7 p.m. Thursday at the Center for Southern Folklore, 123 S. Main. Tickets: $20 and $25, available at the center and by phone at 901-525-3655. For more information, visit southernfolklore.com.
At age 11, Laurence Juber, inspired, in part by the example of his fellow countrymen in the then-exploding group the Beatles, picked up the guitar and set his lofty goals for what he would like to accomplish with the instrument.
“There were two significant ambitions: One was that I wanted to play twangy guitar on the soundtrack of a James Bond movie, and two that I wanted to play with the Beatles,” says Juber, who has long since added both to his lengthy resume.
“This was a 12-year-old walking to school kind of imagining what it would be like to be a professional guitarist. But as it tuned out, I did get play twangy guitar in a James Bond movie in the “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and I got to play with three out of four Beatles. So, pretty close.”
After 50 years of playing, Juber has racked up an awe-inspiring resume that extends well beyond his childhood dreams: ace session player, in-demand sideman, and composer for stage and screen. But it is his late-life solo career, a body of work that has largely unfurled in just the past 20 years, that brings him to Memphis Thursday for a performance at the Center for Southern Folklore.
“Since I started putting out solo albums my main focus has really shifted to being an artist as opposed to being a sideman,” says Juber, who released his solo debut, Solo Flight in 1990. “It really started to kick in when that record came out. And I got radio airplay on it, and people said you should do another one. So I just kept doing it.”
Juber’s latest release, out last week, is the live CD/DVD package Catch LJ Live, a solo instrumental set that gives listeners and viewers a sample of what they can expect from Juber’s virtuosic finger-style acoustic guitar performances.
His ambitions set at a young age, Juber threw himself into an intense study of the guitar, earning a music degree from London University. Upon graduation, he became a busy session musician when he first came into contact with the Beatles’ producer George Martin.
In 1978, a year after he played guitar with Carly Simon on “Nobody Does It Better,” the theme to the Bond flick “The Spy Who Loved Me,” Juber’s professional reputation landed him an audition to take over the lead guitar slot in Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles’ group, Wings. He would spend three years as the band’s guitarist, playing on their final album Back to the Egg.
That album earned him a Grammy for the instrumental “Rockestra Theme” — as well as the hit singles “Goodnight Tonight” and “Coming Up.” More than the fame and fortune, Juber singles out his time with McCartney for the lessons he learned.
“It was a very influential period,” says Juber, who credits his former boss with teaching him business acumen and how to balance life and work as well as expanding his similarly broad musical horizons. “Over a long period of time I developed my compositional skills, and that was enhanced by my period with Paul McCartney. Not just because I got to be lead guitarist in this big rock ‘n’ roll band, but also that I got to work with an artist not only of great stature but also of a very eclectic disposition himself.”
After Wings disbanded in 1981, Juber moved to America where he resumed session work, playing for, among others, such popular TV series as “Happy Days” and “Family Ties.” In recent years, Juber explains, session work for musicians had dropped precipitously, the victim of technology that allows one man and a computer to take the place of a whole orchestra.
The shift, however, has allowed Juber, who performs more than 100 concerts a year, to pursue his passions, which increasingly have turned toward the type of acoustic guitar he learned from the ’60s London folk scene, a style perhaps most famously personified by the work of Richard Thompson. In 2005, Juber won his second Grammy for his tribute album to Henry Mancini.
On the heels of the new concert recording Catch LJ Live, on April 20, Record Store Day, he will put out a new studio album, Under An Indigo Sky, a jazzy, moody album.
Juber, who rounded out his Beatles trifecta in the ’80s by recording with Ringo Starr and George Harrison, will perform later this year at the annual Memorial Day Beatles-themed festival Abbey on the River in Louisville, Ky.
Juber still finds time to perform with other musicians, most notably Al Stewart of “Year of the Cat” fame. And when not pursing solo work, he collaborates frequently with writer wife Hope on original stage musicals, many of which, like the popular “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical” and “A Very Brady Musical,” are based on television shows created by her late father, famed TV producer Sherwood Schwartz.
Juber is also working on a book of photos from his time in Wings.
“What I like is the progress of it all. I’m always learning something new. I’ll pick up the guitar and get inspired to go off in a certain direction,” says Juber, who reveals one of his last, great unfulfilled ambitions is to see one of his shows on Broadway. “This kind of balance between being a performer, being a composer, being a musician, all of that kind of works rather comfortably for me.”