watch McCartney write and record music, he said, was like getting a degree from McCartney University.

“It was an educational process for me,” Juber said. “For example, one weekend, they said we really need a new single, and (McCartney) went off and wrote a song called ‘Daytime Nighttime Suffering’ over the weekend, and we recorded it on Monday morning. We went into the studio, and that was our assignment for the day.”

Through the years, Juber would also work with ex-Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison. And two of his 20 solo albums would be fingerpicked guitar versions of Beatles tunes.

The latest, “LJ Plays the Beatles, vol. 2,” includes instrumental takes on tunes such as “Penny Lane,” “I Am the Walrus” and “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

He has also done soundtrack work for TV shows (“Roseanne,” “Happy Days” and “Home Improvement,” to name a few) and movies (“The Muppets,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Good Will Hunting.”) And he has composed scores to musicals with his wife, Hope Juber.

But working with Wings was a highlight — which is why he didn’t hesitate to drop the session work he was doing at the time.

“I was as busy as could be,” he said. “I was turning down work. But that was an amazing opportunity.”

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.

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