Paul Shaffer is best known for being the bandleader on David Letterman’s late-night talk show, both at NBC and CBS, from February 1, 1982 to May 20, 2015. He demonstrates his great sense of humor through his bantering with Letterman and the songs chosen to play on guests. He also exudes a love of show business, past and present, and appearances by celebrities he has met are sprinkled all throughout the book. With the assistance of David Ritz, both Shaffer’s traits are on display and make for a very entertaining read.
As Shaffer reveals his life to readers, his anecdotes frequently make clear he is both a Canadian from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and the Orthodox Jewish son of Bernard and Shirley, yet I couldn’t help wonder as I moved through chapters, if he was also Tralfamadorian, the alien race in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five who aren’t bound by time, because of the non-linear way in which his memoir is presented.
The prologue opens in 1971 with a 21-year-old Shaffer playing in a Toronto strip club. Then the first chapter finds Shaffer in New York City for his interactions with Bob Dylan over the years: from Saturday Night Live in 1979 when Shaffer was the show’s house-band piano player as Dylan rehearsed “Gotta Serve Somebody” to 1988 when Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where Shaffer has acted as the musical director and producer since its inception, and finishing up in 1992 for Late Night‘s 10th anniversary special at Radio City Music Hall. A couple chapters later, Shaffer is a young man listening to his father’s copy of Ray Charles’ Genius Plus Soul Equals Jazz in 1962. In the next he is playing with Brother Ray on SNL in 1977 and working hard to keep up.
The many high points of his career are covered, the first of which was serving as musical director for the legendary 1972 Toronto production of Godspell starring Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, and Dave Thomas. Shaffer is also a hit songwriter, co-authoring “It’s Raining Men”.
He doesn’t shy away from the struggles though, drawing attention to his failed CBS sitcom with Greg Evigan, A Year at the Top, which was produced by Norman Lear and Don Kirshner, but at least he developed an imitation of the latter that he would perform on SNL. One of the most interesting tidbits he reveals is why he missed out on being a part of The Blues Brothers movie, which as a fan, I had long wondered about.
Shaffer discusses his love of women and his adopted country. He reveals making out with his high school girlfriend Judy; sleeping with noted groupie Connie Hamzy (who was immortalized in Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band”) while he was on tour with the Blues Brothers; and the courtship of his wife Cathy. It almost felt like he wanted to make sure the reader knew he was straight and scored with chicks. Shaffer also makes clear what an honor it was entertaining the troops in Iraq on Christmas after 9/11 with Letterman.
Paul Shaffer has led an amazing life and fans of show business will absolutely be delighted with We’ll Be Here…because there’s such an impressive array of musicians and performers that have crossed Shaffer’s life.