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Paul Allen Wood Shaffer, CM (born November 28, 1949) is a Canadian musician, actor, voice actor, author, comedian, and composer. Currently, he is the bandleader and sidekick on the Late Show with David Letterman. His memoir, We'll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin' Show-biz Saga was published by Flying Dolphin Press on October 6, 2009.

Early years

As a child, Shaffer had lessons on the piano, and moved on to playing the organ by his teenage years, in a band with his schoolmates in Thunder Baymarker, Ontariomarker. Educated at the University of Torontomarker, he began playing with jazz guitarist Michael 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.

Musical career

Shaffer began his music career in 1972 as the musical director for the Toronto production of Godspell. The production starred Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin. He went on to play piano for a Broadway show called The Magic Show in 1974, then became a band member for NBC's popular Saturday Night Live television program from 1975 to 1980, though briefly leaving the series in 1977. Though Shaffer was at the piano and appeared to actually be directing the band's actions, Howard Shore was credited as musical director on SNL during the 1975-1980 time frame. Shaffer eventually made regular appearances in the show's skits.

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 a time spent as the musical director for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, whenever they recorded or performed as The Blues Brothers. Shaffer also appeared in Blues Brothers 2000 movie from 1998. Shaffer was to appear in the original The Blues Brothers in 1980, but, as he revealed in October, 2009 on CBS Sunday Morning, Belushi dropped him from the project. In a nasty 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 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. Shaffer later reported that he was in (unrequited) love with Gilda Radner.

Since 1982, Shaffer has 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—) on CBS. Letterman consistently maintains that the show's switch to CBS was because NBC "fired Paul for stealing pens" or some other facetious reason. Shaffer has also guest-hosted the show a few times when Letterman was unavailable, including during Letterman's January 2000 medical leave that resulted from his quintuple heart bypass surgery, and during the birth of Letterman's son, Harry Joseph, in November 2003.

Shaffer has served as musical director and producer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker induction ceremony since its inception in 1986 and filled the same role for the 1996 Olympic Games closing ceremonies from Atlantamarker, Georgiamarker. Shaffer also served as musical director for Fats Domino and Friends a Cinemax Session with Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ron Wood.

Shaffer has released two solo albums, 1989's Grammy nominated Coast to Coast, and 1993’s The World's Most Dangerous Party. Shaffer has also recorded with a wide range of artists, including Donald Fagen, Ronnie Wood, Grand Funk Railroad, Diana Ross, B.B. King, Cyndi Lauper, Carl Perkins, Yoko Ono, Blues Traveler, Cher, Chicago, Robert Burns, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Nina Hagen, Robert Plant, Scandal, Late Show regular Warren Zevon, jazz trumpeter Lew Soloff, jazz saxophonist Lou Marini and bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs. He wrote and produced, with Paul Jabara, the song "It's Raining Men" which was 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 perform 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 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 Idahomarker who relocate to Hollywoodmarker where they are regularly tempted by a famous promoter (who is actually the devil's son), played by Mickey Rooney, 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 1977, Shaffer was also present on the Mark & Clark Band's hit record Worn Down Piano. In 1984, Shaffer played Polymer Records Midwest promotions rep Artie Fufkin in the film This Is Spinal Tap. In 1995, he also appeared in Blues Traveler's video for the song "Hook."

Around 1998 he was a square on Hollywood Squares.

In 2001, Shaffer hosted the VH1 game show Cover Wars along with a co-host, DJ/model Sky Nellor. In this show, cover bands would compete against each other to become the ultimate winner of the series. Each week Paul would sign off by saying "Just because you're in a cover band, it doesn't mean you're not a star." The show lasted thirteen episodes and featured celebrity judges like Kevin Bacon, Nile Rodgers, Cyndi Lauper, and Ace Frehley.

In 2002, a street which surrounds the Thunder Bay Community Auditoriummarker in his hometown was renamed "Paul Shaffer Drive". Shaffer has also received two honorary doctorates.

Since 2002, he has been the national spokesperson for Epilepsy Canada. On September 29, 2005, Shaffer made a major contribution to Lakehead Universitymarker 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 Famemarker.

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 by Flying Dolphin Press (an imprint of Random House Inc.'s Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group) on October 6, 2009. He made an appearance as a guest on the show in which he works (The Late Show with David Letterman) on the same date.

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

Personal life

Shaffer was born in Fort Williammarker, now Thunder Baymarker, Ontariomarker, the son of Shirley and Bernard Shaffer, a lawyer. Shaffer was raised Jewish. Since 1990, Shaffer has been married to Cathy Vasapoli, with whom he has two children: Victoria (born 1993) and Will (born 1999).


  1. ; Michael Posner, "Paul Talk", Toronto Globe and Mail, October 17 2009
  3. Michael Posner, "Paul Talk", Toronto Globe and Mail, October 17, 2009.

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