Laurence Juber says he started playing guitar when he heard The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but that’s the only thing resembling ordinary about the man, or his career as a genuine acoustic guitar hero. From familiar and humble beginnings—the kid with the cheap acoustic guitar holed up in his room teaching himself to play—Juber has landed on top of the heap, with the break that allowed him to fly coming from an early hero, Paul McCartney. He was lead guitarist for Wings when Back to the Egg was recorded, winning him a Best Rock Instrumental Grammy for “Rockestra,” even though his name was misspelled (Laurence Tuber) on the jacket.

Since Wings disbanded in 1981, Juber has simply done consistent, exemplary work that cannot be denied or ignored, earning him frequent critical acclaim and awards such as Fingerstyle Guitar magazine’s Guitarist of the Year in 2000. Even if you don’t own a single one of his CDs, you’ve probably heard his music in television shows (and a few commercials) and movie soundtracks. He released his 14th CD in October of 2009, Wooden Horses, in which he shows off his considerable chops as a composer of great solo acoustic guitar music. Like so many guitarists of our generation, your desire to play came from hearing The Beatles, and again, like so many, those musicians have had a long influence on your music.

Take me back to when you first fell in love with the guitar.

Actually, I really wanted to learn to play guitar. I had already been motivated to play guitar by The Shadows, who were the English version of the Ventures, and they did all this twangy stuff that would have been surf music if we had any surf. That was kind of the initial inspiration, and then I started playing guitar in November of ’63, and I think “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was released right around then.

How young were you when you started?

I was 11 when I got my first guitar.

Did you decide that guitar was going to be your life early on?

At that point it was really just something that I wanted to do. By the time I was 13, there was a local bandleader that started hiring me to play gigs, like weddings and stuff like that. The fact that I was actually being paid to play was kind of a revelation, because up until then earning money had meant either babysitting or washing neighbors’ cars. And then by the time I was 14 it was either working at the local supermarket on Saturdays or going out with the local Top 40 band and doing gigs during the week, and you can imagine which one I preferred. So, from the time I was about 13 I just figured that this was what I wanted to do for a living, but my ambition was to be a studio player. I was just enamored and enraptured by the guitar itself, and so I was exposing my musical self to all kinds of influences; not only the English pop/rock thing, but also jazz guitar players like Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts and Django Reinhardt. I guess right around that time the whole folk scene was happening and you were kind of obligated to learn a bunch of protest songs. I really started getting into fingerpicking at that point and learned Davy Graham’s “Anji.” But as time went by I started getting more into playing ragtime pieces, and got into the Merle Travis style. But I was also learning how to read music and studying classical guitar in high school and getting myself a sort of wellrounded guitar education.

You were doing everything you needed to do to prepare yourself to be a really great session guitarist, all on your own.

Oh yeah, it was very conscious. That’s what I wanted to do because I discovered that that was how you could make a living being a guitar player, outside of being in a band—not that I wasn’t in bands as a teenager, I was. But there was something very appealing about it as a teenager. I think part of it was because when Ilistened to records, I would deconstruct them. I was constantly figuring out what the bass part was or what the drums were doing or how the guitar parts fit together, so eventually when I did get into being a studio player I had a consciousness of how you put together parts, and how you make up your own parts, which is a real prerequisite for being a session player.

Once I got done with college and went into full-time studio work I was essentially doing three or four sessions a day, sometimes seven days a week, because at that point in the mid ‘70s there were no computers, there was no MIDI, there was nothing to substitute for real musicians, so there was just a lot of stuff. Whether it was a demo session or a jingle or a record or a TV show or a movie, there were all these different kinds of sessions that were going on. I was very lucky that I was adopted by this one particular guy: David Katz, a violinist who was one of the top contractors in London. He had seen me on TV with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and called me up the next day and wanted to start using me on sessions. And the level of musicianship that I was exposed to was really quite remarkable, because at that point the guys that were doing studio work, rhythm section players, were the same people that had been playing on the records in the ‘60s, the English pop records that I was listening to on the radio and figuring out. So it was just a really remarkable environment.

Let’s talk about composing a little bit, because you’ve done everything from jingles to segue music in TV, composing for stage and movies, and then for intimate little “you and your guitar” situations.

Photo by Hope Juber.
The place that most feels home to me is the solo guitar stuff, there’s no question about that. That’s where I’m probably at my most comfortable, because I can just sit down with a guitar and start to distill whatever music happens to be in my head onto the instrument. I think that’s probably the most satisfying and comfortable place for me. But I co-composed a video game score last year for a game called Diablo III, which is a sequel to a couple of very successful versions of that particular game. In that particular case, there was some iconic stuff that came from the previous games that needed to be recognized, and it’s nice when you come into a situation where you don’t have to invent everything from scratch. To a large extent, it’s guitar driven. I would sit with an electric guitar, kind of a Hendrixy thing, a Strat going thru a Germanium fuzz box. I particularly like Germanium fuzz for anything that you’ve got to add other instruments to, because it sits in a very controllable space; it doesn’t tend to spread all over everything. I think because it’s such a clear-cut square wave that it just has a nice, almost synthy kind of quality to it. I’d sit and jam for a few minutes and then I’d reverse what I did. So rather than playing it forwards, I’d play it backwards and I’d pick out the bits that were kind of cool and then I’d orchestrate that, maybe double it with a viola and an English horn and evolve music out of that.

I’ve doneBrady Bunchprojects—there’s the Brady theme as a starting point, and I’ve probably arranged that theme about 15,000 times, for string quartet, orchestra, different kinds of ensembles. I love the arranging thing. I love doing the kitschier kind of things, like copy a style but inject it with humor. I enjoy doing music for comedy, which is what led me into dealing with musical theater, and that’s a whole other area, because when you write a song for the stage it’s not like you’re going to be sitting in front of an audience playing the guitar. You’re going to be handing it over to a singer who is going to be doing it with somebody else playing the accompaniment, and there’s a musical director who basically takes it out of your hands, and it then turns into something that’shopefully above and beyond what you had imagined it would be.

We need to talk about DADGAD. How did you discover it?

James Jensen at Solid Air Records encouraged me to think about doing some more open tunings stuff, figuring that since I was so comfortable in standard tuning that I would kind of thrash around in DADGAD and maybe find some different things. What he didn’t anticipate was that as soon as I started working in DADGAD I pretty much went straight for all the musical stuff that I already knew and I just adapted the fingerings: “Where are my 6ths, where are my 10ths, and where are all my familiar intervals, and how do I make this work and make the texture of this work?” And it wasn’t just DADGAD; I started off with some open G, open Gm, CGDGAD, but the one that I ended up sticking with more than anything else is DADGAD. I just found that it’s such a musical tuning, especially when you start stepping outside of D major and start playing in other keys, whether it’s G or A or B.