Find me a good late night program without a good late night band and I'll show you a lost cause. Bands aren't window dressing nor are they merely musical accompaniment, commercial interlude, sidekick, comic foil or accessory, even though they are all of that, too.

The late night band is something deeply essential and necessary to the enterprise: Call it "heart" or "style" or "soul" or just a "beat" ... Call it "mood-setter" or "invitation to the party" or even "THE party."

Late-night TV currently has a solid lineup of gifted sidemen (and women): Cleto and the Cletones, Jimmy Vivino and The Basic Cable Band and, of course, that legendary Roots crew.

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On Wednesday, the most legendary crew of them all assembles for one final gig, and scatters from there. Employment should not be a problem: Each member of the "Late Show's" CBS Orchestra is already an accomplished session musician, or belongs to other bands, or has a resume that extends for pages. Its leader, Paul Shaffer, is Paul Shaffer. Enough said there. He's a legend.

Some members of this group have been together 40 years, others formed the core of "The World's Most Dangerous Band," "Late Night's" original crew.

The Orchestra is comprised of: Anton Fig (drums), Felicia Michele Collins (guitar, vocals), Sid McGinnis (guitar), Aaron Heick (sax), Frank Greene (trumpet), Will Lee (bass), and Tom Bones Malone (trombone, trumpet, sax ...).

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Other than newcomers Heick and Greene, these guys have jammed together 22 years; a few of them (Lee, McGinnis, Fig) go back 33 years. Their musical repertoire is vast, occasionally undifferentiated -- a nightly sprawl into jazz, funk, soul, blues, R&B or whatever meets the needs of the musical guest or the host.

In the very early days, when Bernie Worrell -- of the Parliament-Funkadelic -- was briefly a member, the Orchestra appeared to be heading to Funkytown... But funk was to be just one flavor of many.

One member of this team goes back 40 years, to 1975, when he was original music director of "Saturday Night Live" with Paul Shaffer.


I talked with "Bones" Malone Wednesday as he drove in from his home in Jersey.

Bones, born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in 1947, and Shaffer go way back -- to the beginning of "Saturday Night Live," when he was with the "SNL" band, later music director. He was a member of the original Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, and played himself in both movies.

He has also played with hundreds of stars in session and on stage (short list -- Ray Charles, BB King, Bette Midler, Garth Brooks, David Bowie, Buddy Rich, Jeff Beck, James Taylor, George Clinton, Lou Rawls, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross...) and thousands as a member of the CBS Orchestra...

Breaking up is hard to do a this has to be very hard. What's the feeling as the end date approaches?

"I'm not going to see these people every day and we've been in each others' lives for [22] years. We're a tight family....We share a dressing room and the level of humor we achieve in there before each broadcast is quite amazing a it's a frenzy and I'm going to miss that. I'm also going to miss a lot of other people who work on the cameras, great audio guys, and the one who mixes the music for the broadcast...a lot of relationships that go back even further than the show. It's like leaving home, or graduating high school or college for moving to another city. That kind of feeling ...

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 And you and Paul go waaay back, right?

"We were in the original band at 'SNL'...We would show up, Paul would improvise something on the piano, and I'd take that and turn it into a formal music arrangement.

Of course I have to ask you about the Blues Brothers: How did that all come about?

"I was with Danny and John in John's office in '78, and they had come up with these characters and they wore the same suits that didn't fit either of them. They asked me to write an arrangement, and I came up with 'Rocket 88' by James Cotton, which they did for Lorne [Michaels]. It didn't make the show. Then we used it to warm up the audience and got a response and the next week, we were still hot for the idea, so we did "Hey, Bartender" [by Floyd Dixon]. Lorne said, I don't see anything funny about the Blues Brothers...So we said, can we warm up? He said sure. The following week it was a dead issue, but after the read-through, Lorne says the show is three minutes short...Lorne said, 'we have nothing worthwhile, so we'll let you in the show, but at the end if it runs long we'll cut you...' We got on, the viewing audience loved it..."

You also had something to do with Paul's move to "Late Night"?

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"Paul had gone out to Los Angeles [to work on a sitcom] and I got a call from an associate producer for David Letterman who [talks about] a show moving to late night and needs a bandleader. She says 'I know you won't do it' [he was SNL music director at the time], but can you reach out to Paul...?' I gave her his phone number and didn't hear a thing and three weeks later, had the network feed on and there' s Paul, downstairs rehearsing...the rest is history." 

 What's next for you? "My new thing is playing with symphony orchestras. I also go around so schools and colleges and high school, and play with jazz bands and guest artist. So I think there a lot more of that in my future.