Guitar With Wings makes clear that Laurence Juber, during a sideman stint that lasted some three years, learned things large and small from Paul McCartney. He spends this sumptuous photo book celebrating the good (a deeply underrated album, a hit single, the chance to work alongside a childhood hero) and forgiving the bad (the silly love songs, the silly drug bust that essentially ended Wings, McCartney’s even sillier assertion that George Martin broke them up).
It seems Juber, a member of Wings from 1978-81, always had a keen sense of what this opportunity meant — absorbing everything he could from McCartney, but also from his other bandmates and from McCartney’s photographer wife. Guitar With Wings, in many ways, wouldn’t have been possible but for Linda’s passion for shooting pictures. Juber caught the bug, too.
Meanwhile, the McCartneys relationship proved inspirational, as well. “The couple-consciousness of Paul and Linda McCartney,” Juber says, “proved to be a template for my own romantic and creative relationship with my wife Hope.”
In keeping, Guitar With Wings, due May 28, 2014 via Dalton Watson Fine Books, is about more than music, about more than Juber’s lone full-length contribution to the McCartney discography, 1979’s Back to the Egg. It’s about a young musician whose dreams suddenly came completely true, but one who brought a surprisingly mature perspective to the journey.
Together with Juber’s brother Graham, who took some priceless photographs from Wings’ late-1970s appearances, the guitarist is able to tell not just the story of the final incarnation of McCartney’s typically underrated post-Beatles outfit, but also his own. Juber pieced together his own genealogy for Guitar With Wings, connecting his roots to this period, and then carefully sewing it into the larger tapestry of his own life.
Juber’s introduction into Wings was one of happenstance. He’d met fellow former Wings member Denny Laine while a house member of local television show band. Laine, there to perform his old Moody Blues hit “Go Now,” appreciated Juber’s turn on the guitar — and made the introductions with McCartney. To that point, Juber had served as a sideman on recordings by Alan Parsons and Rosemary Clooney, been a part of the score for James Bond’s The Spy Who Loved Me, had even worked with the Beatles’ producer George Martin before, on a Cleo Laine date. His resume was in order. Still, joining Wings brought with it a staggering level of scrutiny, not to mention reflective fame.
He rose to the challenge. Wings would emerge from the rounded edges of London Town with a tough, new wave-influenced attack — thanks in no small way to the addition of Juber and drummer Steve Holley. Credit also goes to producer Chris Thomas, a long-time Beatles associate who was in between helming debuts for the Sex Pistols and the Pretenders. “To You,” a crunchy, Cars-esque rocker, would become the first song they recorded for Back to the Egg, and it signalled a sea change. Juber traces this transformation — for the band, and for him personally — through intimate photographs and song-by-song recollections that include both incisive technical insights and fascinating personal anecdotes.
In sessions that moved from the McCartney’s rural farmhouse in Scotland to the comparably posh Abbey Road studios, this new edition of Wings began to take shape not just as musical collaborators but as friends. When Juber was offered a sessions date with Yes’ Rick Wakeman, not long after, McCartney asked that he not take it — in order to preserve the group’s growing bond. They had a No. 5 hit with “Goodnight Tonight,” featuring a dramatic flamenco-style flourish from Juber, but wouldn’t mount a tour for some 18 months. In fact, by the time this version of Wings hit the stage, they were already performing a track from McCartney’s forthcoming 1980 solo effort, called “Coming Up.” Their superlative live version would become Wings’ final No. 1 hit.
Bootlegs from these dates, notably a December 1979 show at Glasgow, illustrate just how tightly integrated Wings had become. They were easily the equal of more celebrated touring editions like the one that produced Wings Over America three years before. Back to the Egg went platinum, reaching No. 3 in the U.S. after a trio of pre-Juber Wings projects had gone to No. 2. They won a Grammy for “Rockestra Theme.”
Then came a marijuana-related arrest for McCartney, just as Wings was to embark on a series of Japanese concerts, followed by the murder of McCartney’s former bandmate John Lennon. McCartney suddenly had no desire to tour, or, ultimately, for Wings as a concept. When he began work on what would become 1982’s solo project Tug of War, he told Juber that Martin wanted to cast each song with different musicians. So, the guitarist returned to sessions work, even before an official announcement was made. Juber’s last major date with McCartney was actually on a Ringo Starr album, 1981’s Stop and Smell the Roses.
As the fates would have it, however, the U.S.-bound Juber met his future wife on the very day after Laine’s departure signalled Wings’ ultimate demise. A family, and a second solo career beckoned. “Having graduated from McCartney University didn’t guarantee me a job in my new home in Los Angeles, but it had refined my studio skills, buffered my resume and ignited my own creative fire.”