Paul Shaffer to receive Wharton Award; discusses working with David Letterman
Among his many accomplishments, which include a Grammy and three Emmy nominations over the last 50 years, what made Paul Shaffer a household name was his work on "Late Night with David Letterman" which ran on NBC from 1982-93 as leader of "The World's Most Dangerous Band" and then "The Late Show with David Letterman," which ran from 1993-2015.
Shaffer will be honored by the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts in New Jersey with its Lifetime Achievement Award at its Together We Celebrate annual gala Thursday, March 10 at the Westmont Country Club in Woodland Park.
I spoke to Shaffer on New Jersey 101.5 about a number of things including his work on Saturday Night Live, the concert for New York City and why he's not in the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame. You can hear our conversation On-Demand starting at 1:00:00:
But this post focuses on his work with Letterman:
What was it like working with Dave, how did you too get along and do you still see each other today?
"Yes, we do," says Shaffer. "He wants to keep the friendship going and I think it's just terrific."
"We always got along great, hit it off great. He was so encouraging to me. He said, 'you know if you have anything to say jump in, even if I have a guest.' I couldn't believe he said that," Shaffer said.
"He really gave me a lot of confidence. It was really improvising with him every night but he is one of the fastest and funniest guys that I have ever run into. Getting to improvise with him every night was really great. I couldn't do it with anybody else."
Was there ever a time you jumped in when you shouldn't have?
"Well, of course," says Shaffer. "Things happen. He was a perfectionist but I never felt that post-show scrutiny because he knew that tomorrow was another day and tomorrow was another day and that we were going to be on television trying to make people laugh again together so we kind of had to get along."
You always knew what to say in just the right way.
"Basically", says Shaffer, "I had to give him what he needed, which was my job. I learned eventually that he needed kind of a constant barrage of support. When he was speaking, "yeah, uh huh, oh yeah, uh huh," and if I wasn't doing that he'd say, 'Can you hear me?' and that's the way he would give me notes about my performance right on the air. Never come and see me afterward, always right on television."
Shaffer also talked about what he would play when a guest came out, which was always on the money.
"We had a very short rehearsal before every show and when it came to what should we play for a guest I would often throw it open to the band and pick the funniest idea. Sometimes we would do a joke that was so inside only we would get it."
When Ronnie Spector died. I pulled up all of her appearances with Shaffer on YouTube and cried my eyes out while watching. Shaffer offered his memories of Ronnie.
"That voice was so important to me," says Shaffer. "I would have been 13 years old in 1963 when she sang "Be My Baby" and I remember seeing it and hearing it for the first time when the Ronettes were on American Bandstand, 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Then I went skiing afterward, freezing cold up in Canada, and all I could think about were those Ronettes and those hair styles and those tight dresses and the way that song sounded."
"I'm a little like Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. It's well known that he listens to 'Be My Baby' every day and I don't blame him. I'm going to start doing that, too."
"Terribly sad to see her go," says Shaffer. "I was happy enough and fortunate enough and blessed really to make her acquaintance and we were friends while she was alive and she was a lovely person too."
In the podcast, which you can hear On-Demand, Shaffer also talks about his work with "Saturday Night Live," "The Concert for New York," the many people he's worked with and what's next for him. Can anyone say "symphonies?"
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise only. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.
You can now listen to Steve Trevelise — On Demand! Discover more about New Jersey’s personalities and what makes the Garden State interesting . Download the Steve Trevelise show wherever you get podcasts, on our free app, or listen right now: