The CBS Orchestra is the house band, led by Paul Shaffer, that plays for David Letterman's CBS late-night talk show, Late Show with David Letterman. Minus its horn section and second guitarist, it was previously known as The World's Most Dangerous Band (WMDB) from 1982 to 1993, during the group's tenure as the house band for NBC's Late Night with David Letterman.
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 after a little over a year. 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 Friday nights.
When Late Night transformed into The Late Show in 1993, the band was greatly expanded. Felicia Collins was added as a second guitarist; 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.
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. 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).
Paul Shaffer on keyboards, and vocals (August 1993-present),
Anton Fig on drums and percussion (August 1993-present),
Felicia Collins on guitar, vocals, and percussion (August 1993-present),
Sid McGinnis on guitar, pedal steel guitar and vocals (August 1993-present),
Will Lee on bass guitar and vocals (August 1993-present),
Tom Malone on trombone, trumpet, saxophone, piccolo and percussion (November 1993-present),
Aaron Heick on saxophone (August 2012-present),
Frank Greene on trumpet and percussion (August 2012-present),
Bernie Worrell on synthesizers (August 1993-November 1993),
Bruce Kapler on saxophone, flute, and vocals (November 1993-February 2012),
Al Chez on trumpet, vocals, and percussion (February 1997-July 2012),
The World's Most Dangerous Band:
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),
Anton Fig on drums and percussion (1986-1993),
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. Of late, Michael Bearden has 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.
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.
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 current name ("Paul Shaffer and The CBS Orchestra" ) dates from the start of the show on CBS in 1993. The band has no direct relationship to any former CBS Orchestras heard on the CBS Radio Network, and is not featured on CBS programming outside of Late Show.
Beyond the Late Show:
Besides being the house band for The Late Show, the group has also been the house band for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies since 1986. 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.