Eric Singer Memorial Concert
Sunday, Nov. 3, 4 p.m.
By GWEN OREL
When Laurence Juber got the call to audition as lead guitarist for Wings, Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles band, he panicked a little.
Although he got his first guitar in 1963, during what he describes as the “peak of Beatlemania” in England, he didn’t even know any Wings songs.
“I borrowed LPs from my brother over the weekend,” Juber said from his home in Los Angeles. “As it turned out, I didn’t need to know them. We jammed on Chuck Berry tunes and reggae grooves, and they offered me the job.” That was in 1978; stayed with Wings until it folded in 1981.
On Sunday, Nov. 3, Juber will perform in Montclair at Congregation Shomrei Emunah, during the annual Eric Singer memorial concert. The concert honors Singer, a late long-time member of the community, and the series is presented by his widow, Rita Singer. The first memorial concert was held in 2017, with Kenneth Bannerman on cello, and featured musicians from Montclair Orchestra.
For that concert, Rita Singer asked that the program include either Jewish music or a Jewish composer.
Juber, who is also Jewish, will not play Jewish music per se, although he pointed out that much of the Great American Songbook has been composed by Jewish Americans. “You’d be surprised how many rabbis play guitar and are fans of mine,” he said with a laugh.
Sunday will be the Londoner’s first performance in Montclair.
You’ve probably heard Laurence play guitar, even if the name doesn’t ring a bell: he is featured on the soundtrack of TV’s “Home Improvement,” in the score of the film “Dirty Dancing,” and many others.
And kids who’ve never heard of Wings, and are only barely aware of the Beatles, might know him from the soundtracks he’s composed for video games Diablo III and Starcraft.
THE COOLNESS FACTOR
When McCartney offered him the job, Juber hesitated for a “nanosecond” when he got the offer, because he’d spent more than a decade developing a career as a studio musician, something he loved and still loves.
“But I wasn’t going to give up the opportunity to play with Paul McCartney,” he said with a laugh.
Juber, known to his fans as “LJ,” has won two Grammy Awards: one for his work as lead guitarist with Wings in 1980, and one for his solo arrangement and performance of “The Pink Panther Theme” in 2004 on his album “Henry Mancini: Pink Guitar.”
He’s played with many famous musicians over the years, but has to put his awe aside onstage.
“I was hired to play,” he said. “I can’t let being starstruck get in the way of the job. One of the aims is to satisfy the artist.
“But there were times onstage where I’d think, ‘Wow, I’m onstage with Paul McCartney.’ That coolness factor.”
When he spoke to Montclair Local, he was getting ready to be a guest on a local radio show, “Breakfast with the Beatles.”
Still, “I don’t consider myself to be a Beatle-ologist,” he said. “There are people who really experts on all things Beatles.
“That’s not where I come from.”
For Juber, the passion is the music, “and the granular detail of the music. If you take any Beatles song, say ‘She Loves You,’ and turn that into a solo guitar arrangement, you have to go very deep into the musicality of it, understanding The Beatles’ influences, and how all those ingredients were put together. It’s given me a lot of insight into the musical process.”
Juber released “LJ Plays the Beatles” in 2000, and Acoustic Guitar Magazine voted it one of the magazine’s all-time top 10 albums.
The Beatles, he said, have transcended eras and styles.
“One of the things that always appeals was their versatility. They were not genre-specific. They played rockabilly to country to 20s-style jazz, to pure rock, or pure blues. They were encyclopedic in their approach to music.
“That matches my own musical sensibility.”
He received an education in the music business from playing with McCartney, especially about music publishing. The reason for his tiny hesitation when offered the Wings job captures his true ambition: he always wanted to be a musician, not just a guitar player.
“I don’t see music as having boundaries,” said Juber, who studied classical music and has a music degree. “I describe what I do as borderline everything. There are folk elements, blues, jazz, classical. It’s kind of a melting pot.
His 19th solo album, “Downtown,” which came out in April 2019, presents jazzy versions of songbook favorites, including “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” and “Misty,” while his September 2018 album “Touchstones — the Evolution of Finger-Style Guitar” is a musical history of finger-style guitar music, including Renaissance lute music.
Finger-style guitar, he said, is similar to classical guitar playing.
“My right hand is very active playing the melody, and bass,” he said. “I do it on steel strings, not nylon or gut, and my repertoire doesn’t have the gravitas that the classical world requires. There’s a sense of humor in what I do.”
He likes to play tunes the audience will enjoy, and that he enjoys too. In Montclair, he’ll tell stories, and play music that is “kid-friendly, senior-friendly, adult-friendly.”
The music business has changed a lot since his days with Wings.
But, he says, “Every time I pick up the guitar, I’m in love with the instrument. There’s still a lot I want to do.”