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Paul Shaffer’s famous friends open up on new series ‘Paul Shaffer: Plus One’

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Paul Shaffer’s famous friends open up on new series ‘Paul Shaffer: Plus One’ (photo courtesy AXS TV)

Mention a name and he’s played with them. Paul Shaffer just might be the most well-connected person in the music business.

The leader of “The World’s Most Dangerous Band,” Shaffer controlled the music for both of David Letterman’s long-running network programs and he’s not afraid to scroll through his contacts to secure A-list talent for his new series “Paul Shaffer: Plus One,” airing Sundays at 8 p.m. on AXS TV.

Ten episodes are planned for the series’ first season and will include appearances from blues legend Buddy Guy, Graham Nash, Sammy Hagar, Smokey Robinson, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and other high profile guests not commonly seen in a TV talk show environment. Shaffer says he’s having the time of his life jamming verbally and musically with his friends.

“I talk to these legendary music-makers about their songs and then we play,” Shaffer said during an interview. “We demonstrate in song what we talk about on the show and a lot of what happens will surprise you.”

The first episode of “Paul Shaffer: Plus One” aired on September 15 and focused on Joe Walsh of The Eagles and the James Gang.

“He’s an interesting dichotomy,” Shaffer said of Walsh. “He’s sort of uncontrollable and wild, but when he plays that guitar, he does it with great care and awareness. He’s always in tune, in pitch and in key. He’s a hell of a musician, you know? I asked him how he came up with ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ (1976 song by The Eagles written by Walsh, Glenn Frey and Don Henley), his answers are incredible and then we play the song and it all makes sense.”

I asked Shaffer if his guests tend to feel more comfortable about going deep because of their shared history.

“Maybe it does, I’m not sure,” he said. “I don’t know who else a guy like Joe Walsh really trusts, you know? I’ve played with Joe enough times that he knows I’m very familiar with all of his music. He was very comfortable with me and maybe that has something to do with it. I’ve never really considered that.”

Shaffer said the first season of his show will be a virtual Who’s Who in music and comedy.

“We’ve filmed nine episodes so far and Cyndi Lauper will be my guest for the 10th episode. I sat down with Martin Short the other day. He’s not exactly a classic rock artist but we had a lot of fun. If they let me do another season, look out because I have a list containing names of all kinds of people I would love to have on the show. I think you know who some of them might be.”

The episode scheduled for October 27 will see actor, musician and voice talent Harry Shearer in character as bassist Derek Smalls from the classic rock mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap!” – a film that also featured Shaffer as the hapless promoter of the band’s record label, Polymer Records.

Steely Dan fans will want to set the DVR for October 13 when Donald Fagan is scheduled to be Shaffer’s guest.

“He never comes out to do a thing like this,” Shaffer said of Fagan, citing the musician’s penchant for privacy. “Strangely enough, he wanted to talk about comedy, although we mostly focused on his music and influences and played a lot of jazz together.”

Fagan also confirmed a rumor for Shaffer involving a star from the original cast of Saturday Night Live. Shaffer had been part of the band during the show’s first five seasons.

“Chevy Chase had told me for years that he had been drummer in a band with Donald Fagan when they went to Bard College together and I didn’t believe it. Donald Fagan actually said ‘Chevy was a good drummer.’ Stop the presses!”

Since its inception in 1986, Shaffer has been musical director for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, leading the house band and guiding the jams for each induction ceremony. An influential member of the nominating committee, Shaffer says he has someone special in mind for the next round of inductees, which should be announced next month.

“You know who comes to mind? Willie Nelson. He’s a songwriter with classic songs that will live forever. He’s still touring in his 80s – talk about a rock and roll attitude. Johnny Cash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame years ago and I would love it if they did the same with Willie Nelson while we still can.

“It’s interesting that we’re talking about this because we have a meeting in the next couple of days. Each person at this meeting will speak and give an impassioned speech about why this person deserves to be inducted. We go around the room that way and then we vote during an all afternoon affair. I’m all ready with my Willie Nelson speech, so let the games begin.”

Since I had the ear of one of the rock hall’s biggest movers and shakers, I told him of my dream of one day seeing the great band NRBQ inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course, Shaffer has played with them.

“Wouldn’t that be great to have NRBQ in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” he replied. “I sat in with them once years ago and it was classic. They are a hell of an institution. What a nice idea that would be.”

(“Paul Shaffer: Plus One” will present Graham Nash (The Hollies, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) on the program’s second episode, scheduled to air Sunday, September 22, at 8 p.m. on AXS TV.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 September 2019 05:10

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