Paul Shaffer has been David Letterman's musical director and sidekick for 20 years.
He began his career in 1972 as musical director of a Toronto production of Godspell. He played piano in The Magic Show on Broadway in 1974, then spent the next five years with the original Saturday Night Live, for which he played keyboards, composed special musical material, and, in 1980, became a featured performer.
In 1977, he took a brief break from the show to star in the CBS comedy series A Year at the Top, produced by Norman Lear and Don Kirshner. After his return to Saturday Night Live, he collaborated with Gilda Radner on the songs for her Broadway show, in which he also appeared. He also served as musical director for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, performing as the Blues Brothers, for two albums and their national tour.In addition to recording his own albums, Coast to Coast (1989), two cuts from which were nominated for Grammys, and The World's Most Dangerous Party (1993), Shaffer has recorded with such diverse artists as Diana Ross, Yoko Ono and Robert Plant's Honeydrippers. He composed the Late Show theme song and, with Paul Jabara, wrote the number one '80s dance hit "It's Raining Men," performed by the Weather Girls, and re-recorded by Geri Halliwell for the Bridget Jones' Diary soundtrack, topping the British pop charts in 2001. In 2002, he received his first Grammy, Best Country Instrumental, for his participation in the Earl Scruggs And Friends album project.
His theatrical film roles have included "second banana" in the Mike Nichols-directed Gilda Live (the movie version of Gilda Radner's Broadway show) and Artie Fufkin, the promo man, in Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap. He appeared along with Miles Davis as part of the street musicians' scene in the Bill Murray movie Scrooged, and had a cameo as the harried passenger in John Travolta's cab in Look Who's Talking Too. Shaffer is heard as the voice of Hermes in Disney's animated feature Hercules and the television series based on the film. As well as producing the music and soundtrack for Blue Brothers 2000, he also appears in the film, for which he received an RIAA-certified gold record.
Shaffer has served as musical director and producer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria since its inception in 1986. He led the band (including Eric Clapton and Nile Rodgers) for the "We Are the World" finale of Live-Aid in 1985 and, in 1990, was chairman of the American Red Cross recruiting drive. Shaffer hosted CBS's 1994 New Year's Eve special from New York's Times Square and was musical director of the closing concert at the 1996 Olympic Games. He appeared with the Blues Brothers at the 1996 Super Bowl halftime show and was musical director of the 1999 Concert of the Century at the White House, featuring Eric Clapton, B. B. King, Gloria Estefan, 'N Sync and others, to aid music programs in public schools. He was privileged to musically direct Paul McCartney's Concert For New York, which honored and raised money for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He was also honored to appear with Faith Hill on the America: A Tribute To Heroes telethon.
He holds two honorary doctorate degrees: one from Five Towns College; the other, from Lakehead University in Canada.
In Canada, Shaffer is a quoted supporter of the Great Lakes Heritage Coast project for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. He is an on camera fund raiser for the Royal Conservatory of Music via their Historic Register Project and the rebuilding of their concert hall in Toronto.
He was a vocalist on the recording of "Tears Are Not Enough", the Canadian contribution to the Aid for Africa campaign of 1985 and performed the song with Bryan Adams at Live Aid. He hosted the JUNO Award show in 1991 and has appeared on CBC's Rita McNeil Show. He hosted the Casby Award Show on CTV two years in a row, and recorded with Canadian artists Jeff Healy and Luba.
He co-hosted, with Ken Taylor, the first Terry Fox Run For A Cure For Cancer in New York's Riverside Park.
In Thunder Bay, Paul was chairman of the 1988 drive which purchased a Cat Scan Machine for McKellar General Hospital. In 1996, he chaired a campaign which raised $26,000 for the Northern Cancer Research Foundation.
With his father, he dedicated a seminar room at Lakehead University in his mother's name and is the benefactor of a yearly bursary there. In September of 2005, he dedicated a new, state of the art boardroom at Lakehead University to his late father. In November of that year, Paul received the Arts and Letters Award from the Canadian Association of New York. He was the recipient of the first star in the Victoriaville Walk Of Fame, in support of the merchants of Downtown Thunder Bay South.
He is currently the spokesperson for Epilepsy Canada.