Former Wings guitarist, session guitarist, and DADGAD virtuoso Laurence Juber talks about how he got his start in the recording studio.
Let’s begin at the beginning. You started playing guitar because of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and then you go on to work with both George Martin and Paul McCartney. Start with the session for George Martin. How did you get the gig and what sort of direction did he give you?
It was an album for Cleo Laine - my friend and fellow National Youth Jazz orchestra alum, multi-instrumentalist Paul Hart was playing with Cleo and recommended me.
I was pretty 'wet behind the ears'. I remember struggling through an acoustic part in B major thinking it was unmanly to use a capo. The folly of youth. It all turned out OK
and it got me started on my early career as a session player. Sir George had a very gentle manner and was very encouraging.
Was it nerve wracking to be in the studio with such a legend?
More than one legend, in fact. It was nerve wracking, but I was determined to prove myself and when the record light goes on a different mindset takes over.
What sort of sessions were you getting calls for in those days?
A lot of demos, French disco sessions (Cerrone in particular), Alan Parsons (although I didn't know it at the time!). Often 3 or 4 sessions a day. Jingles at 8am record dates at 10am, 1pm and 7pm.
TV variety shows on Sundays. Memorable record dates with classy singers like Charles Aznavour and Rosemary Clooney. Movies once in a while (The Spy Who Loved Me).
Because I could read, I got a lot of the mainstream calls, not so much in the rock area. I worked on some projects with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Jerry Rafferty and Cat Stevens too.
How would you prepare? What gear would you typically bring?
Strat, Les Paul 6,12, Nylon and high strung acoustics. Fender Deluxe reverb and a bunch of pedals. Sometimes a Banjo or Mandolin. Not that different from what I do today
Is there one recording date that stands out in your mind?
The coolest was the Wings session at Abbey Road when we recorded the Rockestra stuff with Townsend, Bonham, Gilmore etc.
How did you get the McCartney gig?
I was playing in the house band with David Essex for his TV show. Denny Laine from Wings was a guest on the show and we played 'Go Now' the old Moody Blues hit.
He and I bonded and he recommended me to replace Jimmy McCulloch. I had run into Wings a few times at various London Studios, so I wasn't a complete stranger.
What were the Back to the Egg sessions like?
Totally unlike the 3 hour time blocks that the typical commercial session ran in those days. We started in Scotland on the farm with a mobile studio and then a medieval castle on the South coast of England.
It was very creative, nothing written down and mostly I had the freedom to come up with my own parts. I learned a lot about production and writing by observing the process.
I got to play bass on 'Love Awake' with Paul coaching me - a bass lesson from Macca! Chris Thomas co-produced the album in between doing the Sex Pistols and the Pretenders,
so there was some cool stuff to learn from him too. When they were spending all day on a snare drum sound, I'd talk to Linda, who was much hipper than she ever gets credit for.
I started writing solo guitar stuff on those sessions - spiral staircases in castles are cool acoustic environments. We spent a lot of time at Abbey Road too, which was always a great place to work.
It gave me a chance to open up the rock side of my playing - cranking up a Marshall, Boogie or HiWatt amp in a way that I rarely got to do on regular sessions.
If your career had ended right there, it would still be a great body of work. But it didn’t. You then gave yourself over to your fingerstyle acoustic playing and your work as a producer. Talk about that transition.
After Wings, I spent most of the 80's raising kids while doing sessions in LA and then transitioning into composing, arranging and producing. I'd learned enough to put my own studio together - I went from 4 to 8 to 16 and then 24 track. I still have closets full of 2 inch tape! I was an early adopter of MIDI and sequencing software, so over the years I've done quite a few under-the-radar movies and TV shows as a composer.
I slowly started to focus on the solo acoustic side and was offered a deal that led to my first album Solo Flight in 1990. I discovered that I enjoyed playing concerts and doing clinics. I started producing Al Stewart in 1994 and have done 4 albums with him as well as some duo tours.
How do you feel your session and sideman work prepared you for this stage of your career.
It's all been great experience. I feel like I'm a better session player for becoming a better performer. I enjoy being a sideman and especially the studio bonding experience - there's a lot be said for the 'group mind'
that manifests itself on sessions. I've learned a lot about performance from working with actors and comedians too. I see my studio career as a continuum. The concert and recording artist side have a different complexions
- sometimes they intersect and sometimes they are parallel tracks. The fingerstyle track really goes back to being a teenager and learning 'Anji' and ragtime tunes, even while I was slowing down the Bluesbreakers album to learn Clapton's parts on 'Hideaway'.
I played on a TV show called '7th Heaven' for all 11 seasons - the fingerstyle acoustic underscore was a virtual character in the show. Dan Foliart, the composer, and I came up with a system for me to sight-read his altered tuning parts in conventional notation. There was a great synergy between the show and my solo work. It drove me to refine my technique and also led me to order some guitars that were sufficiently dynamic and articulate to handle the material. Those ultimately became my Martin signature series.