Throwback Thursday: The Late Show With David Letterman

Two years ago this week, the final episode of The Late Show With David Letterman aired. David was a staple of the late night talk show block, and he left a long lasting model and legacy for current talk show hosts. During the final week of his show, a lot of musicians I know posted photos of their performances on the The Late Show. One thing about the David Letterman show was that they were absolutely fearless in bringing on musical acts of all types from all over the world. 

I want to give a huge shout out to the Letterman band’s bassist, the great Will Lee. For those of you who may not know who Will is, just check his discography on his website. Will is one of the most recorded bassists, ever, and one of the nicest dudes in the business. Both times I performed on Letterman, Will was super excited to see me and if we were lucky enough to chat, we would discuss, what else?…bass gear!

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What I will miss most about the David Letterman show is the theme music the Paul Schaffer Orchestra would play at the top of the program. As soon as the announcer slowly draws out “Daaaavid Letterman” the band, consistently, starts to swing even harder right before the saxophone solo and Will would let the second note of the shuffle he played, hang as long as he could. It felt like being dropped in airplane turbulence where you have this lofty suspension that turns into this heavy and a strong hit when you finally level out. I have always wanted that feel in my own playing and I try that one note bomb drop anytime I am in a blues shuffle.

My memories of the two times I performed on Letterman are similar to all my friends posting about their experiences. You felt humbled by all of those who performed before you and you were grateful at the chance to be seen on national television. When you are there, you hear that Mr. Letterman is upstairs above your dressing room and other guests are being hustled in. But what stays with you the most is how cold that studio is when you step inside it for rehearsal. It has to be in the 40+ degree temperature range. When you realize that all your friends who have played it before you were not exaggerating, you start layering the clothes on so you can get through your 3-4 minutes.

When The Mars Volta played, I had a bicycle racing latex shirt underneath my button up shirt and when I was on with Deltron 3030, I put a thermal on over my shirt. I can remember doing pushups and step ups on a chair backstage…so much so that by the time we walked on, I was sweating underneath all my clothes.

As far as the actual performances, they were both such quick blasts that not much sticks with you but making sure you hit your parts. I mean, I have one of the greatest bassists in the world across the room from me and I don’t want him to think I am clowning up there! But seriously, both times, I really don’t remember too much except that on the Mars Volta performance, I didn’t want to fall over Ikey’s riser or the drum riser and on the Deltron 3030 performance, I didn’t want to jump on the DOD Meatbox at my feet by accident and have my subharmonic low end vibrate through the entire orchestra microphone setup!

Over the years, there have been several great musical acts on Letterman but a couple I remember standing out were when the Beastie Boys played and everytime Outkast played. Both acts had unique approaches to the traditional Late Show music performances that made me want to see these acts live (well, at that time, I had already seen the Beastie Boys a few times).

The late night television appearance did exactly what it was designed to do…it offered musical entertainment to the show and it helped artists reach a broader audience. Bravo David Letterman! You helped music and musicians survive and thrive and we will always appreciate it!

-Juan