Paul Shaffer and the World's Most Dangerous Band is an American big band led by Paul Shaffer. It is best known for being David Letterman's house band for 33 years. The band formed in 1982 to serve as house band for NBC's Late Night with David Letterman. When Letterman moved to CBS and began hosting the Late Show with David Letterman in 1993, the band added a horn section and second guitarist, renaming itself (due to an intellectual property dispute with NBC) the CBS Orchestra, a name that lasted until Letterman left the Late Show in 2015. After a two-year hiatus, in 2017, the band was revived by Shaffer using its original name and released an album titled Paul Shaffer & The World's Most Dangerous Band, followed by a tour.
The original membership of "The World's Most Dangerous Band" was assembled in early 1982 and consisted of Paul Shaffer (keyboards); Will Lee (bass); Hiram Bullock (guitar) and Steve Jordan (drums). Lee, Bullock and Jordan were all previously members of The 24th Street Band, a jazz/rock fusion ensemble that released three albums in the late 1970s. The fourth member of the 24th Street Band was keyboard player Clifford Carter. Shaffer was a regular attendee at their shows and had worked with Lee as a session musician. When it came time to create a band for Late Night, Shaffer simply recruited the three non-keyboard playing members of the 24th Street Band, in essence hiring a ready-made supporting band for himself.
Bullock dropped out of the band around the end of 1983. Shaffer had met guitarist Sid McGinnis in 1978; McGinnis became a permanent member of the group, replacing Bullock, in 1984. Jordan was the second to exit, in 1986, and was replaced by Anton Fig. Shaffer and drummer Fig first played together at a Joan Armatrading recording session in March 1980. From the mid-1980s through 1993, saxophone player David Sanborn was a frequent guest player, usually sitting in with the band on Thursday or Friday nights. Sanborn was originally intended to be a permanent band member.
When Letterman moved to CBS to host the Late Show in 1993, the band came along and was greatly expanded. Felicia Collins was added as a second guitarist and eventually a vocalist (over the course of the show, she occasionally shared top billing with Shaffer, as "Paul Shaffer, Felicia Collins and the CBS Orchestra"); she had first performed with Lee in 1985 when they backed the Thompson Twins at Live Aid in Philadelphia. Two years later, she and Shaffer first performed together at a benefit concert for homeless children, hosted by Paul Simon. A contract stipulation with previous producer Johnny Carson prohibited the World's Most Dangerous Band from having a horn section, so as not to emulate the NBC Orchestra seen on The Tonight Show. With Carson's retirement and the change of network, the stipulation was no longer in effect, and Shaffer was now free to add horns. The band added trombonist Tom Malone and saxophonist Bruce Kapler. Trumpeter Al Chez was added in February 1997. Shaffer and trombonist Malone first worked together in 1975, as original members of the Saturday Night Live Band; they also helped organize the original Blues Brothers in 1978. Kapler and Chez occasionally sat in with the World's Most Dangerous Band starting in 1988.
Following Bruce Kapler's departure from the CBS Orchestra, saxophonist Aaron Heick eventually became Kapler's permanent replacement. Heick was the most frequent substitute during the roughly seven month transition period between permanent saxophonists. He can be heard alongside Will Lee on the 2008 Terry Silverlight album Diamond in the Riff. In addition, frequent substitute for Anton Fig, Shawn Pelton (of SNL fame) was the drummer on Heick's own 2009 debut album, Daylight and Darkness. Al Chez would also leave the band in 2012 and be replaced by Frank Greene. Trumpeter Greene, like Tom Malone, is an alum of the famed One O'Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas (formerly North Texas State University).
When Paul Shaffer was unavailable, Warren Zevon was usually the substitute bandleader prior to his death in 2003. On October 13, 2005, Booker T. Jones filled in for Shaffer, and Anton Fig was bandleader. Michael Bearden infrequently substituted for Shaffer as a keyboardist, with drummer Fig taking on the role of bandleader. However, this was before Bearden was named the bandleader on George Lopez's ill-fated TBS talk show, Lopez Tonight. For the April 6, 2001, show, the band expanded to 50 players to become the CBS Giant Orchestra with 16 violins, 8 violas, 4 cellos, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 4 saxophones, 2 harps, 1 keyboard and 1 percussionist.
Phil Collins played drums with Steve Jordan in the band when he was a guest on the Letterman show on March 26, 1985. Drummer Shawn Pelton of the Saturday Night Live Band sits in on the drums when Anton Fig is absent.
On the June 15, 2010, episode, bassist Larry Graham of Sly and The Family Stone and Graham Central Station was a guest of the band, playing bass and providing vocals. Graham also sat in on October 8, 2012. New York area bassist Neil Jason often fills in for Will Lee, most recently on August 21, 2012.
David Sanborn on saxophone was an occasional guest member of the band during its NBC days. In February 2012, after longtime saxophonist Bruce Kapler departed the orchestra, a string of guest saxophonists (including Tom Timko of Will Lee's Beatles tribute band The Fab Faux) substituted for him until one of the substitutes (Aaron Heick) was named the permanent replacement. During the week of August 13, 2012, trumpeter Greg Adams from Tower of Power sat in with the band.
The band was initially unnamed, although it was occasionally jokingly referred to as "The NBC Orchestra", after The Tonight Show Band, and later, "The World's Most Dangerous Band" after professional wrestler Dick the Bruiser. Still, these names were not official, and the 1985 video "You Kill Me" (aired on the David Letterman Holiday Film Festival special) is credited on-screen simply to "Paul Shaffer and the Band". By 1987, the "NBC Orchestra" name was being used in the opening announcements, before "The World's Most Dangerous Band" became the official name circa 1988.
The group was forced to rename itself when Letterman left NBC, and NBC claimed that the name "The World's Most Dangerous Band" was its intellectual property. Around this time, the group released an album credited to "Paul Shaffer and the Party Boys of Rock 'n' Roll". The name "Paul Shaffer and The CBS Orchestra" dated from the start of the show on CBS in 1993. The band had no direct relationship to any former CBS Orchestras heard on the CBS Radio Network and was not featured on CBS programming outside of the Late Show. According to the Late Show with David Letterman credits, the name "CBS Orchestra" is the property of CBS.
Besides being the house band for the Late Show, the group has also been the house band for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies since 1986 and continued in this role for the 2015 award ceremony, which was held April 18, 2015 but aired on HBO several days after the finale of the Late Show with David Letterman. In 1999, the group was the back-up band for the Concert of the Century at the White House. In 2001, they also served as the backup band for The Concert for New York City, where they performed with David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, Macy Gray and James Taylor.
The orchestra disbanded after the Late Show ended on May 20, 2015. Jazz musician Jonathan Batiste was announced by new host Stephen Colbert as the new Late Show's bandleader on June 4, 2015, with his band, Stay Human, becoming the show's new house band.
The World's Most Dangerous Band reassembled in 2016 in order to record a self-titled album, released on March 17, 2017, followed by a tour.
The band has released three albums:
Among the most famous songs of the band are: the original song "What is Soul", the covers of classic songs "Louie Louie" and "Wang Dang Doodle", the theme for Late Night with David Letterman, and the funny and maliconic parody song "When you comin' back Tom Snyder?", also known as the Ballad of Tom Snyder, a country-based song played for the first time in a viewer mail segment of Late Night with David Letterman about the return of Tom Snyder. In the song, a young man is traveling the USA and searching for his soul, like, for example, the young teenaged rock guitarist Eugene, the principal character of the teen-musical movie Crossroads, who is referenced in this song in the person of the young Tom Snyder. This ballad is very characteristic because at the end of the song you can hear the sound of a train. Link for the Tom Snyder song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSpRsrh7saA