He began his career in 1972 as musical director of the Toronto production of “Godspell.” He played piano in “The Magic Show” on Broadway in 1974, then spent the next five years with the original “Saturday Night Live,” for which he played keyboards, composed special musical material and, in 1980, became a featured performer.
In 1977, he took a brief break from the show to star in the CBS comedy series “A Year at the Top,” produced by Norman Lear and Don Kirshner. After his return to “Saturday Night Live,” he collaborated with Gilda Radner on the songs for her Broadway show, in which he also appeared. He served as musical director for the Blues Brothers — John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd — on their double platinum album and national tour.
In addition to recording his own albums, “Coast to Coast” (1989) and “The World’s Most Dangerous Party” (1993), Shaffer has recorded with such diverse artists as Diana Ross, Yoko Ono and Robert Plant’s Honeydrippers. He composed the LATE SHOW theme song and, with Paul Jabara, wrote the Number One ’80s dance hit “It’s Raining Men,” performed by the Weather Girls and re-recorded by Geri Halliwell for the “Bridget Jones’s Diary” soundtrack, topping the British pop charts in 2001. In 2002, he received his first Grammy Award, for Best Country Instrumental, for the “Earl Scruggs and Friends” album. He also co-produced an avant-garde jazz album for his mentor, Tsziji Munoz, released on Dreyfus Records.
His feature film roles include Artie Fufkin in Rob Reiner’s “This Is Spinal Tap.” He also appeared in the Mike Nichols-directed “Gilda Live,” the Bill Murray movie “Scrooged” and with John Travolta in “Look Who’s Talking Too.” He is heard as the voice of Hermes in Disney’s animated feature “Hercules” and the television series based on the film. He produced the gold-selling soundtrack for and appeared in “Blues Brothers 2000″ and composed original songs for the movie “Strangers with Candy.”
Shaffer has served as musical director and producer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria since its inception in 1986. He led the band for the “We Are the World” finale of “Live Aid.” Shaffer hosted CBS’s 1994 New Year’s Eve special from New York’s Times Square and was musical director of the closing concert at the 1996 Olympic Games. He appeared with the Blues Brothers at the 1996 Super Bowl halftime show and was musical director of the 1999 “Concert of the Century” at the White House, featuring Eric Clapton, B. B. King, Gloria Estefan, ‘N Sync and others, to aid music programs in public schools. He was the musical director of Paul McCartney’s “Concert for New York” and appeared with Faith Hill on the “America: A Tribute to Heroes” telethon, both of which honored and raised money for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Shaffer holds two honorary doctorate degrees, was inducted into the National Black Sports and Entertainment Hall of Fame, and was recently awarded a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. He is currently the National Spokesperson for Epilepsy Canada. He lives in the New York area with his wife and two children.