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Wednesday, May 12,2010

Guitar yeoman

Laurence Juber carves out his own territory

by Lawrence Cosentino

 


 

He has howled on the mountaintop, but he’d rather dally in the valley.

The London-born, California-based guitarist Laurence Juber has toured the world with Paul McCartney and held his own on stage with The Who’s Pete Townshend and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. Sunday, he’ll sit down at the one of the smallest venues on his busy schedule, Old Town’s Creole Gallery, to work the solo acoustic soil he loves best.


“Give me an audience, and the entertainer comes out,” Juber said.


It would be a big mistake to peg Juber, 56, as a rock star who settled into the acoustic rocking chair. He’s had his fingers in the whole pastry shop, from folk guitar to classical to electrified rock to Renaissance lute, since his student days in London in the 1960s.


“From very early on, I’ve been intrigued by the self-sufficiency of being able to play fingerstyle on an acoustic guitar and not need any other instrument,” he said in a phone interview last week.


When Juber crafts eclectic original tunes, as he does in his newest solo CD, “Wooden Horses,” the challenge is to discipline his wide-ranging muse. But guitar geeks and casual listeners are extra keen to hear how he’ll “orchestrate” a familiar tune for guitar. He just finished recording a new CD of Lennon-McCartney tunes last week, and he’ll play a few Sunday.


“That’s incredibly challenging, because I have to dig deep to match the voice of the guitar to the material,” he said. “I have to earn the freedom.”


To supplement his solo guitar oeuvre — 10 discs long and growing — Juber is in demand around the world as a session musician and composer.


Thursday, he was due for a 9 a.m. call at Capitol Studios to lay down tracks for ABC’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.”


“I’ve loaded up my Mini Cooper with guitars, amplifiers, pedal boards, and I’m off to Hollywood,” he said.


You’ve probably heard Juber without realizing it. He played the James Bond theme in “The Spy Who Loved Me;” his sly take on the “Pink Panther” theme took a Grammy last year and plays constantly on Sirius satellite radio. His solo version of “Stand by Me” was used in a De Beers diamond commercial. For some Eastern exposure, Juber’s breezy “Magellan Suite” for guitar and string quartet plays 12 hours a day at a restaurant in Disneyland Tokyo.


It’s all gravy for a veteran session man, but solo gigs feed the fire in his belly. After Creole owner Robert Busby died in 2007, Juber was the first artist to ask for a return visit. Booking agent Meegan Holland took Juber up on the offer when she resumed booking concerts this year.


Juber
fondly recalls his 2006 Creole gig.


“Being able to play in intimate
environments like the Creole Gallery is part of what fuels the
motivation,” Juber said. “It’s so nice to have that kind of contained
energy, as opposed to playing for a larger audience at a bigger venue.”


The man knows from big venues. He played lead guitar for Paul McCartney and Wings for the 1979 to 1981. Beatles producer George Martin was among the first to appreciate Juber’s guitar skills.


The
Wings gig got Juber into some interesting situations, most notably
McCartney’s all-star Rockestra blowout in the 1979 Concert for
Kampuchea — a band that included McCartney, Townshend, Plant, and
Plant’s Led Zeppelin bandmates John Paul Jones and John Bonham.


Undaunted by the high-powered company, Juber took the night’s big guitar solo, on “Let it Be.”


“I looked over my shoulder, realized nobody else was going to take the solo, so I just stepped forward,” he said.


Check
it out on YouTube: Helmet-haired Juber bears down and twirls out a
scorching arc of guitar while Townshend and Plant futilely try to grab
some attention by hamboning behind him.


“It’s much more concentrated than something I would do in my own concerts, but it’s still — you pick your moments,” he said.


Juber’s
parents gave him a guitar at 11, just when the Beatles hit the British
scene, hard on the heels of their instrumental forebears, the Shadows.


“In
1963-64, it was crazy,” he recalled. “The Rolling Stones, the Animals,
local bands like the Kinks and the Dave Clark Five, and within a few
years, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. It just kept coming.”


At the London University School of Music, he learned to play lute, jazz guitar, and avant-garde classical (with a young Simon Rattle.)


“I
never really discriminated between rock and roll, classical and jazz,”
Juber said. “In the arts in general, we didn’t get the kind of
stratification you get in America.”


He
listened avidly to the BBC’s Light Programme, where you might hear the
Beatles, a jazz program or English composers like Ralph Vaughan
Williams on the same morning.


“What the Beatles were doing — pulling their influences from everywhere — was a product of that environment,” Juber said.


Nor did Juber limit himself to learning guitar parts. He
studied bassists like Motown legend James Jamerson and Beach Boys
session bassist Carol Kaye. A solo acoustic record by Paul Simon,
released only in England, and Bob Dylan’s acoustic LPs were also big
influences.


To Juber, strumming a medieval lute and tearing it up with Plant and Townshend weren’t all that different.


“The boundaries didn’t matter very much,” he said.


“At the end of the day, it’s all music.”


Laurence Juber


7
p.m. Sunday, May 16 Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St. Lansing $18 Tickets
available at stpconcerts.com, Elderly Instruments, Archive Book Store
(517) 487-9549


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