For four decades, Paul Shaffer was as much of a fixture of the twilight hours as the moon and the stars.
From 1975 to 1980, he was a prominent band member and featured player with the original “Saturday Night Live” cast, plumbing sketch comedy gold with his wonderfully wicked imitations of pop music impresario Don Kirshner. In 1982, he teamed with up-and-coming funnyman David Letterman, serving as musical director and sidekick on the groundbreaking NBC program “Late Night with David Letterman.” In 1993, Shaffer followed Letterman to CBS to continue with his musical and raconteur support on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and stayed with the program until its 2015 signoff.
Now, Shaffer is ready for his next challenge. Starting in April and running into July, he will undertake a North American tour — the first of his career — with The World’s Most Dangerous Band, the original NBC-era Letterman musical ensemble, in support of their new album titled (what else?) “Paul Shaffer & The World’s Most Dangerous Band.” One of those stops will be at The Ridgefield Playhouse on May 6.
For Shaffer, the transition from late-night TV studios to live music venues is a welcome change of pace, and he expresses no regrets about being away from the cameras.
“There’s nothing like it,” Shaffer said about TV. “We had such a fabulous run and a fabulous time. But you can’t have all the fun. You need to step aside and let others have fun.”
Shaffer is also pleased to see the new “Saturday Night Live” episodes commanding a kind of influence that the program has not seen in many years. “All of us are impressed at how long it has gone on and not run out of steam,” he said, adding that he usually catches the show’s current headline-grabbing antics after they transpire. “I flip by the show, but not regularly. I am not much of a watcher of late- night TV. But I keep up with it on the net.”
However, Shaffer’s schedule does not afford him much time for leisurely viewing. His tour kicks off April 1 at The Clemens Center in Elmira, New York, before swinging into Ridgefield.
“This particular stop is great for me because I go to The Ridgefield Playhouse all of the time,” the Bedford resident said, adding that he has occasionally made surprise guest appearances on the Ridgefield stage — most recently last August during a Loretta Lynn concert.
For the Ridgefield performance, Shaffer is bringing another music icon onstage with him. “Our special guest is the great Valerie Simpson. She wrote so many Motown classics and taught me about soul music when I was in college. And, of course, she sang with Nickolas Ashford as the duo Ashford and Simpson. She’s a marvelous singer and I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
And what can the Ridgefield audience expect from Shaffer? “A show has to be more than a series of songs,” he explained. “I have so many stories of people I idolized as a kid that I got to work with. This will be the culmination of years of learning.”
Indeed, Shaffer’s career stretched far beyond his beloved late-night TV hijinks. Born in Ontario, he first gained attention when composer Stephen Schwartz invited him to be the musical director for the 1972 Toronto production of “Godspell,” starring Victor Garber as Jesus (a role he repeated in the 1973 film version) and a supporting cast of then-unknown comedy performers that included Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas and Eugene Levy. Schwartz brought Shaffer to Broadway in 1974 as the orchestra pianist for “The Magic Show,” starring illusionist Doug Henning. Following his “Saturday Night Live” and Letterman fame, Shaffer became a ubiquitous presence in many films and television productions, most notably as the world’s worst music promoter in the cult film favorite “This is Spinal Tap” and as the voice of Hermes in Disney’s animated feature “Hercules.” And, as “Seinfeld” fans know, Shaffer famously failed to return a 1989 phone call from Jerry Seinfeld to discuss playing the George Costanza role in the series’ pilot episode.
But if sitcom immortality eluded him, Shaffer’s music career compensated with such achievements as co-writing the dance music classic “It’s Raining Men” and playing keyboards on The Honeydrippers’ 1984 No. 1 “Sea of Love.” Oddly, the new “Paul Shaffer & The World’s Most Dangerous Band” is only his third album — and the last one came out in 1993. For this go-round, Shaffer promised an eclectic lineup.
“The new album plays like a variety show,” he stated. “We have a number of special guests including Shaggy, the great Jamaican toasting rapper, and Bill Murray drops by to do some singing on ‘Happy Street.’ We have covers of some classic tunes, and we also whipped up a few original things.”
However, there is a major caveat in Shaffer’s touring: The shows will be two or three gigs per week spread out liberally across each month. No road warrior, he.
“It is not that kind of a tour with a bus,” he said. “I tried a bus once and I don’t know how they do it. We are structuring the shows close to each of the places where we’re performing.”
In between his gigs, Shaffer plans to enjoy quality time with his wife Cathy, his children Victoria and Will, and their pet family.
“We have two wonderful dogs, both half-Labs and both rescue dogs,” he said. “We got them when the kids were young. Our son also has bunny in his room and that gets to go outside in summer. Our daughter has two dogs of her own — a Chihuahua mix and a huge Alsatian Shepard — and when she brings them all, all the dogs get along.”
Chez Shaffer, it’s raining pets.
For tickets and more on Paul Shaffer’s Ridgefield gig, visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org.