World-renowned Jewish guitarist Laurence Juber credits two very different men as influencing his eclectic career: former Beatle Paul McCartney and the late Sherwood Schwartz, creator of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch.”
Juber worked with McCartney as the lead guitarist of Wings. As for Schwartz, Juber married his daughter, Hope, which exposed the English-born musician to an entirely different brand of creativity.
Juber will be performing a free concert at Temple Emanuel of South Hills on Saturday evening, March 24, in honor of Rabbi Mark Mahler’s impending retirement this June after having served as the congregation’s spiritual leader for 38 years.
Having grown up in England in the 1960s, Juber was naturally a Beatles fan, so when the opportunity arose for him to work with McCartney, he grabbed it. He was working as a studio musician on a TV show in London when he was tapped to join Wings.
“Denny Laine, who was in Wings and had previously been in the Moody Blues, he was a guest on the show and liked my playing,” said Juber, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “He suggested me to Paul, and I went about six months later and did an audition and I fit the suit.”
The timing he said, coincided with the death of his father.
“It was a very interesting time for me because my father passed away March 18, 1978, and a month later was when I was asked to join Wings,” Juber said. “So, I went from losing my father to being in a situation with an artist who was a mentor, and not exactly a father figure, but who kind of filled that gap for me, except from a musical point of view rather than a family point of view.”
Juber has fond memories of Linda McCartney, who he described as “a very interesting person with a lot of unappreciated talents.” Linda McCartney, who was Jewish, was the daughter of Lee Eastman, an attorney in New York specializing in entertainment law who had changed his last name from Epstein.
“It was ironic that the Beatles’ manager was Brian Epstein,” Juber noted. “And then you had this Epstein family that became such a fundamental part of Paul’s business in the ’70s post-Beatles.”
Juber learned a lot about working together as a couple from the McCartneys.
“They set a standard for me,” he said. “My wife Hope and I work together. We have a number of stage musicals. I’ve produced plays for her. She produces my albums. I’ve scored TV movies she has written. We have a very synergistic creative relationship, and that was something I saw with Paul and Linda.”
Until Juber worked with the former Beatle, his ambition was to be a studio musician. But additional avenues of creativity were unlocked during his time with Wings.
“Even though I went to London University and studied music, it was never on my radar to be a songwriter and a composer,” said Juber, who has won two Grammy Awards. “Working with Paul really fired up that part of my creativity, and that’s when I started to compose.
“Specifically, because guitar was so much my focus, I composed for solo guitar. Later I got into movies and television composing.”
When Wings folded, Juber moved to New York, where he met Hope. “She was from L.A., and we ended up getting engaged and I moved to L.A.,” he said. “It was a very different kind of show business family on her part because her dad was Sherwood Schwartz, who created ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and ‘The Brady Bunch.’ There was this weird nexus of pop culture coming from Beatles-Wings to Gilligan-Brady, and Hope being a comedy writer, taking after her dad. This was a very different kind of creative environment to be working in.”
Juber describes Sherwood Schwartz, who died in 2011, as his “other father.”
“That was an amazing thing for me, to have him as a mentor as well,” Juber said. “To have Paul McCartney on one side, and Sherwood Schwartz on the other in terms of life experience is pretty amazing.”
Juber has worked on myriad shows and films, including, “Pocahontas,” “Good Will Hunting” and “Dirty Dancing.” He has also written songs for Hope’s comedy rock and roll band, the Housewives. And, at the request of his late father-in-law, Juber and Hope wrote songs for the musical version of “Gilligan’s Island,” which recently had its premiere in Australia, and “The Brady Bunch” musical.
Although he has come to be a prolific composer, Juber still identifies primarily as “a musician who plays guitar.”
Mahler, who has made the guitar a “fundamental part of his rabbinate” — playing the instrument each week at Temple Emanuel on Friday nights — used his “rabbinic prerogative” in urging the congregation to bring in Juber for its annual musical event sponsored by the Temple’s Diskin Music Fund.
“Great guitarists today abound,” Mahler said. “Some of them play athletically, one hand flying across the neck and the other hand frantically picking, notes cascading from the guitar. Their listeners go ‘Wow!’ Some of them play melodically, each note precious, each note pitch perfect and in harmony with every other note. Their listeners go ‘Ahhh!’ Laurence Juber plays the guitar both athletically and melodically. His listeners go ‘Wow!’ and ‘Ahhh!’ simultaneously, for which there is no adequate word.”
Juber, Mahler said, is “one of the greatest Jewish guitarists, and one of the finest in the world.”
While Juber invited Mahler to either sing or play along with him as he performs the Beatles’ “In My Life,” Mahler has declined, “out of respect for his musicianship.”
Juber’s concert at Temple Emanuel will feature pieces from the Great American Songbook, Beatles’ songs, works by Jewish songwriters, and some of his own compositions.
“It’s funny, because the rabbi asked me about putting some kind of spotlight on Jewish composers, and I started to go through my repertoire, and it dawned on me that the majority of things that I do that aren’t my own compositions, other than the Beatles songs and a few others — British rock writers — pretty much everything else is by Jewish composers anyway,” Juber said.
The guitarist speaks especially highly of one particular Jewish songwriter: his daughter, Ilsey Juber, who has composed songs for Beyoncé, Train, and Drake, to name just a few.
“Hashtag prouddad,” he said. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.