Q&A: Paul Shaffer
Life is a bit slower for Paul Shaffer since his bandleading duties concluded along with the iconic Late Show with David Letterman in 2015. But it’s not like the composer and multi-instrumentalist has retired. This year, he released an album, performed on both Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night shows and has a mini-residency at Caesars Palace’s Cleopatra’s Barge Dec. 28-30 and Jan. 4-6 with his hard-hitting funk and pop band, the Shaf-Shifters. Las Vegas Magazine’s Brock Radke recently found out what to expect from Shaffer’s new musical adventure.
Have you ever performed any other show like this in Las Vegas?
No, not at all. I’ve kind of kidded about this type of performance, the Las Vegas lounge performer, as have all of my contemporaries. It’s so anachronistic, especially when we were coming up in the rock ’n’ roll era, wearing blue jeans to do Saturday Night Live instead of tuxes. But now I am kind of fulfilling what is sort of my destiny by taking a position and doing what I’m calling a mini-residency at the iconic Cleopatra’s Barge, and I’m absolutely tickled to do it.
Is that because this is the perfect Las Vegas room to do it?
Absolutely. The young executives from Caesars had the idea to sort of bring back the days when there was live music in lounges, because not only are they few and far between, but the ones that are still around seldom have a band anymore. This is going to be a lounge show in the old-fashioned sense of the words. My history with Las Vegas is that my parents took me when I was about 12 years old and I saw Sarah Vaughan in a lounge at the Riviera, and I never got over it. It fascinated me. My research takes me to the fact that Louis Prima was bar-none the greatest lounge performer. So one really has to nod to him, but I’ll try to do it with my own kind of music. But I want that feeling, as if the guys from the Rat Pack might drop by after their shows to go onstage.
What kind of musical direction should we expect?
R&B is my favorite, so I think we’re going to hang around that genre, but after all these years of doing it in all these different venues and on TV, I’ve got a lot of stories and I find that people like to hear inside stories about some of this music. I’m nothing if not a fountain of this stuff. So I’m going to be telling stories and interweaving them with music. There’ll be songs from my idols and the people that inspired me.
Are you hoping to extend this mini-residency into something recurring or more permanent in Las Vegas?
You can only see how it goes. Right now I like the feel of a mini-residency, like the Who did there (at Caesars Palace). I think they were the first to call it that. So I’m thinking of myself as sort of a shorter Pete Townshend.
It’s been a few years but do you still miss the TV gig?
Certainly it was a big change. I think it took me all this time to adjust. We were all going 100 miles per hour without many breaks, very high-strung all the time, then all of a sudden we don’t have to be anywhere. Now I’ve really come to appreciate it and I’m proud of having accomplished it, completed that run of 33 years. It feels great to have done it, and it feels great to be a little more relaxed than I was back then. I can sleep longer hours. All kinds of little physical things have changed, which is really funny. But it was a great privilege to be able to do it.
You reunited with the World’s Most Dangerous Band to release an album this year. Any plans to record new music?
I certainly had fun doing that one. One never knows. I’m very much focused on this residency right now and figuring out what the most fun songs to do would be. I think that would be worth recording. I’d love to do video and audio of this little engagement.