Earlier this month we started a new column called Letterman Music Files devoted to
sharing amazing musical performances from David Letterman's tenure as host of NBC's Late
Night and CBS's The Late Show. The first installment featured Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir in 1989. Today we present the second
Dave welcomed the "Godfather Of Soul," aka James Brown, to Late Night during his
first season as host in 1982. Unlike 99.99% of musical acts who wound up visiting the
program, Letterman respected James Brown enough to let him perform multiple songs. James
Brown delivers phenomenal versions of "Sex Machine," "There Was A Time" and an impromptu
on "I Got The Feeling."
James Brown was backed by Late Night's "World's Most Dangerous Band," which
featured Paul Shaffer, Will Lee, Steve Jordan and Hiram Bullock at that time, along with
the JB Horns. Shaffer recounted the evening in his We'll Be Here For The Rest Of Our
The best move I ever made was to perform with Mr. Brown on Letterman. His first
appearance came in 1982 when we were on NBC.
"Mr Brown," I said, "this is the honor of a lifetime. Just tell me what you'd like to
His answer astonished me. "What do you guys want to play, Paul?"
At the time, my World's Most Dangerous Band featured the great Will Lee on bass plus Steve
Jordan, drums, and Hiram Bullock, guitar - three brilliant cats. I let the band pick the
songs. Steve said, "Sex Machine" for the drumming. Hiram said, "There Was a Time" for the
rhythm guitar. Will was cool with all of it.
On "Sex Machine," James wanted a fast tempo. That's the tradition of live R&B. It's all
about energy. Steve Jordan, though, was a young buck who wanted to re-create the groove
he'd heard on wax. He didn't quite understand that when you deal with the Godfather of
Soul, you put the groove where he wants it. James won out and the funk got thick. He
played his short keyboard solo and at the end of the song slapped me ten. I told him I
wouldn't wash my hands for a week. During the break, as the band played a small portion of
"I Got the Feeling," James took note.
When we were back on the air, James said, "Hey Dave, you know what I'd like to do right
now? Before you close, can we close with 'I Got the Feeling?' "
"Sure thing," said Dave. "Soon as we come back from one more break."
Once the commercial was over, we hit it: an unrehearsed full-blown version of "I Got the
Feeling." The audience went crazy. Dave joined the James Brown Fan Club.
Watch how it went down: