Paul Shaffer is on the line, and he has an important announcement.
It’s about the show he’s fronting at Caesars Palace’s Cleopatra’s Barge. “Paul Shaffer and the Shaf-Shifters” opens at 8 p.m. Thursday and runs through the weekend, with dates continuing Oct. 11 to 13 and Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 (tickets start at $49, available at the Caesars Palace website).
But that is not the announcement. Rather, Shaffer has been sending out feelers to his famous friends to spice up this Vegas lounge revival. For weeks, we’ve bantered about who would join the band on stage, and we talked of this possibility again last month.
Shaffer has hit the mark with one of these well-known individuals.
“You had asked me, did I make any calls to my celebrity friends?” Shaffer said Tuesday. “Well, one has come through, specifically, for Thursday night … and it’s one I’m particularly excited about.”
This is where it gets tricky, as Shaffer attempts a bit of misdirection befitting magician Mac King’s show.
“I wanted to tell you, but I don’t totally want to give away the surprise,” Shaffer says. “In this person’s case, it’s a person who is a little bit private, always. But it’s a former boss of mine, a person for whom I have worked, and I’m thrilled this is happening.”
So, better late than never, we have figured this out. Shaffer’s next guest needs no introduction.
We will remind, in keeping with the mystique of Shaffer’s residency, he did work for David Letterman for 33 years. When I asked Shaffer if this boss of his toggled two networks, he said, “To answer that — I’d have to plead the Fifth. Or, not testify. I’ll not testify at all.”
Shaffer’s coy approach is an attempt to generate buzz while keeping his guest’s identity a secret. Don’t count on it. Even Siegfried & Roy, billed as Masters of the Impossible, would find that impossible.
But certainly Shaffer has a history in Vegas with Letterman, when “Late Night” taped for week at Bally’s in May 1987. The cavalcade of Vegas performers-of-the-moment included Sammy Davis Jr., Robert Goulet, Jerry Vale, Rip Taylor, Lola Falana, the Sacca Brothers, crossbow artist Hans Pantar, Clint Carvalho and his Exotic Birds, and showgirls from “Jubilee.”
Shaffer was right at home, even if his boss was not.
“Dave came out to introduce Sammy and he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt,” Shaffer recalls. “He didn’t know exactly how to dress in Las Vegas.”
Actually, Letterman was dressed as a tourist in today’s Las Vegas.
“He was prescient, as it turns out,” Shaffer says. “Far ahead of his time by Vegas standards.”
Shaffer recalls Sammy wiping out the place with “For Once in My Life,” on Davis’ second spin through the song.
“Sammy was so, so great, but he really did not want to rehearse, because he’d flown all night from Boston,” Shaffer says. “But we needed him to do one run-through to set the lights. He performed the number on the show, which was the second number, and it was great. But it was not as great as the rehearsal. I learned my lesson. I should have listened to Sammy.”
Shaffer is passionate about re-creating the days when live entertainment ruled Las Vegas, especially in the lounges when Louis Prima & Keely Smith with Sam Butera and the Witnesses raged at Sahara’s Casbar lounge. He drew an assortment of entertainers in his run in December and January — with Bill Medley and Bucky Heard of the Righteous Brothers, Martin Short, Penn Jillette, Sonny Charles of the Checkmates, Mirage headliner Terry Fator, bass great Will Lee of The World’s Most Dangerous Band, and Martha Wash (of The Weather Girls, who performed “It’s Raining Men”) on the scene.
David Perrico, helmsman of Pop Evolution and producer of the newly formed Pop 40 at Cleopatra’s Barge, serves as Shaffer’s own bandleader. The musical lineup is stacked with Vegas vets, with Shaffer as the exalted master of ceremonies.
Gearing up for his opener, Shaffer says of Thursday’s guest, “He is certainly aware of my fixation with Las Vegas.”
“My old boss who is coming is going to take the stage,” Shaffer says. “He’ll do what he does, what he’s famous for doing.” Expect a top-notch, and maybe top 10, experience.