Paul Shaffer is back.
Two years after leaving the airwaves with the demise of “The Late Show With David Letterman,” the longtime Letterman bandleader has released a new album and he’s taking the World’s Most Dangerous Band on tour, with a concert Saturday in Burnsville.
The self-titled album features mostly well-known rock ’n’ soul tunes, performed with guest vocalists such as Jenny Lewis, Darius Rucker, Dion, Valerie Simpson and even actor Bill Murray, Shaffer’s buddy since they were on “Saturday Night Live” together (Shaffer was the show’s keyboardist from 1975 to 1980).
In a phone call last week from New York, Shaffer, 67, addressed several topics including his friendship with Letterman and his childhood trips to Minneapolis from his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
On what it’s like to be on tour for the first time since 1980, when he was keyboardist for the Blues Brothers:
“I’m a whole different person now. I’ve gotten used to the traveling. In the Blues Brothers, we had our own plane but it was a broken-down two-engine prop plane. We were sure we were going to go down and crash in a rock tragedy. We’re flying commercially this time. My main worry now is: Will room service be open after the show?”
On having hitmaker Valerie Simpson sit in with the World’s Most Dangerous Band on tour:
“First thing I had to do was get all new luggage because I see the way she travels. She raises the whole game. She does a mini-set of all her hits. Her voice is as great as ever.”
On finding a rhythm to life without a daily job:
“It’s taken me two years to readjust to not having that regularity in my schedule. Now when I get a little bit busy, I start to panic a little bit. Then I realize I don’t have to go to work every day and do Letterman.
“I used to do all kinds of things on the side but the show was the priority. Now that I’m playing again and touring, I’m just as happy as I always was. I miss the show, of course. Now I have to do different things to get all those kicks.”
On his relationship with Letterman nowadays:
“I see him quite a bit. He’s really expressed his desire to keep our friendship going. We have dinner about every three or four weeks and we talk all the time. We did that show longer [33 years] than anyone else has done [a late-night talk show]. So you can’t really talk to anyone else. We went through it together.”
On developing his TV persona of the self-mocking hip showbiz insider who says groovy and swingin’ all the time:
As a kid, Shaffer admired the great entertainers he saw on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” especially Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis. But when the rock era arrived, those performers became viewed as squares.
“But I still loved their talent,” Shaffer admitted. “I used to talk like them in order to kid them but also kind of pay tribute to them at the same time. A duality. I used to parody that on Letterman. Now I find myself saying it for real in my own show. I guess I’ve learned that we do become what we mock.”
On Bob Dylan being on Letterman:
The first time the Minnesota icon was on the show, Shaffer gushed all over him but Dylan brushed him off. “He said, ‘Hey, could you introduce me to Larry Bud Melman,’ who was a character on the show back in the ’80s. That’s all he wanted to do.”
In 1992, at the taping of Letterman’s 10th-anniversary show with an all-star band featuring Carole King, Chrissie Hynde and others, Shaffer had to convince Dylan to perform “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Recalled Shaffer: “He said to me: ‘It’s a big catalog.’ I thought: ‘Wow, it’s Dylan talking like a Tin Pan Alley publisher about his own music.’ He was very reticent in rehearsal. After the show he apologized and said, ‘I didn’t realize how good you were. I would have put more into the rehearsal.’ ”
On Letterman’s penultimate show, Dylan performed “The Night We Called It a Day,” a tune identified with Sinatra. Said Shaffer: “I didn’t get to speak to him at all that time. But Dave Letterman told me afterward that when we went to commercial, he said to Dylan, ‘Thanks for being here as we close out.’ And Dylan said to him ‘It was an honor.’ Letterman told me that was a high point for him.”
On Prince playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with an all-star band in 2004 when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Shaffer is musical director for the induction ceremonies):
“They rehearsed it a number of times in the afternoon. I watched it. Prince killed musically on every rundown but he was holding back showmanship-wise. But everyone knew what was going to happen when the audience was there. Sure enough, he didn’t let anyone down and it was one of the highlights of all the many years that the induction dinner has been happening. When people want to pull a clip to watch, they choose that one because it was one of the best performances of all.”
Shaffer didn’t meet Prince when he was on Letterman. But Prince nodded at Shaffer during the show. Later Prince’s drummer Bobby Z told Shaffer: “Do you have any idea what that nod means? What a compliment that he even acknowledged you.’ ”
In 2007, when Prince was doing a Las Vegas residency, Shaffer attended a concert and the after-show. “He asked me to visit him in his suite afterward,” Shaffer said. “He let his guard down and he was a very normal person when we spoke. I was there from 5 to 7 a.m. He was just ordering breakfast. We had a lovely chat about all kinds of things and watched a video of his show from earlier that night.”
On how Shaffer was offered a role on “Seinfeld” as Jerry’s sidekick:
Back in the ’80s, Shaffer was overwhelmed with phone messages and correspondence. And he didn’t have an assistant. A message came in: “Jerry Seinfeld is getting a show at Castle Rock. He wants you to be his sidekick on the show.”
“I was having such a great time on Letterman that I said to myself: ‘What kind of show could Jerry Seinfeld possibly have?’ I just let it slip. I missed out on being part of the most beloved show in the history of television. It may not be the smartest thing I ever did.”
Then again, Shaffer says, “Jerry denies it now.”
On how many eyeglasses Shaffer has and how he chooses which to wear:
“When the prescription changes, I don’t change them all. I have only about a half-dozen in rotation at any one time. If I look back at all the glasses I wore during Letterman, there are a lot of them.”
Sometimes Shaffer’s outfit dictated the glasses, sometimes a guest on the show inspired his choice.
“Back in the ’80s I used to dress at home. I was thinking about Bob Dylan coming on the show for the first time and I wore black jeans, a black shirt and a white tie. Sure enough, he wore exactly the same thing. I got a picture of the two of us.”
On childhood trips to Minneapolis from his home in Thunder Bay, Ontario:
It was a seven-hour drive to Minneapolis for family shopping trips. The Shaffers stayed either at the downtown Radisson “which was next to Dayton’s which was convenient for my mother” or at the Curtis Hotel with its outdoor swimming pool, “which was a great luxury for us.” Lunch was always at the Brothers Deli. “We were in nosh heaven,” Shaffer gushed.
“I do remember one night, my dad said the great jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal is playing but we couldn’t get tickets. This summer I’m about to be musical director of a Grammys great-performance special where they’re going to honor Ahmad Jamal as a living legend. I get to make the speech about him and, of course, I‘ll be talking about how I missed him in Minneapolis that time.”