Back in the early 1990s, it was my great fortune to act as a sort of stage manager for a delightful outdoor acoustic concert downtown on River Street. That free show featured Scottish singer-songwriter Al Stewart on guitar and vocals. Stewart is of course best known for his pop-oriented, mid-'70s radio hits "Year of the Cat" and "Time Passages," but in totality, he is much more of a keenly introspective folk artist than those carefully orchestrated crossover cuts might suggest.
Joining him onstage as a secondary musician was an astonishingly gifted and tasteful fingerstyle guitarist I was unfamiliar with named Laurence Juber. After being dazzled by his incredibly empathetic accompaniment, I learned this East London native was a phenomenon in his own right.
An in-demand session guitarist who's made a successful international career for himself as a solo artist, you've likely heard his handiwork for decades without ever knowing it. That's him playing the signature twangy guitar lick of the "James Bond Theme" on the soundtrack of "The Spy Who Loved Me." He's a key participant on "Je N'ai Pas Vu LeTemps Passer," one of the great Charles Aznavour's best-selling French language albums. And, perhaps most notably, he's also the two-time Grammy-winning lead guitarist on "Back To The Egg," the final studio album by superstar rock group Paul McCartney & Wings.
He's earned a worldwide following for his inventive, complex instrumental solo guitar arrangements. Voted "Guitarist of the Year" by readers of Fingerstyle Guitar magazine and named one of the all-time greatest acoustic players by Acoustic Guitar magazine, he is one of the best guitarists you'll ever have a chance to see or hear.
He talked to DO in advance of his solo show at Randy Wood's Pickin' Parlor, an intimate listening room adjacent to the world-famous instrument builder's factory.
"Randy is one of the unsung heroes of the guitar world," Juber says. "The talented luthiers and repairmen who help keep the music at our fingertips."
What attracted you to being an "on-call" session player?
Juber: To become a studio session player was my ambition almost from the start. The concept of making a living playing cool guitar licks and grooves on records was an irresistible goal to a 13-year-old. Style didn't matter. I was in bands as a teenager, played Top 40 gigs, weddings, corporate casuals. I was fingerpicking in folk clubs and jamming in jazz and blues dives. After high school, I studied music at University of London, Goldsmith's College, a classical but progressive environment. That introduced me to styles from the Renaissance and opera to abstract 20th-century music, as well as extending my ear far beyond the bandstand. I worked seven days a week, sometimes four sessions a day, paying my dues. I had the great fortune of being in a band with a Beatle. It was a unique learning experience and ultimately fueled an ambition to take flight as a soloist. For over three decades, my focus on fingerstyle guitar has run parallel with, and crossed over into, my studio and composing work. I still enjoy playing in ensembles, but working solo is a creative challenge that has led me down some interesting musical and "guitaristic" paths.
What's the attraction to fingerstyle guitar?
I always enjoyed the self-sufficiency of acoustic folk performers. Complete music in one compact package - melody, bass, rhythm, harmony and percussion. It's tactile, intimate, resonant and capable of great expression. There's (also) a cool sleight-of-hand which keeps it compelling to play and listen to.
Now that you're known for your own music, do you get asked to do sessions?
I still do some sessions for records, TV, movies and video games. But the process has become quite decentralized. Much of my work is "virtual," and done in my home studio. That said, I'll still show up for a session at Capitol Studios with a Les Paul, a Stratocaster, Marshall amp, Martin acoustic and a bunch of pedals, just like I did in London in 1975.
Eric Clapton once said that without intense, regular practice, his chops would fade almost immediately. Do you agree that even a few days without playing would lessen your abilities?
I don't recall ever having gone more than a day or two without playing. I stay constantly connected to it. Technique has always been a means to an end, so it evolves with my repertoire. Practice is essential to keep the process flowing. It's important to take a day off occasionally, for coming back to it is when you see the quantum improvements.
Tell me a bit about what folks can expect from the setlist at your show at Randy Wood's place.
Flying fingers, tapping feet, some familiar tunes, some unexpected tunes and some melodic originals - all with a borderline blues/rock/jazz/folk expression. I played at Randy's venue a few years ago. I'm happy to be making a return trip and looking forward to seeing him.