Drummer Ed Shaughnessy Dies At 84

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'Tonight Show' band member sat behind drum kit for nearly three decades

Ed Shaughnessy, who held down the drum chair on “The Tonight Show” for nearly three decades, died May 24 of a heart attack in Calabasas. He was 84.

From 1963 to 1992, Shaughnessy held one of the most coveted gigs in TV, after he joined bandleader Doc Severinsen’s unit on the NBC show. He arrived at the job after a studio stint, and had feared the work would be similarly boring. He had to be convinced to take the date for two weeks.

He later said in an interview with the Percussive Arts Society, “When I got up there and Doc Severinsen was the lead trumpet player, Clark Terry was sitting next to me in the jazz trumpet chair, and there were all these great players, I said, ‘My God, this is not your ordinary studio situation.’ When the two weeks were over and they asked if I wanted to stay, I said I sure would.”

Shaughnessy was born in Jersey City, NJ, and began studying drums to escape an unhappy home life. As a youth, he was befriended by his first idol, swing and bop drummer Big Sid Catlett. As a teenager, he apprenticed with trumpeter Charlie Ventura and joined Benny Goodman’s band in 1950. He went on to work in the Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie orchestras, and would record with Gene Ammons, Dizzy Gillespie, Oliver Nelson and Jimmy Smith, among others.

On the small screen, Shaughnessy supported such variety show stars as Steve Allen and Garry Moore. But he gained his greatest renown on “The Tonight Show” during the era when host Johnny Carson reigned late-night TV and trumpeter Severinsen led one of the hottest big bands visible on TV. He exited the show with Carson’s retirement in 1992.

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  1. RH says:

    Ed was truly an inspiration and one of the giants of our time. You will be sorely missed by all of the drummers in this world. My warmest condolences to the Shaughnessy family.

  2. Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the internet the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people think about worries that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  3. sal cannavo says:

    God rest your soul Ed,gonna miss you Sal and Co Vintage Drum Fiasco and Sam Ash.

    • A Fan of Ed says:

      I got to see Ed Shaughnessy in the mid-nineties when he was rehearsing a band for a gig he was playing in Salt Lake City (no kidding). I had gone to my own band’s rehearsal space which was where Ed was that day with a pick up band. Couldn’t believe how incredible it was to hear his playing while standing about 10 feet away from him. He was so laid back, relaxed and friendly as he took these local players through their paces. Always dug him on the Tonight Show and never forgot how his personality was just as cool…. RIP Ed.

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