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Paul Shaffer Biography

All About the 'Late Show with David Letterman’s Band Leader


Paul Shaffer Biography

Paul Shaffer, band leader of The CBS Orchestra, 'Late Show with David Letterman's house band.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Paul Shaffer, band leader and sidekick on the Late Show with David Letterman since 1982, was born on Nov. 28, 1949, in Fort William, Ontario, Canada. His love of music began at an early age, and he shared his talents with his high school friends – and, as you might expect, they started a band.

Graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in sociology, Shaffer leaped into what would become a long and fruitful music career. He began, in 1972, as musical director for the Toronto production of Godspell, where he met a number of future Second City comedy actors: Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin.

The comedy connection landed Shaffer the job as band leader for Saturday Night Live during its golden years – 1975 to 1980, when the original Not Ready for Primetime Players revolutionized late night sketch comedy. He even participated in skits. And fans of John Belushi and Dan Akroyd might be surprised to learn that Shaffer was the musical director for The Blues Brothers, as well.

In 1982, two years after leaving SNL, Shaffer joined forces with David Letterman, who was then new, brash and unproven. Shaffer served as leader of “The World’s Most Dangerous Band,” Letterman’s house band on Late Night, until the show’s move from NBC to CBS in 1993. Adding members, The World’s Most Dangerous Band became The CBS Orchestra, and most, if not all, of the original members continue serving the show to this day.

When he’s not leading The CBS Orchestra, Shaffer is involved in other projects, including work as musical director and producer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony since its inception in 1986.

Shaffer has recorded with a cavalcade of famous musicians, including:


  • Coast to Coast, 1989, nominated for a Grammy
  • The World's Most Dangerous Party, 1993
  • Shaffer is also responsible for writing and producing, along with musician Paul Jabara, the song “It’s Raining Men” in 1984.
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