JUF's Jewish Celebrities

Paul Shaffer

Paul Shaffer Photo

When it’s all added up, we'll probably see that Paul has played with more stars than any other musician in pop music history. That's because he's gotten to play with another awesome band or singer almost every weeknight for the last 28 years!

How'd he manage that? Well, he is the leader of the band on Late Night with David Letterman, and has been since 1982! Aside from coming up with punny songs to represent the guests that come on, Paul's band gets to accompany most of the musical performers on the show. He was with Dave on his old network, NBC, where his band had the name "The World's Most Dangerous Band," and now on his new one, where the band is called "The CBS Orchestra" (lame!).

Paul -- you say his last name "SHAY- fur" -- also trades jokes with Dave, does the music behind for the various schticks on the show, and plays for the audience during commercials. Sometimes, when Dave is sick or busy, he takes over and hosts the show himself!

Paul's ability to manage huge jobs like that, and his friendship with pretty much every famous musician alive, make him perfect for another job. Every year, several bands are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and of course there is music during that ceremony, just like during the award shows. Only this time, the musicians are the very best in the world! But Paul has their respect as a musician and leader, so they listen to him.

After all, he has played on many of their albums! Everyone from blues legend B.B. King to funkmeister-in-chief George Clinton to rock pioneer Carl Perkins … to pop divas like Cher and Diana Ross. Paul knows what it's like to be a sideman trying to get in the spotlight, so it makes sense that he has backed members of famous bands like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and KISS on their solo projects. Some of the Jewish performers he's backed include super-cool songwriter Warren Zevon and Steely Dan's Donald Fagen.

Aside from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts, Paul has been in charge of some big-deal music projects. He hosted a New Year's special from Times Square. He directed the music for the closing ceremonies at the Olympics. He was the bandleader for the all-star "We Are the World" finale at the 1999 Live Aid show, and ran the Concert of the Century at the White House that same year!

At this point, he can play every kind of music that has notes, and when he won his Grammy, it was for a bluegrass album! (It’s kinda-sorta like country music, but folksier.) He even played on an album of people reading poetry! Paul has cut two albums of his own, one of which was Grammy-nominated. And he co-wrote a song that went to #1 in England, called "It's Raining Men."

Even though Paul has been on David's for, like, ever, it was not his first TV gig. He was in the band on Saturday Night Live for its first five years. That's why he was on stage when the Blues Brothers -- characters that started on that show -- played the Super Bowl halftime show!

Paul has even had his own TV shows. In one, a sitcom, he was a musician struggling to make it in Hollywood. In another, a reality show, bands that pretended to be other famous bands (they are called "tribute bands" or "cover bands"), fought American Idol-style. It was after the sitcom tanked that Paul landed on SNL, so it was a way of "falling up!"

But Paul has also had bit parts in a few movies. His most famous cameo has to be in the rock-band spoof Spinal Tap, as Arnie Fufkin, the useless publicity man. He stages an album-signing for the band in a record store, and no one comes! He's also in the Christmas Carol update Scrooged  with Carol Kane, and the voice of Hermes in Disney's Hercules.

As a kid, he started on piano, then moved to playing the organ. He discovered the Beatles in high school and switched to rock. In college, he played jazz, then switched to musicals after that! The first musical he led the music for was called Godspell, and it starred future SNLers Gilda Radner (see this Bonus) and Martin Short, future SCTVers Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin, and future Broadway and Alias actor Victor Garber! In one show!

Paul was born in Canada, and is super-popular there. He has been given two honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, he's in Canada’s Walk of Fame, and there is a street in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, named for him! And he received a Golden Jubilee Medal of Queen Elizabeth II from a Canadian ambassador.

Through all this, Paul has done charity work. He ran the Concert for New York City, which raised money for those hurt in the September 11 terror attacks. He sang in the Canadian all-star band that raised money to relieve famine in Ethiopia, called Northern Lights. He chaired a national volunteer drive for the Red Cross. And, since 2002, Paul has been the national spokesperson for Epilepsy Canada.

Paul plays second fiddle to Dave and fronts a band at his shows, so he is equally comfortable in the supporting or starring role. He seems genuinely grateful that his musical talent allows him to be friends with so many amazing people.

And you know what? They think he's amazing, right back.

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