“Everything became possible once I realized you don't need hair to rock.” – Paul Shaffer
Paul Shaffer was born on November 28, 1949, in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He was interested in music while still quite young, learning to play the piano at the age of 6. He played in rock and roll bands as a teenager.
He originally intended to get a law degree and join his father’s firm, but while studying at the University of Toronto, he found he couldn’t bear to give up his music. So, after graduating with degrees in sociology and philosophy, he got his first major gig in 1972 as the musical director of a Toronto production of Godspell.
Paul was then invited in 1974 by Steven Schwartz to come to New York City, and to play piano on the Broadway production of The Magic Show. He then played with the Saturday Night Live band from 1975 to 1980, also conducting the 1976 Broadway production of Godspell.
In 1982, Paul landed the job that most people associate him with, bandleader on Late Night with David Letterman. At the time, when the show was on NBC, up until 1993, the band was known as the World’s Most Dangerous Band. When Shaffer and Letterman moved from NBC to CBS, to The Late Show with David Letterman, the band changed its name to the CBS Orchestra. It currently features Shaffer on keyboard, Sid McGinnis and Felicia Collins on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keyboard, and Anton Fig on drums.
Now from the very start, Shaffer was more than just a band leader. He was a sidekick, a foil to Letterman’s humour1. An Andy Richter to Letterman’s Conan O’Brien, except with musical talent too.
Shaffer was the one who composed the theme song for The Late Show with David Letterman. Collaborating with Paul Jabara, he wrote the disco hit It’s Raining Men. He worked as the musical director for The Blues Brothers for two of their albums, Briefcase Full of Blues and Made in America. He also played with the 90’s version of the band at the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXI and in the movie Blue Brothers 2000. He was musical director for the first 10 induction ceremonies (1986-95) at the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame and for the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, working with artists like Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, B.B. King, Little Richard and Al Green. Paul has also released two albums under his own name, Coast to Coast in 1989 and The World's Most Dangerous Party in 1993.
Along with his musical achievements, Paul is no stranger in front of the camera. Most people are aware of his eighteen year stint with Letterman, but he’s been in a lot of stuff. His most notable appearances would be role in This is Spinal Tap, playing the voice of Hermes in the Disney animation Hercules, and his role in Blues Brothers 2000. Full filmography at the bottom.
Paul Shaffer has a wife named Cathy, a daughter born in 1994, Victoria, and a son born in 1999 named William. Despite being a world renouned musician, he never bothered to learn to read sheet music. He has two honorary degrees, one awarded to him by Five Towns College in New York, and another from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. I also could not find any place that backed this up, but I recall hearing somewhere that Paul made some very good investments in the past, and is as a result one of the richer people in show business.
Yes, that’s humour. I’m Canadian
, and so is Paul. So don’t bug me about it.