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Paul Shaffer

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Title: Paul Shaffer  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Late Show with David Letterman, The Blues Brothers, CBS Orchestra, David Letterman, List of David Letterman sketches
Collection: 1949 Births, American Bandleaders, American Comedy Musicians, American Composers, American Keyboardists, American Male Comedians, American Male Composers, American Male Singers, American Male Voice Actors, American People of Canadian Descent, American Television Personalities, Canadian Comedy Musicians, Canadian Composers, Canadian Emigrants to the United States, Canadian Keyboardists, Canadian Male Singers, Canadian Male Voice Actors, Canadian Memoirists, Canadian Pianists, Canadian Television Personalities, Cbs Orchestra Members, Grammy Award Winners, Jewish Canadian Musicians, Jewish Canadian Writers, Late Show with David Letterman, Living People, Members of the Order of Canada, Musicians from Ontario, People from Thunder Bay, Saturday Night Live Band Members, Scandal (American Band) Members, The Blues Brothers Members, The World's Most Dangerous Band Members, University of Toronto Alumni
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Paul Shaffer

Paul Shaffer
Shaffer at the 1992 Emmy Awards
Born Paul Allen Wood Shaffer
(1949-11-28) November 28, 1949
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Occupation Singer, multi-instrumentalist, actor, comedian, author
Years active 1972–2015
Spouse(s) Cathy Vasapoli (1990–present; 2 children)
Musical career
Genres Rock, Pop rock, Jazz
Instruments Keyboards
Years active 1972–2015
Associated acts CBS Orchestra, The World's Most Dangerous Band
Notable instruments
Hammond B-3 (Leslie 145), Kurzweil K250, Roland Fantom-X7, Oberheim OB-Xa, Minimoog Voyager, Kurzweil K2000 v3, Roland JD-800, Baldwin Grand Piano

Paul Allen Wood Shaffer, CM[1] (; born November 28, 1949) is a Canadian-American singer, actor, voice actor, author, comedian, and multi-instrumentalist who served as David Letterman's musical director, band leader and sidekick on the entire run of both Late Night with David Letterman (1982–1993) and Late Show with David Letterman (1993–2015).


  • Early years 1
  • Musical career 2
  • Other activities 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Discography 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early years

Shaffer was born and raised in University of Toronto, he began playing with jazz guitarist Tisziji Muñoz, performing in bands around the bars there, where he found an interest in musicals, and completed his studies, with a B.A. degree in Sociology in 1971.[3]

Musical career

Shaffer began his music career in 1972 when Stephen Schwartz invited him to be the musical director for the Toronto production of Godspell,[1] starring Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin. He went on to play piano for the Schwartz Broadway show The Magic Show in 1974, then became a member of the house band on NBC's popular Saturday Night Live (SNL) television program from 1975 to 1980 (except for a brief departure in 1977). Though Shaffer was at the piano and appeared to be directing the band's actions, Howard Shore was credited as SNL's musical director, eventually turning the actual conducting of the band to sax player Howard Johnson. Shaffer also regularly appeared in the show's sketches, notably as the pianist for Bill Murray's Nick the Lounge Singer character, and as Don Kirshner.

Shaffer occasionally teamed up with the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players off the show as well, including work on Gilda Radner's highly successful Broadway show and as the musical director for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd whenever they recorded or performed as The Blues Brothers. Shaffer was to appear in the duo's 1980 film, but, as he revealed in October 2009 on CBS Sunday Morning, Belushi dropped him from the project. In a memo to fellow SNL colleagues, Belushi said that he was unhappy that Shaffer was spending so much time on a studio record for Radner. Belushi said that he had tried to talk Shaffer out of working on the album in the first place in order to avoid sharing Shaffer's talents with another SNL-related project.[4] Shaffer later reported that he was in (unrequited) love with Gilda Radner.[5] He would go on to appear in 1998's Blues Brothers 2000.

Beginning in 1982, Shaffer served as musical director for David Letterman's late night talk shows: as leader of "The World's Most Dangerous Band" for Late Night with David Letterman (1982–1993) on NBC, for which he also composed the theme song, and as leader of the CBS Orchestra for the Late Show with David Letterman (1993–2015) on CBS. Letterman consistently maintained that the show's switch to CBS was because NBC "fired Paul for stealing pens" or some other facetious reason. Shaffer guest-hosted the show twice when Letterman was unavailable, including during Letterman's January 2000 medical leave for quintuple heart bypass surgery, and during the birth of Letterman's son Harry in November 2003.

In 1984, Shaffer played keyboards for The Honeydrippers, a group formed in 1981 by former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, on their only studio album, The Honeydrippers: Volume One. The album included the hit single "Sea of Love" which reached #1 on Billboard's adult contemporary chart in 1984 and #3 on its Hot 100 chart in 1985.[6]

Shaffer has served as musical director and producer for the Fats Domino and Friends, a Cinemax special that included Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ron Wood.

He has released two solo albums, 1989's Bootsy Collins, Nina Hagen, Robert Plant, Peter Criss, Scandal, Brian Wilson, Late Show regular Warren Zevon, jazz trumpeter Lew Soloff, jazz saxophonist Lou Marini and bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs. In 1982, he co-wrote "It's Raining Men," with Paul Jabara. It was #1 on the US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play charts, a #2 hit in the UK for The Weather Girls in 1984 and a UK #1 remake for Geri Halliwell in 2001. Shaffer and The World's Most Dangerous Band performed the Chuck Berry song "Roll over Beethoven" for the 1992 film Beethoven.

Other activities

Shaffer has appeared in a number of motion pictures over the years, including a small role (Artie Fufkin of Polymer Records) in Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap, Blues Brothers 2000, a scene with Miles Davis in the Bill Murray film Scrooged and as a passenger in John Travolta's taxicab in Look Who's Talking Too. In addition, Shaffer lent his voice to Disney's animated feature and television series Hercules, as the character Hermes.

In 1977, Shaffer left SNL for a few months to co-star with Greg Evigan in A Year at the Top, a short-lived CBS sitcom in which Shaffer and Evigan play two musicians from Idaho who relocate to Hollywood where they are regularly tempted by a famous promoter (who is actually the devil's son), played by Gabriel Dell, to sell their souls in exchange for a year of stardom. Though the series only lasted a few episodes, a soundtrack album was released.

Following the series' cancellation, Shaffer returned to SNL. In the fall of 1979, Shaffer became the first person to say "fuck" on SNL.[7] That year, SNL parodied The Troggs Tapes with a medieval musical sketch featuring Shaffer, Bill Murray, Harry Shearer, and a "special guest appearance" by John Belushi (who had left the show the previous spring). In the middle of a long tirade which featured repeated use of the word "flogging," Shaffer inadvertently uttered the forbidden word. It not only escaped the censors in the live broadcast and the West Coast taped airing, but also reappeared in the summer rerun, and even in the syndicated versions of the show for several years. Shaffer, at Letterman's urging, related the story on the very first episode of Late Night.

In 1977, Shaffer played on the Mark & Clark Band's hit record Worn Down Piano.

Shaffer recorded the famous synthesizer solo in the 1982 hit "

Media offices
Preceded by
original bandleader
Late Night bandleader
February 1, 1982 – June 25, 1993
Succeeded by
Max Weinberg
Preceded by
original bandleader
The Late Show bandleader
August 30, 1993 – May 20, 2015
Succeeded by
Jon Batiste

External links

  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^ ; Michael Posner, "Paul Talk", Toronto Globe and Mail, October 17, 2009
  4. ^ Paul Shaffer's Showbiz Journey
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Honeydrippers, Vol. 1 at AllMusic
  7. ^ Shales, Tom; Miller, James Andrew (2002). Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. United States: Hachette Book Group USA. ISBN 0-316-73565-5.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  12. ^ SeinfeldPaul Shaffer never returned a call offering him the roll of George Costanza in
  13. ^


  • 1989: Coast to Coast
  • 1993: The World's Most Dangerous Party


Shaffer has been married to Cathy Vasapoli since 1990, with whom he has two children – Victoria (born 1993) and Will (born 1999).

Personal life

In May 2015, the Ride of Fame honored Paul Shaffer with a double decker sightseeing bus in New York City to commemorate his long run as the leader of the CBS Orchestra for the Late Show with David Letterman.[13]

In February 2015 Shaffer appeared on the 40th anniversary special of Saturday Night Live, playing music to Bill Murray's lounge singer character, a love song from the movie Jaws.

In February 2013, he appeared in an episode of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother titled "P.S. I Love You", in which it is revealed that the character of Robin (Cobie Smulders) used to be obsessed with him. The letters "P.S." in the episode title refer to Paul Shaffer.

In 2012, Shaffer appeared in 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief, where Shaffer accompanied Adam Sandler. The concert raised money for the people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Later in 2012, Shaffer appeared in a skit of SNL Christmas, which aired on Saturday, December 15, 2012. He appeared playing the piano and singing for the host Martin Short.

In 2010, Shaffer appeared with Bachman & Turner at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. His appearance was included on the live album recorded on that date.

Shaffer never returned the call which offered him the role of Seinfeld. Shaffer claims he never auditioned for the role, Seinfeld simply called to offer him the job.[12]

Shaffer's memoir, We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin' Show-biz Saga (co-authored by David Ritz) was published on October 6, 2009. The same day, he made an appearance as a guest on The Late Show.

In 2008, Shaffer made a cameo appearance at the beginning of the Law & Order: Criminal Intent season 7 episode "Vanishing Act".

Shaffer hosts the 60-second radio vignettes called "Paul Shaffer's Day in Rock".[10] These audio shorts were first produced for Envision Radio Networks and debuted in 2007 on New York station WAXQ-FM.[11]

In 2005, along with Mike Smith (formerly of The Dave Clark Five), who had suffered a paralyzing fall at his home in Spain. Shaffer cites Mike Smith as an early influence.

Since 2002, he has been the national spokesperson for Epilepsy Canada. On September 29, 2005, Shaffer made a major contribution to Lakehead University to dedicate the fifth floor ATAC boardroom to his father Bernard Shaffer, inaugural member of the Board of Governors. In June 2006, he received a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.

In 2002, a street which surrounds the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium in his hometown was renamed Paul Shaffer Drive. Shaffer has also received two honorary doctorates, including one from Lakehead University.

Shaffer served as musical director for 2001's The Concert for New York City, and accompanied Adam Sandler's Opera Man sketch and the Backstreet Boys' "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)".

In 2001, Shaffer hosted the VH1 game show Cover Wars with DJ/model Sky Nellor. The show featured cover bands competing for the ultimate series win. Each week, Shaffer would sign off with, "Just because you're in a cover band, it doesn't mean you're not a star." The show lasted 13 episodes and featured celebrity judges including Kevin Bacon, Nile Rodgers, Cyndi Lauper and Ace Frehley.

Around 1998 he was on Hollywood Squares.

The following year, he appeared in Blues Traveler's video for the song "Hook".

He hosted Happy New Year, America in 1994 on CBS Network.[9]


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