Paul Shaffer and the World's Most Dangerous Band

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Paul Shaffer and the World's Most Dangerous Band
Also known as The World's Most
Dangerous Band (until 1993 and after 2015)
The Paul Shaffer Band
CBS Orchestra
Origin New York City
Years active 1982 (1982)–2015 (2015), 2017 (2017)-present
Members Paul Shaffer
Anton Fig
Felicia Collins
Sid McGinnis
Will Lee
Tom "Bones" Malone
Aaron Heick
Frank Greene
Past members Steve Jordan
Hiram Bullock
Bernie Worrell
Bruce Kapler
Al Chez
David Sanborn

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 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 Late Show in 2015.

After a two-year hiatus, in 2017, the band was revived by Paul Shaffer using its original name, and released an album titled Paul Shaffer & The World's Most Dangerous Band followed by a tour.[1][2]



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 Late Show in 1993, the band came along and was greatly expanded. 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. 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 Will 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.[3] A horn section was also added at this time, including 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.[3] Kapler and Chez occasionally sat in with the WMDB starting in 1988.

Saxophonist Aaron Heick 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. Following Bruce Kapler's departure from the CBS Orchestra, Heick was the most frequent substitute during the roughly seven month transition period between saxophonists.

Trumpeter Frank Green, 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).

Final CBS Orchestra members[edit]


The World's Most Dangerous Band[edit]

  • Paul Shaffer on keyboards (1982–1993)
  • Will Lee on bass guitar and vocals (1982–1993)
  • Steve Jordan on drums and percussion (1982–1986)
  • Hiram Bullock on guitar (1982–1984)
  • Sid McGinnis on guitar (1984–1993)[3]
  • Anton Fig on drums and percussion (1986–1993)[3]

Paul Shaffer & the World's Most Dangerous Band (2017 revival)[edit]

  • Paul Shaffer on keyboards and vocals
  • Felicia Collins on guitar and vocals
  • Anton Fig on drums
  • Will Lee on bass and vocals
  • Sid McGinnis on guitar
  • Tom Malone on horns
  • Frank Greene on horns
  • Aaron Heick on horns

Guest vocalists: Dion, Jenny Lewis, Bill Murray, Darius Rucker, Shaggy, and Valerie Simpson.[2]

Guest members[edit]

Phil Collins played drums with Steve Jordan in the band when he was a guest on the Letterman show on March 26, 1985.

When Shaffer was unavailable, Warren Zevon was usually the substitute bandleader prior to his death in 2003. David Sanborn on saxophone was an occasional guest member of the band during its NBC days. Michael Bearden infrequently substituted for Shaffer as a keyboardist, with drummer Anton 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 celli, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 4 saxophones, 2 harps, 1 keyboard, and 1 percussionist.[4]

In October 13, 2005 Booker T. Jones filled in for Paul Shaffer and Anton Fig was a bandleader.

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.

Drummer Shawn Pelton of the Saturday Night Live Band on Saturday Night Live sits in on the drums when regular drummer Anton Fig is absent.

In February 2012, 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 a full-time replacement was found.

In July 2012, longtime trumpeter Al Chez departed the orchestra.

During the week of August 13, 2012, trumpeter Greg Adams from Tower of Power sat in with the band.

Band name[edit]

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 Late Show. According to the Late Show with David Letterman credits, the name "CBS Orchestra" is the property of CBS.

Beyond Late Show[edit]

Besides being the house band for 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 Late Show with David Letterman.[5] 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.

After Letterman[edit]

The orchestra disbanded after Late Show ended on May 20, 2015.[6]

Jazz musician Jonathan Batiste was announced by Colbert as the new Late Show's bandleader on June 4, 2015,[7] with his band, Stay Human, becoming the show's new house band.[8]

The band reassembled in 2016, again as The World's Most Dangerous Band, in order to record a self-titled album, released on March 17, 2017, followed by a tour.[1]


The band has released three albums:[3]

Band member timeline[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b c d e f (14 June 2010). "LATE SHOW Newsletter: Exclusive Top Ten, CBS Orchestra History and More!". CBS. This Week In Dave History. 
  4. ^ "David Letterman About Tipping". CBS (original), (archived copy with ads). Archived from the original on April 6, 2001. 
  5. ^ "When does the '2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony' air on HBO?". New Orleans Times-Picayune. May 30, 2015. Retrieved May 31, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Paul Shaffer is ready to disband 'Late Night's' CBS Orchestra". Chattanoga Times-Free Press. Associated Press. May 19, 2015. Retrieved May 20, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Stephen Colbert picks Jon Batiste as Late Show bandleader". Consequence of Sound. June 4, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Meet Stephen Colbert's New Late Show Bandleader, Jon Batiste". Vanity Fair. June 6, 2015. Retrieved June 7, 2015.