As Howard Shore told Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller for their epic “Live from New York: The Complete Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests,” he literally played the hiring of the band by ear. “I’m an avid collector of music and of jazz and R&B,” said Shore. “And I just called people I’d listened to on records.”
Many of these artists were based in New York City, so Shore — confident he could cobble together a reasonably talented band — got straight to work. The first order of business was to not replicate Doc Severinsen’s sound for “The Tonight Show”:
“I started to put the band together, started to write original music for the show, themes and original music for the band itself. The Carson show was big-band music. Although I sort of grew up in that a bit in the ’50s — Glen Miller and Ellington and Basie I listened to — the big-band thing was not really my generation. My generation was more R&B and rock and roll.”
Shore also reached out to fellow Canadian Paul Shaffer, who’d worked with Gilda Radner in the Toronto production of the musical “Godspell.” With the addition of such formidable musicians as “Blue” Lou Marini, Tom “Bones” Malone,” and Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin,” they leaned into an R&B sound that agreed with cast members Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, thus leading to the formation of The Blues Brothers Band.
Shore left the show in 1980 and committed to his career as a film music composer. His eerie orchestral compositions for David Cronenberg’s films somehow convinced Peter Jackson he was the man to write the epic themes of “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s a long way from Studio 8H to Middle-earth, but Shore traversed this distance as if he’d been pointed there all along.