Laurence Juber: Awkward start, smooth finish

Renowned guitar player Laurence Juber possesses such a staggering facility that in performance, his combination of technique, sensitivity, feel, melody and harmonics is nearly overwhelming. The British-born musician, who appears at Burbank's Viva Cantina on Tuesday, has an astonishing resume that reaches back more than four decades. It includes a three-year stint as lead guitarist for Sir Paul McCartney's Wings, session work with everyone from pop icons Barry Manilow and Paul Williams to Carly Simon and Rosemary Clooney, even Jamaican reggae innovator Ernest Ranglin.

Born in the rough and tumble Stepney district of East London on Nov. 12, 1952, Juber started playing as a pre-teen and benefited from classical training as a teenager. He was soon publicly performing at wedding parties and local dance jobs.

"A local bandleader sort of adopted me," Juber said. "And so I found myself on the bandstand, trying to keep up. They told me, 'If you get lost, just keep playing the bridge from 'I Got Rhythm.'"

From that somewhat awkward start, Juber quickly distinguished himself as a force to be reckoned with, one who took a singularly analytical approach. "I'd fallen in love with music at 11, whatever was on the radio, pop, Dixieland; it was an eclectic mix and I'd deconstruct it in my mind, examine the patterns and relationships," Juber explained. "I fell in love with the guitar at 13 and decided that I wanted to be a session guitarist."

He wasted no time earning a degree in music at London University's Goldsmith College and performing with England's National Jazz Youth Orchestra. "That's what got me into the studio jobs," Juber said. "They'd seen me with the orchestra and called me. And that's how I joined Wings. Paul needed a sober, reliable guitarist and I fit the suit, so to speak."

His alliance with McCartney, recording and performing with the band during its final years, earned him his first Grammy award, after the all-star jam "Rockestra" took the Best Rock Instrumental category in 1980. The double whammy of McCartney's arrest on marijuana possession charges at Tokyo Airport and subsequent cancellation of Wing's Japanese tour and McCartney's reluctance to tour after John Lennon's murder left Juber somewhat at liberty and he relocated to the United States, settling in New York City before heading west to Los Angeles.

Juber kept up the session work and began carving out a solo career, in short order establishing himself as one of the greatest living fingerstyle pickers. His superb arrangement of the Pink Panther theme on 2005 tribute CD "Henry Mancini: Pink Guitar" earned another Grammy in the Best Pop Instrumental category and subsequent releases, like his evocative, blues-informed "Guitar Noir," are all uniformly bewitching.

Juber's Burbank appearance is as a guest on legendary jazz guitarist John Pisano's Guitar Night concert series and he clearly relishes the opportunity.

"John [Pisano] is great, such a character and important fixture on the L.A. jazz scene," Juber said. "He lives in the musical moment and that's the best for improvisation. It's truly jazz — you never know where it's going. I'll do a few solo things, bring some new arrangements that we'll play around with and it should be very enjoyable."

What: Laurence Juber with John Pisano, Domenic Genova and John Ferraro.

Where: Viva Cantina, 900 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank

When: Tuesday, August 20, 8 p.m.

Cost: Free

More info: (818) 845-2425,


JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of "Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox" and "Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story."

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