By James Jensen - 1993
You may not have heard of Laurence Juber but chances are very good
you've heard his guitar playing. From movies like "The Spy Who Loved Me" and
"Dirty Dancing" to TV's "Roseanne" and "Home Improvements"
as well as hit records like Belinda Carlisle's "Mad About You", he has become
one of LA's most in demand studio guitarists. If none of the above rings any bells then
maybe you'll remember his three year stint as Paul McCartney's lead guitarist in Wings (he
picked up a Grammy for those efforts).
In 1991 Laurence stepped out from behind the music stand with the
release of "Solo Flight" a collection of solo acoustic guitar pieces recorded at
the urging of James Lee Stanley. To support the release, Laurence began a series of
concerts in the West and Texas at popular venues for folk acts like The Fret House and
McCabes Long Beach to an overwelming positive response. Encouraged by the results he has
recently recorded his second collection of solo acoustic pieces titled 'NAKED GUITAR'. While "Solo Flight " showcased beautiful melodies and intricate
fingerstyle " Naked Guitar" expands on the more aggressive and bluesy side of
A devoted husband and father of two girls, we caught up with
Laurence at his home-studio preparing to score an upcoming episode of "Tarzan"
and putting the finishing touches on "Naked Guitar" scheduled for March release.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: London.... well actually I was born in the east end of
London called Stepney. We moved to north London which is where I grew up and went to
Q: Was your first guitar an acoustic?
A: Yeah, I started off with a flat-top, a real cheap bolt-on
with the bolt on the outside through the back of the heel. That guitar had like a one-inch
Q: What prompted you to get the guitar?
A: Love.... I loved the instrument even before I started
playing it. It was 1963 in England and it was like, you know the Beatles, and
everything was happening, the Stones, and electric guitars were very cool. I
remember the first ones I had my eyes on were like fire- engine red, crushed pearl inlays,
Hofners and all those affordable European electrics. What I got was this real cheap
acoustic that you had to put cardboard underneath the neck to get the action playable. I
struggled with that guitar for about a year. My next guitar was an f-hole arch top with a
Q: Were you just playing at guitar? At what
point did you get serious and take some lessons?
A: I had lessons very early on in my first year of playing.
I learned to read music in my second lesson. It was abundantly clear to me how that
worked and I didn't have a problem with it. I started earning money with it when I
was about 13. A local band leader took me out on gigs like weddings and parties.
Q: At that point did you see a career for
yourself as a guitarist?
A: Yeah, I kind of figured out quite early on that's what I
wanted to do.
Q: How did your folks feel about your
A: They wanted me to be a pharmacist! I never got a
lot of encouragement, playing the guitar was like a teenage rebellion kind of thing. It was mine and however much my parents or school tried to legitimize me I was in
love with the instrument. I had a passion for it so everything else was secondary,
but I did stay in school and get an education because I owed my parents that much.
Q: What was your next level of musical
A: At 15 I had to study classical guitar if I wanted to
continue studying music.
Q: Did you enjoy this change?
A: In a way it was a chore because at the same time I was in
a pop group playing what I enjoyed, Rock n Roll. It was about the time I discovered
Django Reinhart and Julian Bream and became a more serious student.
Q: Did you adapt very rapidly to fingerstyle
since you began as a pick player?
A: Not really, I was never particularly flexible as a
fingerstyle player and it was kind of hard. Classical was kind of hard for me because my
fingernails are weak and I could never get a great tone. This was 1967 and Sgt.
Peppers and Cream were happening and Rock n Roll was legitimate classical music. Even the
academics were saying that the Beatles were the biggest thing since Shubert. I never
focused on fingerstyle guitar until the last few years. I started getting more into it
because I forced myself to do it. I practiced classical day in day out and sat there
with a ream of music playing through the Segovia transcriptions.
Q: What influence was the English school of
A: I was 13 when I first heard Bert Jansch and John Renbourn
not long after. Throughout that period if you looked for it fingerstyle music was
abundant. That was the time I first got into ragtime playing.
Q: Did you go to College?
A: I went to London University, Goldsmith college and got a
Q: What did that consist of?
A: For three years I studied nothing but music and
essentially it was musicology. I never got into composition, performance or any one thing,
it was a broad overview of music.
Q: Was the decision to study music in
college based on a desire to be a studio musician?
A: Absolutely, I made that decision when I was 16. I
was offered to join a band that was about to get a record contract and go out on the road. I agonized over that decision and decided to stay in school and pursue a more
Q: It's interesting that you chose a career
course that would keep you behind the scenes.
A: I was never motivated by being the featured performer.
The real gig was what I could do to make regular money and I felt because; a-I was
versatile, b-I could read music and c-I was actually meeting people who were doing studio
work. I was playing in an organization called "the National Youth Jazz
Orchestra" which was a jazz big band and a lot of the musicians went on to do studio
work, it was like a training ground.
Q: What playing were you doing during your
A: I focused more on playing the lute and that's when I got
into counterpoint and single line kind of stuff. I worked real hard at that technique but
wasn't able to sustain it for long.
Q: And after college?
A: Immediately after leaving college I began session work.
The first album I worked on was Cleo Laine with George Martin producing. I wasn't on to
the tricks yet like, if you're doing a fingerpicking thing in B major you use a capo, you
don't brave it out. Over the years I've developed the technique to play in any key because
you have to. On some sessions if you use a capo it completely blows the reading because
you're having to transpose.
Q: After all the practice, school etc.
you're doing what you wanted (session work) was it all you thought it would be?
A: I loved it! I was doing it 7 days a week, 3 or 4 sessions
a day. In the mid 70's in England there were no computers so you needed a real rhythm
section. Now I go play on a record date and it's like me and a computer!
Q: Was it a great time in your life?
A: It was an amazing time for me! I got to play with great
musicians, and got to hear the things I played on radio, t.v. or in theaters like when I
played on "The Spy Who Loved Me".
Q: Did the lack of credit or fame bother
A: Sometimes you got credit and sometimes I've got credit
years later. I found out last year that I played on the Alan Parsons' Project's "
Tales of Mystery and Imagination" . I didn't even know I played on the record till I
read my name in Musician magazine last year in an interview with Alan, who knew?
Q: Tell us about Paul McCartney and Wings.
A: That pulled me out of session work. I was working
on a TV show with David Essex ( Rock On ). Every week we had a different musical guest and
Denny Laine appeared one week on the show. I guess he remembered me because 6 months later
I got a phone call. I was doing a session in Abbey Road and I got a call asking me
to jam with Denny and, "by the way Paul and Linda will be there."
Q: Was that essentially an audition?
A: Yeah, well we jammed to Chuck Berry tunes and Reggae sort
of things and then they asked me what I was doing for the next year? I thought it over for
about a millisecond! I took it because you don't turn down that kind of job. I was
25 and ripe for a change of direction and I looked at it as a furthering of my musical
education, sort of my masters at McCartney University.
Q: What stage in the history of Wings were
you enrolled so to speak?
A: I was brought in for the album "Back to the
Egg" and the subsequent tour. And that's when I really began to learn what it means
to be an artist and producer because I watched it all going on.
Q: How much freedom did you have with your
guitar parts, was it all written out for you?
A: I had a lot of freedom. Being a studio musician sometimes
means making up your own parts which is where I learned to be an arranger and to some
extant a composer.
Q: Was McCartney hard to work for?
A: Creatively I thoroughly enjoyed it because it was very
challenging and it was quite an education watching Paul McCartney work. When we worked
with Ringo was when I learned the value of an acoustic guitar in a rhythm section.
Q: A year later when the album was
A: Well that was a long year with a lot of spare time. Part
of the sessions were done at a medieval castle and I would sit on a well in the courtyard
and noodle around on an acoustic guitar. "The Stepney Two-Step" was written
during that period. Seeing an artist like McCartney at work really fired me up to write my
Q: You hadn't been composing before that
A: I'm not the kind of person who could tell you the first
song I wrote. As an acoustic player I can really trace my development and fingerstyle
because that's what I've always put my heart and soul into. I express myself on an
acoustic guitar in my moments of reflection when I can sit down and be me, and not a hired
gun or sideman. I like the self-sufficiency of it, I call it "naked guitar".
Q: When did you first dabble in ragtime
A: MY arrangement of "WeepingWillow" I did when I
was 18. Everyone was playing "Maple Leaf Rag" so I wanted to be different and I
liked that rag.
Q: On your CD "SOLO FLIGHT" all
the tunes are in standard tuning except "This Process" in dropped d and
"Barnett Fair" where your tuning the 6th string to d and the 5th to g, the
English fingerstyle scene is full of the use of open tunings did they not interest you?
A: Oh yeah, I love playing in open tunings but it never
became personal, it never sounds like me. When you tune open you can jam with yourself a
Q: But you can't play with others?
A: Well you can but you have to be like Alex de Grassi and
get very advanced with it. I've always gravitated to standard tuning probably because of
my strong classical training in harmony. Studying figured basses in baroque music where
you have to find your way around a lot of first inversion chords and all the different
kinds of progressions where your dealing with legit four part harmony. I can't do that
with open tunings because they are not harmonically suited they are more modal. What I
would like is an extra bass string like a lute. Once I got into renaissance music I didn't
really come back. It's self sufficient, it has a combination of counterpoint and single
note lines but its melody based with a functional bass line. That's kind of the raw
material of my style, it's very deeply rooted in classical guitar and lute.
Q: What was next after the "Back to the
Egg " album?
A: Well we toured England, went to Japan and he got busted!
That was it for the live band. We recorded "Coming Up" in Glasgow, Scotland.
Q: When did you come to America?
A: In the early 80's I was offered some projects in New York
so I uprooted myself (snaps his fingers) and joined the studio scene in New York. I was
only there a couple of months when I met Hope who lived in L.A. and when it was obvious we
were going to be married I moved to L.A. and started in session work here.
Q: How was the work different between L.A.
and New York.
A: New York was all jingles and L.A. was TV and movies, my
first job was "Herbie the Love Bug".
Q. Do you have standard traveling kit that you take on session work
or do they tell you what to bring?
A: Normally for a session I'll take at least one 6-string, a
nylon string, a twelve string, and I also carry a high-strung, though I don't get to use
it much. There is also alot of opportunity on TV dates to do "doubles" which
means to play banjo, uke or other fretted instruments as well as guitar so I carry a trunk
full of "doubles". They also pay extra for the work on the other instruments so
it's very worthwhile. You also need lots of pencils, extra strings, picks, and capos.
Q: You keep a guitar high-strung all the
time just in case?
A: Yeah, I use it for Christmassy kind of things mostly and
it's fun to play.
Q: Do you use the 12-string primarily for
A: On "Home Improvement" for example I use it a
lot. The composer on that show is a guitar player and he tends to write stuff in
open-tunings for the 12-string. I should add in weird open-tunings like open G7 or G9 or
sometimes in a diminished chord. The music is written out for me in a kind of tablature
that I've trained him to use so there's a little bit of guess-work involved.
Q: Is this fingerstyle?
A: No, It's more like strumming open tuning things but with
single line stuff going on at the same time, very rythmic. That kind of work is very fun
because you just have to go for it. Basically the fingering is not that difficult , it's
usually the rythms that are hard, plus you're following a conductor too- so it's a good
test of fortitude.
Q: Are you presented with the music you are
going to play when you show up for the date or is there a preview?
A: You get some time to look things over at the session
plus, if it's really complicated sometimes they'll fax things to me. Mostly the stuff is
not that difficult, the acoustic guitar bits are usually rhythm.
Q: How much imput do you have?
A: It depends on what you're doing. On a TV date you go for
what's written. If the composer asks, you are free to make suggestions.
Q: How free are you to add slurs, vibrato
A: You throw in all that stuff because you have to give the
music personality! Generally with the TV shows there's a certain kind of character that is
in the nature of the show. With "Roseanne" there's a kind of greasiness, a lot
of Dobro work with slide and bends.
Q: What are the typical rookie mistakes you
see novice session players make?
A: Playing too much, not being used to playing with a click
track. Even on a record you play with a click track and some people are just not used to
it. Not being bold enough is a problem. You can't be shy about what you're doing. It's playing one note with the right kind of attitude or just turning a phrase
nicely that makes the difference.
Q: What is the most important attribute for
a studio guitarist to bring to a gig that will increase his or her chances for more work?
A: Having a good attitude. It's a tough thing for a composer
or an orchestrator to be on that kind of session because there's a lot of pressure.
Q: What kind of pressure?
A: Time and Money pressures. They're working within strict
budgets and with very limited time. You might look at a picture one day, write a score the
next day and record it the day after that. So you need to bring a real congenial attitude
to the date, you're there to serve the music, to be on time, in tune, and paying
attention. You have to be prepared for the fact that the take that you're doing may be the
only take, and if you do make mistakes make them inspired mistakes. Professionalism
is obviously fundamental as is having the right kind of attitude however, versatility has
also contributed a lot to my career. The fact that I've played in big bands helps when I'm
playing a swing type thing. You don't play the same chords on that kind of a session as
you would on some kind of pretty new age or country gig. It's a whole different
approach and for example you might play 3-note chords and have to follow a walking bass
line. The people I work with seem to like the fact that I can voice things in an
interesting way without ever getting overly complicated. You also have to be versatile in
your technique. Playing rythm with a pick as well as being able to fingerstyle or play a
solid crosspicking pattern with a pick are essential.
Q: Is studio work a viable career?
A: It was for me. I do a lot less session work now because
I've branched out to become a composer. Being a session player is something that if you
get lucky and make the contacts, then you can work for years. If people like what you do
they'll remain loyal to you, however, some people if they can't get you for a job will
never hire you again. That's the cutthroat end of the business.
Q: How did you move from session man to
scoring movies and TV shows?
A: One of the songs I wrote with a group called
"Chequered Past" was turned into a movie "World Gone Wild" which I got
the job scoring.
Q: So you were very busy?
A: Yeah, and I had a mission which was to get acoustic
guitar back in pop records. I couldn't get arrested for a couple of years with an acoustic
and then I played a strong acoustic rhythm part on Belinda Carlisle's hit "Mad about
You" and Eric Carmen's "Make me Lose Control". And all of a sudden acoustic
guitar got real fashionable. I think the first year of the Roseanne TV series I
played acoustic exclusively.
Q: In 1990 James Lee Stanley offered you an
album on his Beachwood label?
A: I've known James since 1984 and being a friend of his is
a prerequisite for being signed to the label (laughs). Actually his timing was great
because I had just been writing for an orchestra and getting back to the simplicity of the
solo acoustic was a nice change of pace. I refer to it again as "naked guitar"
there is a certain rawness about it.
Q: Did you plan to tour after the release of
"SOLO FLIGHT" ?
A: Well my relationship with Seymore Duncan and Taylor
guitars has been very helpful because they have introduced me to their dealer networks
where I have done clinics etc.
Q: What's a day in the life of Laurence
A: You really want to know? Get up, get the kids off
to school and it's scoring TV (Tarzan) series or session work and trying to find practice
Q: You've got to be one of the few
guitarists in the world whose day job is playing the guitar.
A: (laughs) yeah,that's the plan.
Q: Those concerts to support "SOLO
FLIGHT" were a new experience for you.
A: It's great to play for people again. I've enjoyed the
session work but you don't get a lot of emotional feedback from a music stand.
Q: "SOLO FLIGHT" doesn't seem like
a studio pro flaunting his chops but a man doing what he really loves and represents a
A: It's a commitment I made in Wings days when I decided I
would be an artist someday and the acoustic guitar is my choice for self-expression. There
is a chunk of the year when session work is slower so I can set up solo gigs very quickly
and take advantage of that. My commitment to my growth as an artist is there as well. I do
not accept things I play that sound like other people and that's why I stay away from open
Q: Who are the guitarists you listen to?
A: I love Renbourn because he's so good. I had one lesson
with Davey Graham and I'll never forget it. I don't listen to a lot of guitar because I
don't want to be overly influenced, I want to carve my own path.
In a sense my style is based on being eclectic and drawing on my musical education and my
kind of compositional and arranging experience then trying to squeeze that onto the
Q: What inspires you?
A: The sound of the guitar.