Paul Shaffer is no stranger to the spotlight — the 62-year-old musician and actor has spent the better part of the last 37 years on our televisions, first with Saturday Night Live and since 1982, as David Letterman’s musical director and side-kick.
But in a rare turn Sunday, Shaffer will be the sole person in that spotlight as host of the 2012 Canada’s Walk of Fame Awards Show.
“I’m thrilled about it,” he says, sitting backstage at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, prior to the show’s taping last month. He was asked through friend Randy Bachman, if he’d come up to Toronto to induct the singer-guitarist. When Global TV found out, they asked if Shaffer would host the whole shebang.
Shaffer himself was inducted back in 2006. He calls the Walk, located at King and Simcoe Streets in Toronto, an important validation. “You’re being honoured by your countrymen,” he says. “When I left Canada in the early 70s, you kind of had to [go to the States] in pop music. There was the Guess Who, Gordon Lightfoot and that was it.”
Raised in Thunder Bay, Shaffer moved to Hogtown to attend the University of Toronto, earning a degree in sociology. He “jobbed” around for five years, before landing in a local production of Godspell. After performing in the Saturday Night Live band for five years, he worked as a session musician until meeting Letterman.
Shaffer is regularly tapped to act as musical director for productions like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, backing a who’s who of musicians and stars. You have to check your ego,” he says of these events. “It’s the first thing to go.
“Their face is going to be on camera after all… you can’t tell them how to do the number, they’re going to tell you.”
Canada’s Walk of Fame airs Sunday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. on Global.
Shaffer makes no secret of his love of R&B — the house band he leads at the Ed Sullivan theatre is modeled after an instrumental R&B group. He even keeps a Hammond B-3 organ that once belonged to James Brown in his New York loft. ‘It’s so funky it almost plays itself,” he jokes. Shaffer had the opportunity to meet the Godfather of Soul on several occasions whenever Brown dropped by to perform on Letterman. “Every time was an education for me,” he admits. “He invented so much of the stuff that we’re still dancing to today. Those experiences were some of my favourites.”