A Prime Time For Paul Shaffer The Emmy Nominee Looks Back On Life In The Spotlight By James Arena Four-time Prime Time Emmy nominee Paul Shaffer has a show business resume that is remarkable by any standard. Perhaps best known for his long-time role as David Letterman’s side-kick and band leader on both Late Night with David Letterman and The Late Show with David Letterman (1982- 1993), the Canadian-born musician, composer and arranger has contributed to everything from iconic TV shows (the very first seasons of Saturday Night Live), to hit music from The Honeydrippers (think “Sea of Love” from 1985) to the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics (for which he served as musical director). In 2009, he reflected on his vast experience with the memoir We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin’ Show-biz Saga. Interestingly enough, Paul was also co-writer of one of disco’s most memorable anthems, the euphoric “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls. FLOD enjoyed a quick chat with Paul, just a day before he would be attending a First Ladies of Disco Show concert, reuniting him in the new year with one of the incomparable original vocalists of that rambunctious track, Miss Martha Wash. PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Dandrine Lee I’ve introduced you in this piece as a man who has lent his talents to a tremendous variety of entertainment platforms. With so many avenues to express your creativity over the years, what’s given you the most satisfaction? I’ve gotten satisfaction out of all the things I’ve done—I love it all! I certainly love comedy. I find that the timing of comedy is very musical. I love to be in front of an audience, of course, in a musical or comedic capacity. The laughs you get are very similar to applause—it’s self-confirming. For those of us in this business, it is wonderful to feel that approval from an audience. I’ll take it any way I can get it! That said, I learned in the ’70s and ’80s, when I was briefly a sit-com actor, even if the show is musically oriented, if I’m not playing, I become unhappy. That is the basis of life-sustainment for me. The musical experience—I need that. I’m at my happiest when I’m in the recording studio. But recording the old-fashioned way, with guys playing real instruments. That kind of creativity makes me happiest. Everything else is fun, too, but that makes me happiest. I can’t really describe why it’s so important to me, but it has a magical effect. That’s not only for the listeners, but the players themselves.
COVER STORY | PAUL SHAFFER PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of CBS You’ve been involved in some stunning pop, rock, and dance music success stories. Tell me a little about your experience with the legendary Blues Brothers. I was the pianist and writer of musical material on Saturday Night Live for [the show’s] first five seasons. So, I worked with all the original cast, including Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Garret Morris—and including Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, who were both musical characters. They were musical guys—they had both played in high school bands, and they knew how to entertain an audience musically, as well as comedically. They both had a love of Blues and Rhythm and Blues. Danny had, since he was a kid, Belushi—maybe a little later in life. When he did the movie Animal House and hung out with blues performers, that’s when Belushi got the blues, musically. They started putting on shades and hats and performing for the audiences, [warming them up] before SNL went on the air at 11:30 PM on Saturday nights. Before I knew it, they had a record deal with Atlantic Records. They hired me to put the band together for them and be the musical director. Well, I loved that music, too, maybe more than life itself. So I was perfect for it. These guys were so hot coming off SNL, everybody (musicians) wanted to play with them and do this gig—famous and unknowns. But we could have had anybody—everyone wanted to [be involved]. Even the late, great [guitarist] Mike Bloomfield of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He wrote Belushi a letter saying he’d love to play for him. Anyway, Belushi and I put together the ultimate R&B/Blues review. We had Juilliard horn players and Southerners and Chicago Blues musicians, who, in some cases, were involved in the original records we were covering. So we learned a lot from them and we put together this dynamite little show, which we recorded. Steve Martin gave Belushi an opportunity to open for him on a nine-day run at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, and we recorded it live. It was very successful. What’s your impression of SNL today? Well, certainly back then, I’ll say we—although I was just an ancillary character and sometimes writer—were doing this stuff for the first time, figuring it out for the first time. Loren Michaels was figuring out how to produce the show for the first time. It was exhilarating for that reason. Now, some 40 years later, it’s amazing to see how SNL has gotten even more influential. The Internet has changed everything, including SNL. The scrutiny and the reviews you see all day long on Sundays [after the show broadcasts] is beyond anything we could have imagined back then. FLOD SPOTLIGHT | 2018 SPRING ISSUE | FIRSTLADIESOFDISCOSHOW.COM 3