Paul Shaffer had to wait until he was twelve before he got to Las Vegas for the first time. It was April, 1962. “We stayed at the Riviera,” Shaffer-the bandleader and musical director of NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman”-recalled when I spoke with him recently.
“Chancellor’s dinner: parents; the mayor; local dignitaries; friends who had come up for this thing. It was a little bit deadly. But I had my troops there. Rick Lazar-we used to refer to him as Funky Ricky. He’s got a band in Toronto now. He was the only one who didn’t have a straight job.
“Ricky-Funky Ricky-was always ahead of his time. He is of Assyrian origin, this guy. He has very dark skin, and so in the old days, as a sixteen year-old kid, he had a look about him. He looked like Willy DeVille looks now, or something. And pointed shoes. He was into dressing. He dressed outlandishly way back then, way before his ‘time. Even after I went away to college – even after I came to New York – I used to go back home and see Ricky, to find out what was happening. Down in his little basement, where, he had his apartment set up in his parents’ place, he kept up. He had a stack of Downbeat magazines: he knew what was going on. More so than I did. His contribution to the party was a version of James Brown’s ‘Living in America.’ With special lyrics-‘Living in-a Thunder Bay.’ And at the very end of it, quoting from the Young Rascals, he turned to me and said, ‘Doctor, Doctor, Mr. Ph.D. Play some-funky organ – play it one time for me.’ Then I went into a solo. It was a killing moment.
January 16, 1989