You'd think somebody would have come up with this idea before now.
Musicians come in and out of your door every weeknight, often performing their
songs in unique, never-to-be-repeated fashions.
You have the tapes, so why not share them?
That's about all it took for Sheila Rogers, music segment producer for the TV
program Late Show with David Letterman and producer of the album
Live on Letterman: Music From the Late Show, to make the leap of logic
necessary to compile tracks from artists such as Lou Reed ("Sweet
Jane"), Lenny Kravitz ("Are You Gonna Go My Way"), Patti Smith ("Who Do You
Love"), Jewel and Flea ("You Were Meant For Me"), and R.E.M. ("Crush with
Eyeliner") into a celebration of the show's eclectic musical guests.
"It's a fairly obvious idea," Rogers said. "The big question really is why
didn't we do this sooner?"
The Letterman compilation, a 14-track album that
chronicles the late-night talker's four-year run at CBS, runs the gamut from
recent recordings of Paula Cole ("I Don't Want to Wait") to a rare 1994 duet
between country crooner Lyle Lovett and the Rev. Al Green on Willie Nelson's
"Funny How Time Slips Away" (RealAudio excerpt).
Though Conan O'Brien also recently released a compilation of performances from his
show, Letterman's album seems to be winning-over fans of both his show and
"The CD is doing quite well," said David Seamons, a buyer at a Tower Records
in New York located not too far from the Ed Sullivan Theater where the Late
Show is taped. "I think it's the artists on the CD that make this album especially appealing to fans."
The idea for the album actually came together several years ago when the
Letterman crew was still working at NBC, where the show got its start back in
the early '80s, Rogers said. "We were putting together a compilation tape for an
anniversary show," she explained, "And I was sitting there with [band leader]
Paul Shaffer and we're looking at the database and we saw all this great stuff
from Eric Clapton, Sinead O'Connor, R.E.M., and we put together a three-
minute reel that was a nice tease for what we had. But it made me think about
what great stuff we had in the vault. But then, of course, I went on to thinking about
booking the next show and forgot all about it."
The concept reared its head again recently and Rogers said that when she took
it to Letterman, "he loved the idea," and she set about narrowing down the
choices, presenting him with a list of possible performances to choose from. "I
got together a list of who I was interested in going after, looking for a good
range and diversity," Rogers said.
The result is an album that opens with a fragile bluegrass version of "Friend of
the Devil" performed by the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia (in one of his final
televised appearances prior to his death), with frequent collaborator David
Grisman on mandolin, that was taped during the Letterman show's first month
on CBS. That segues into a stripped-down "Strong Enough" from Sheryl Crow
and hits its stride, as far as unusual duets go, midway through with a
collaboration between Elvis Costello and legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach
on "God Give Me Strength" (RealAudio excerpt).
"That's a real rarity," said Rogers of the song from the Grace of My Heart
soundtrack, for which the pair hired a 16-piece string section to approximate the
song's lush, orchestrated sound. "Elvis is sort of a favorite around here, and
David had heard the song and it seemed like another great excuse to book
Elvis again. We contacted both of them and they were interested in performing it
live, since they never had before."
Also included are tracks from the Dave Matthews Band ("Too Much"), Aretha
Franklin ("Think"), Van Morrison, Sinead O'Connor and the Chieftains
collaborating on "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" and Rod Stewart
("Reason to Believe").
Though it is certain to garner attention because of its "Late Show" affiliation,
Rogers said she felt the eclectic CD stood on its own. "I think it's more of a rock
record than anything else," she said. [Wed., Dec. 3,
1997, 9 a.m. PDT]