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Famed guitarist Laurence Juber talks about his new album (Includes interview)

Laurence Juber has been wowing audiences on his chosen instrument since first taking it up, after having been inspired by the likes of The Beatles and The Shadows, in the early 1960s.

Over the last five decades, he has worked as a studio musician, was an integral part of Wings from 1978 to 1980 (a period he refers to as their “Indian Summer”), featured on the soundtrack to the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me and has released a string of solo albums that highlight his often breathtaking finger-picking style.

The new album from the two time Grammy Award-winner (his 23rd to date) is called Fingerboard Road and, according to the press release, comes from a motorway exit sign that he happened to notice while in the New York area.

“On multiple occasions, I drive on the freeway going to JFK airport,” explains the London-born Californian (Laurence has called The Golden State home since 1981), “and I just thought it was such a cool title for something, and it’s kind of a metaphor because I’ve been playing now for well over 50 years.

“That’s what I feel like. I feel like I live on Fingerboard Road; that much of my creative existence and my professional existence has something to do with playing guitar.”

How does this effort differ from what the 62-year-old instrumentalist has done musically since releasing his very first solo project Standard Time back in 1982?

“Well I think there’s a few factors… One is that there’s more improvisation on this. I think there’s a looseness about it. Sonically, I think that this is a different step from what I’ve done before and I always try with each album to approach it slightly differently from a sonic point of view.

“It might be using a different guitar, or multiple guitars, or different miking – various factors… So it has a different flavour to it. It’s consistent with what I’ve done before, in terms of mixing up original tunes with cover tunes, but I think I went a little bit broader with my choice of cover tunes this time around.

“Stuff like Hoagy Carmichael, with ‘Georgia on My Mind‘ and then ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ being a (Pete) Townshend song. It’s kind of a wide, stylistic range…

“I’m looking back at some of the music that inspired me and I guess for me as artist, it’s taking a song like ‘I Only Want to Be with You‘ and squeezing it on to six strings, giving it its own flavour, and somehow it all ends up sounding like me because over the years I’ve developed this kind of voice in what I do – and I enjoy that process.”

As well as an interesting selection of covers, predominantly songs from the ’60s and ’70s, Fingerboard Road also contains three original compositions. “There is a live bonus track, a song called ‘Love at First Sight,'” notes Laurence. “I have a pretty big archive of live recordings, so this was an opportunity to slide one into this project.

“But the two originals on the record, the opening track ‘Without Annette’ was actually written for a play that my wife, Hope, wrote. The play is set in an improv workshop, so there’s portions of it, even though it’s a scripted play, that are improvised, hence the title ‘Without Annette’ – it’s a play on words for the woman’s name, but also like being on a high-wire without any visible support.

“Then the title tune ‘Fingerboard Road’ is almost like an old school ragtime piece, but with some quirky key changes because when I write ragtime, I tend to go a little bit left-field… I think the next record will more likely be a lot more originals and probably will include some electric guitar too, but the timing was right for this particular project.”

One of the tracks on the album is “Go Now,” a version of the classic pop standard written by Larry Banks and made famous by The Moody Blues, which actually helped get Laurence Juber the gig with Paul McCartney and Wings. He takes up the story:

“That was when I played with Denny Laine on a David Essex TV show in 1977 – boy, that’s going back! I was playing lead guitar in the house band for that show and Denny was a guest and they had come up with a new arrangement of ‘Go Now‘ with a guitar solo in it, so they gave me the solo to play.

“Denny liked working with me and I kind of made it on to his radar, so when Paul turned around sometime later and said, ‘Do you know any good guitar players?’ Denny said, ‘Well as it happens, I do.’ I passed the audition without even realising I was auditioning at that point.

“I did go in and audition for real with the band, but we just played some Chuck Berry grooves and some reggae stuff and it was not a formal audition. It wasn’t like I had to go in and play ‘Jet,’ ‘Band on the Run‘ and ‘Silly Love Songs’ or anything like that.”

Intriguingly, for fans of Paul McCartney and his often overlooked – but still brilliant – ‘second’ band (many people can’t see past The Beatles, it seems), Juber, who later this month will also be launching an online guitar tutorial entitled LJ’s Guitaristics: Rhythm, in conjunction with, has written of his time in the million-selling group in a new book entitled Guitar With Wings published last year by Dalton Watson Fine Books.

“I was never intending to write a book,” he reveals. “I had done an interview for some publication with a man named Marshall Terrill and had mentioned that I had shoe boxes full of photographs and Marshall said, ‘Well you should do a book’ and I said, ‘I don’t really want to do a book – it seems like a lot of work. Yeah I have photos, but I don’t know that I have enough of a story to tell…’

“He said, ‘Well I think you do’ and he came back to me with an offer of a publishing deal and so I said, ‘I’ll think about it’ and I thought, ‘Well okay, I’ll give it a go’ because I’d never written anything like that before. I had to basically spend a year writing 45,000 words and going through hundreds and hundreds of pictures to pick out stuff that would have a narrative to it.

“Marshall guided me through it and I discovered that I could tell the story and doing it dug up reminiscences of things I’d long forgotten. When I got to 250 pages and realised I had 30 years to go, I wrapped up my solo career in about a dozen pages and figured I’d save the other stuff for another project. I call it a ‘photo memoir’ because there’s really cool photos that had never seen the light of day…”

Does Laurence look back on his time with Wings, that included making the band’s last ever studio album Back to the Egg, as one of the happiest times of his life?

“I look at it as a very productive time… In many respects a very liberating time because it bridged the period where I was a very active studio musician to the point where I moved to New York, met Hope and entered a whole other phase of my life.

“It was what connected me with my own sense of becoming an artist because I was really being mentored as an artist by Paul McCartney. I don’t think he necessarily saw it that way, but for me that’s how it was – I went to McCartney University.

“It was as much an educational experience as it was a musical and a showbiz and a life-changing experience, and I was certainly very happy with the situation. I can look back at it with fond memories, but much has happened since then and I have achieved other successes in my career.”

In recent years, Laurence has reunited sporadically with Denny Laine and other ex-members of Wings, drummer Steve Holley and occasionally one of the band’s other sticksmen Denny Seiwell, and I couldn’t help but wonder if a reunion with Sir Paul might happen one day?

“I wouldn’t speculate on that. Paul’s always said that he would never do a Wings reunion without Linda – that’s pretty much fundamental. I’m not holding my breath for something like that.

“The great thing is when I get together with Steve Holley and Denny Laine, it’s that what takes me back to that particular era because we had started to really forge ourselves as a band and when we play together, we kind of go back to that place – and doing some of the stuff from Back to the Egg, for example, gives us an opportunity to take it that much further, stretch out solos, twist things a little bit. It’s fun to revisit that material.

“But I can’t see Wings as a band happening because Paul would just never go there… He doesn’t need to; I mean he’s got this flourishing career as a solo artist. He has a killer band and he doesn’t stop touring, and it keeps him happy.”

Fingerboard Road is available now on iTunes, although the official release date is Tuesday, March 24th.

For more information on Laurence’s book Guitar with Wings go here.

For more information on the man himself, visit his official website.

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