Back when Paul Schafer played along with the musical guest on Letterman

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I found this clip of Screaming Trees playing "Nearly Lost You" on Letterman and was severely confused by the black drummer rocking out behind Mark Lanegan. Then I realized that it was actually the entire Letterman band playing along. Who knows where Barrett Martin was.

I also remembered this clip of the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing with the whole band as well. Chad Smith isn't even behind the kit. They let the house guy do that while he plays some extra percussion

I'm wondering, are their other bands who shared the stage with Paul Schafer? What instigated this extremely odd practice, and at what point did it end?

yussel, Sunday, 26 August 2007 09:39 (fifteen years ago) link


Are you willing to play your current single in a boogie version: y/n

StanM, Sunday, 26 August 2007 10:07 (fifteen years ago) link

don't know when it started or ended, but I used to joke that I'd like to see him try that with someone like Nick Cave...

and then I saw it...

henry s, Sunday, 26 August 2007 10:43 (fifteen years ago) link

Dave holding up the long box!

Mark Rich@rdson, Sunday, 26 August 2007 14:27 (fifteen years ago) link

I remember that Nick Cave one very clearly! The highlight was when Paul S took a brief keyboard solo-- suddenly his face contorted into a mask of sheer repugnance/fury/unholy passion. BEST SOLO FACE EVER. His expression didn't even match what he was playing-- his solo wasn't especially intense. My friend had taped it, and we made her rewind the keyboard solo over and over again.

Jon Lewis, Sunday, 26 August 2007 14:32 (fifteen years ago) link

It wasn't until the end that I realized that the Screaming Trees were from the NBC show. And why did they use another drummer? That wasn't even Anton Figg.

Pleasant Plains, Sunday, 26 August 2007 15:21 (fifteen years ago) link

I remember Sonic Youth performing "100%" with 'The World's Most Dangerous Band' on the old NBC show, that was pretty weird. I think this practice continued for at least the first couple years he was on CBS, but less and less often.

Alex in Baltimore, Sunday, 26 August 2007 16:08 (fifteen years ago) link

Man, that clip really reminds me that the Chili Peppers was a pretty awesome band for a while.

Whiney G. Weingarten, Sunday, 26 August 2007 16:18 (fifteen years ago) link

And why did they use another drummer? That wasn't even Anton Figg.

looks like steve ferrone (currently with tom petty's heartbreakers) was filling in that night.

early bands played on letterman without the house band (cf. r.e.m. in 1983: some point in the late 80s when it became mandated that the musical guests had to play with shaffer et al. which was kind of a shame, because the brilliant steve jordan was no longer the drummer by that point, and bands had to make do with that ham-fisted fuck anton figg.

Lawrence the Looter, Sunday, 26 August 2007 18:30 (fifteen years ago) link

I remember seeing Motorhead on the old NBC Letterman show. Dave made fun of Motorhead the entire show adn then when they came out to play, Lemmy flashed a death stare at Letterman. I think they ended up playing an old Chuck Berry tune and not even a Motorhead song.

earlnash, Sunday, 26 August 2007 19:20 (fifteen years ago) link

the letterman house band played "north american scum" w/ lcd earlier this year. the lot of them also played tambourine's when tokyo police club played.

Jordan Sargent, Sunday, 26 August 2007 19:21 (fifteen years ago) link

JAMC "Far Gone and Out"

Funky Bass! ALternately hilarious and infuriating.

wanko ergo sum, Sunday, 26 August 2007 19:28 (fifteen years ago) link

that last one was controversial on the Prodigy shoegazing boards way back when

keythkeyth, Sunday, 26 August 2007 19:56 (fifteen years ago) link

Pixies w/the house band

Jordan, Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:54 (fifteen years ago) link

i recall paul playing a one-chord keyboard part on beastie boys' "sabatoge" in the early CBS years. dave's line all night was "are you ready to get SARED???? we have the beastie boys here"

gr8080, Sunday, 26 August 2007 22:08 (fifteen years ago) link

Man, this situation still bugs me.

Will Lee looks like a complete dork in that RHCP clip.

And what kind of green room conversation was taking place before the show when NBC brass was telling the band, "you guys sound great, but the drummer's going to have to play the triangle."

Pleasant Plains, Sunday, 26 August 2007 22:20 (fifteen years ago) link

I mean, was this some sort of union joke or waht?

Pleasant Plains, Sunday, 26 August 2007 22:20 (fifteen years ago) link

Something to do with budgets? I can't really remember. When the Letterman group played with L7, they had something like a total of six guitars going. Pretty crunchy.

If Timi Yuro would be still alive, most other singers could shut up, Sunday, 26 August 2007 22:33 (fifteen years ago) link

When Peter Bjorn and John were on earlier this year, some lady from the band played the bongo part.

n/a, Monday, 27 August 2007 15:07 (fifteen years ago) link

I've long been curious as to what, exactly, the arrangement is/was between the featured band and the Letterman house band, because my recollection is that not every musical guest employed Paul and the boys/girl (though the majority seem to), even post-'80s.

If it truly is, or was, a mandated thing, as Lawrence the Looter says, it's, of course, unfortunate that guests are made to present generally inferior performances to satisfy that obligation (not to mention members of the guest band being forced to break out the triangle just so they can participate -- I think drummers often fall victim to this simply because they might otherwise be have to sit in on someone else's kit, and that is almost always extremely uncomfortable). But truth be told, these collisions are often pretty fascinating for me -- I'm glad that we have that shaky version of "Trompe le Monde" (Black Francis in fine voice though) with bad Schaffer soloing and somewhat forced literate skronk guitar-work from Sid McGinnis.

And at other times, the performances are perfectly good. I'm not sure why anyone would object, on musical grounds, to the Screaming Trees and JAMC performances linked -- the bass player's white trousers and Stanley Clarke conviction in the JAMC one(?), because his playing is pretty faithful to the recording (maybe a bit busier and more R&B informed, but still appropriate and definitely not "funky" in the conventional sense).

Random notes:

Nice to see Steve Ferrone get a chance to, ahem, rock out (looks like he was having fun) in that Screaming Trees clip; he sounds good there.

One may not care for the playing of Anton Fig, he might not always mesh well with the featured act (though I think he does fine usually and is sometimes great), but he definitely isn't "ham-fisted". I prefer Steve Jordan, actually, but not everything he played on the Letterman show was golden either: check this performance of the band playing "Panama" with Eddie Van Halen( -- not bad, per se, but kind of weird (all-around).

I'm pretty sure I once read an interview with Anton where he spoke of Tony Williams subbing for him in the band. How cool would it have been to see Tony Williams play behind The JAMC or Screaming Trees? I wonder who the band did back, if anyone, when Tony subbed (don't know how long he did either).

betelgeuse, Monday, 27 August 2007 21:26 (fifteen years ago) link

they backed up Dinosaur Jr. once I'm pretty sure (Start Choppin' era)

dmr, Monday, 27 August 2007 21:30 (fifteen years ago) link

there's a Green Mind-era Dino Jr. clip on youtube, but it's in such terrible shape you can't really see if the house band is in on it

milo z, Monday, 27 August 2007 21:35 (fifteen years ago) link

SJ sounds totally fine on that Van Halen clip to me. Still, what a weird thing to do.

Jordan, Monday, 27 August 2007 21:41 (fifteen years ago) link

lol @ Chad Smith on timbales. I wonder what would happen if you were in RHCP in the early 90s and you didn't have abs.

Jordan, Monday, 27 August 2007 21:43 (fifteen years ago) link

I still don't get why though.

Pleasant Plains, Monday, 27 August 2007 21:44 (fifteen years ago) link

PAUL SHAFFER circa. 1991: "Oh, FANTASTIC! Chainsaw Kittens are scheduled to come on AND I GET TO PLAY THE ORGAN AGAIN."

Pleasant Plains, Monday, 27 August 2007 21:57 (fifteen years ago) link

To be fair,it's really only some of the fills that I'm not feeling, as far as the drums go (and more-so it's the way that the toms are tuned -- just sounds odd for that song) in the Van Halen clip.


Jordan OTM on RHCP and abs.

betelgeuse, Monday, 27 August 2007 22:37 (fifteen years ago) link

I saw Urge Overkill play Bottle of Fur with the house band. Paul Schaffer was pounding the chimes at the end. They sounded better than they had any right to.

deusner, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 01:12 (fifteen years ago) link

oh man i thought the same thing about abs when watching the video

cutty, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 01:20 (fifteen years ago) link

maybe that's why they went through like 6 different guitarists at the time, dudes just didn't have the abs for it.

Alex in Baltimore, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 02:37 (fifteen years ago) link

It's not every band that plays with the house band. It's actually quite rare. I always thought it was just bands with a cool sense of humor who were free wheeling enough to do it as a way to shake things up.

filthy dylan, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 04:58 (fifteen years ago) link

I think they did this with Stevie Ray Vaughan. I've seen it. It was on either Letterman or Carson.

C. Grisso/McCain, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 15:25 (fifteen years ago) link

I don't think a band would play on national tv w/out their regular drummer just for a laugh.

Jordan, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 15:26 (fifteen years ago) link

I thought it was a rule. A buddy of mine was in Poi Dog Pondering back in the day and when they did the Letterman show there were major negotiations to get every member of their own rather large band out on the stage- one of the two drummers ended up banging a stick on a soda can!

James Redd and the Blecchs, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 17:07 (fifteen years ago) link

I'm trying to imagine what it would've been like had G.E. Smith played along with the Replacements on SNL, and I don't like what I'm seeing in my head right now.

Pleasant Plains, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 21:13 (fifteen years ago) link

I'll have to ask Ted about that, Ken.

jaymc, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 21:21 (fifteen years ago) link

Ha! You do that, John.

James Redd and the Blecchs, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 22:54 (fifteen years ago) link

Found that SRV clip. The WMDB backed him on "Wall of Denial".

C. Grisso/McCain, Wednesday, 29 August 2007 15:22 (fifteen years ago) link

...and here's Sonic Youth

C. Grisso/McCain, Wednesday, 29 August 2007 15:27 (fifteen years ago) link

Here's a clip from a time when Dinosaur Jr. played and the house band guitarist took a little lead break that I don't think Mascis appreciated, as he proceeded to subsequently bitch slap him with a blazing solo in response.

j-rock, Thursday, 30 August 2007 03:03 (fifteen years ago) link

I heard Tito Puente was on there once and they made him play the drum kit while Anton played the timbales.

James Redd and the Blecchs, Thursday, 30 August 2007 10:41 (fifteen years ago) link

Maybe it's a way for the guys in the show band to let real bands know that they're studio musicians for hire and they're available for recording?

StanM, Thursday, 30 August 2007 10:49 (fifteen years ago) link

Yeah, Will Lee never did a single jingle vocal until he was discovered during that Chili Peppers performance.

James Redd and the Blecchs, Thursday, 30 August 2007 10:55 (fifteen years ago) link

nine months pass...

Okay so this is pretty fucking hysterical too, The La's "There She Goes"

funny becuase Shafers on the tambourine, the guitarist brought out the old Rickenbacker AND for the lead singer who supposedly demanded a mixer with the original 60's dust still on it when recording the album, this must surely be the sound he had in mind...

plus a Beatles bonus in the end. I LOVE it

sonderangerbot, Friday, 6 June 2008 01:40 (fourteen years ago) link

three years pass...

This is great

Stockhausen's Ekranoplan Quartet (Elvis Telecom), Thursday, 12 January 2012 10:26 (ten years ago) link

Is that the clip where Paul throws his tampon into the crowd?

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 12 January 2012 12:53 (ten years ago) link

I had never seen that Dinosaur jr clip before - Mascis just SLAUGHTERS that house guitarist!

Walter Galt, Thursday, 12 January 2012 13:33 (ten years ago) link

If Timi Yuro would be still alive, most other singers could shut up
Posted: August 26, 2007 5:33:29 PM
Something to do with budgets? I can't really remember. When the Letterman group played with L7, they had something like a total of six guitars going. Pretty crunchy.

Naive Teen Idol, Thursday, 12 January 2012 14:42 (ten years ago) link

I'm glad that we have that shaky version of "Trompe le Monde" (Black Francis in fine voice though) with bad Schaffer soloing and somewhat forced literate skronk guitar-work from Sid McGinnis.

This is also good description of guitar on the Dinosaur Jr. clip.

TEH PNINFOX aka the veen driver (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 12 January 2012 14:49 (ten years ago) link

six months pass...

Was watching this clip for a while before I realized it must be from Letterman.

Zing Can Really Hang You Up the Most (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 4 August 2012 04:24 (ten years ago) link

Alice In Chains

Loud guitars shit all over "Bette Davis Eyes" (NYCNative), Tuesday, 13 September 2022 02:20 (two months ago) link

Good Finds!


The Ramones, except it's just Joey & Johnny: "Pet Cemetery"

Just think...Anton Ramone

an icon of a worried-looking, long-haired, bespectacled man (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 13 September 2022 02:48 (two months ago) link

Looking closer at those Megadeth clips...both of those performances were promoting the same album! Really rare to see a band do separate appearances on a show for the same record (and it not be a residency).

an icon of a worried-looking, long-haired, bespectacled man (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 13 September 2022 03:39 (two months ago) link

two weeks pass...

they might be giants, making their network tv debut, playing a tight version of "they'll need a crane" with paul schaefer and the band

na (NA), Friday, 30 September 2022 22:36 (two months ago) link

Haven’t read through this thread entirely, but is there some background as to why Paul Schafer did this kinda shit? Seems like a colossal dick move to push you and your band onto musical guests.

circa1916, Friday, 30 September 2022 22:42 (two months ago) link

i mean it makes sense for some bands, like early TMBG

na (NA), Friday, 30 September 2022 23:00 (two months ago) link

Sure, but that’s not typical. It doesn’t seem like it was a “Hey, can we play with you guys?” sorta set-up, but kinda the price you pay if you wanna be on the show. Cuz I can’t imagine most bands would be cool with it.

circa1916, Friday, 30 September 2022 23:14 (two months ago) link

As mentioned upthread, that's why the Replacements never did Letterman (Pleased To Meet Me-era, iirc).

an icon of a worried-looking, long-haired, bespectacled man (C. Grisso/McCain), Friday, 30 September 2022 23:16 (two months ago) link

Yeah, it always seemed like a shitty flex, like “you may think you’re so great, but actually we can do your shit as well as everyone else’s.”

assert (matttkkkk), Friday, 30 September 2022 23:24 (two months ago) link

Also I’d like to know if bands’ song choices were ever vetoed because the house band couldn’t do them or didn’t have a part to play.

assert (matttkkkk), Friday, 30 September 2022 23:26 (two months ago) link

Probably not. Shaffer & co. were all heavy session pros, so there's not a lot they couldn't fake.

an icon of a worried-looking, long-haired, bespectacled man (C. Grisso/McCain), Friday, 30 September 2022 23:31 (two months ago) link

A lot of times they would also back up solo artists, even if said artists already had established backing bands.

For example, Stevie Ray Vaughan sans Double Trouble

"Crossfire" & "Wall of Denial"...Another example of somebody making separate appearances on the show months apart promoting the same album.

an icon of a worried-looking, long-haired, bespectacled man (C. Grisso/McCain), Friday, 30 September 2022 23:41 (two months ago) link

i mean, the roots do this on fallon all the time?

But people like them!

CSN: "As I Come Of Age"


Albert Collins & The Anton Fig Blues Band: "A Good Fool Is Hard To Find"

Lucinda Williams, with Gurf & Roger McGuinn (!)*: "Six Blocks Away"

*I guess he was sitting in that night?

Subdudes, with Paul stepping back: "Tired of Being Alone"

Psychedelic Furs: "Until She Comes"

Spin Doctors, w/a double rhythm section:'"Jimmy Olsen's Blues"

One more...

Squeeze, except it's just Difford & Tillbrook &...Jools(?): "If It's Love"

Blue Rodeo, with Steve Ferrone: "Restless"

Steve Earle: "Copperhead Road" and a funny interview

Re: earlier discussion on why they did this, I'd imagine the production team were happy to have essentially the same band on each week with the same backline. Saves them dealing with some over-hitting drummer or guitarist who turns their amp up full otherwise "it doesn't sound right".

pick the mouse that can reach all the cheese in the maze (Matt #2), Tuesday, 11 October 2022 14:30 (one month ago) link

Man, WIll's really rocking the Breck hair in that Lucinda McGuinn video.

Askeladd v. BMI (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 11 October 2022 14:35 (one month ago) link

Matt OTM. I remember a conversation with guy who had been in the show a few times who he said something like "Paul, Will and company have been doing it for so long they are like the crew of a B52 bomber."

Askeladd v. BMI (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 11 October 2022 14:37 (one month ago) link

Cracker, with their drummer on tambourine and dance moves: "Teen Angst"

Think I already posted the Poi Dog Pondering appearance upthread. Believe they managed to get the whole band on stage somehow. One guy had to play percussion on a soda can iirc.

Askeladd v. BMI (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 11 October 2022 14:50 (one month ago) link

It wouldn't surprise me if Paul renegotiated his contract at some point so that they always had to play with the bands in order to give him and his band more to do on the show. They were and are highly well-connected so maybe they thought it was their due. But Matt's explanation could very well be right.

Chris L, Tuesday, 11 October 2022 15:28 (one month ago) link

Still think it must have had something to do with either union rules, royalty payments or both.

pplains, Tuesday, 11 October 2022 15:37 (one month ago) link

Yeah, but the practice stopped when they went to CBS and they may have been worried about losing bookings to Leno.

Chris L, Tuesday, 11 October 2022 15:46 (one month ago) link

They still did a version of it at CBS: bands appear in their full lineups, but sometimes the house band would play along with them to beef up the sound. However, usually when this happened, Paul & co. wouldn't get as much screentime during the performances.

Speaking of CBS, Dave's people have been having clips from that era removed left and right as of late.

Dave's staff has really stepped up trying to post their own clips. Somewhat ghoulishly perhaps, anytime a celebrity who was on the show dies they'll get an old interview with them up that same day.

Chris L, Tuesday, 11 October 2022 18:26 (one month ago) link

...or just if somebody's in the news. Noticed they put up some Blink-182 stuff right after the reunion announcement.

Anyway, this is new to me: Sonic Youth (w/a very pregnant Kim) doing "Bull In The Heather" on the CBS show.

Paul and the band have to sit silently and watch.

By the time Letterman moved to CBS, Shaffer’s band rarely accompanied musical guests.

And I always assumed the main reason one or two members of a band had to play with Shaffer et al on NBC was the size of the studio. For the first few years of Late Night the Bangles, R.E.M., and Dylan, among others, played without Shaffer’s band, but Letterman was moved to a new, and smaller, studio around ‘86-‘87 or so, making it difficult-to-impossible to fit even just a four-piece band’s gear etc. onto the stage.

Montgomery Burns' Jazz (Tarfumes The Escape Goat), Sunday, 16 October 2022 20:50 (one month ago) link

when we played the CBS show Paul & the band hung around to watch our performance from their stations, even though we were dead last and they all could have bailed early. out of sight of the camera Schaeffer was there really bopping head head along and following what we were doing, just rocking out, and it made me feel like a million, billion bucks. One of the best "go ahead and meet your heroes" experiences I can imagine

J Edgar Noothgrush (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Sunday, 16 October 2022 21:01 (one month ago) link


Another one of those 'discreet augmentation' bits from the CBS Orchestra:

ZZ Top: "What's Up With That"

On that same tip:

Johnny Winter: "Dust My Broom"

oh man that Johnny Winter one is hot stuff

J Edgar Noothgrush (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Sunday, 16 October 2022 22:33 (one month ago) link

the letterman youtube videos have started including ads and psas at the end, it's lovely stuff

From now or then?

2-4-6-8 Motor Away (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 23 October 2022 22:33 (one month ago) link

era appropriate

Richard Thompson: "I Feel So Good" (Will Lee going HAM during the guitar solo)

Posted before, but was taken down:

Breeders: "So Sad About Us" (with bonus Who from TWMDB afterwards)

Ray Davies (no Kinks, not even Dave): "How Do I Get Close?"

I stayed up for that Ray Davies appearance (hey, 11:30-12:30 Central was LATE on a weeknight for a high schooler who had to get up at 6am for Jazz Band practice). I was disappointed that Dave wasn’t there, but liked the performance anyway. And Letterman’s wrong: it was their 26th album (counting live albums, not counting compilations), not their 48th.

It’s hard to see the hype sticker, but it calls the Kinks “The World’s Premier Rock & Roll Band!” They really wanted to fill the stadiums that the Stones and Who had filled in the summer of ‘89, but UK Jive topped out at #122 in the US, and the best they could hope for was 1/2-empty sheds on their 1990 tour.

Montgomery Burns' Jazz (Tarfumes The Escape Goat), Tuesday, 25 October 2022 22:15 (one month ago) link

three weeks pass...


The Feelies: "Doin' It Again"

oh big cheers for that one - they sound good!

ミ💙🅟 🅛 🅤 🅡 🅜 🅑💙彡 (Austin), Monday, 21 November 2022 05:40 (two weeks ago) link

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