Stop The Presses!

?uestlove & The Roots Gearing Up for ‘Tonight Show’

Stop The Presses!

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Photo: Andrew H. Walker

Besides the recent release of their acclaimed collaboration with Elvis Costello, Wake Up Ghost & Other Stories, and their nightly duties of serving as the house band for "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," ?uestlove and The Roots, and the rest of the Fallon crew, are gearing up for their move to "The Tonight Show" in the coveted 11:30 p.m. timeslot on Feb. 24 of next year.

In a recent interview, ?uestlove gave props to another late-night bandleader who made the move from 12:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. back in 2009, when Fallon show moved into their old timeslot. "I absolutely acknowledge Paul Schaffer as the king of the walk-on song," ?uestlove says of David Letterman's long-time sidekick and bandleader of the World's Most Dangerous Band. "For me, I want to be the prince of the late night walk-on song. I felt my way to make my mark in television history was to come up with really descriptive songs for that the person, the project, or the movie; basically try to 'this is your life' them for those 10 seconds that they got to walk from the curtain to the couch."

Usually ?uestlove and the Roots are spot on, often digging deep to impress the show's guests, as was the case with Costello, when they once performed a jingle for R. White's Lemonade written by Elvis' father, Ross MacManus, and featuring a young Costello, then known as Declan MacManus, on backing vocals and bass. He has also had a rare controversial misfire back in November 2011 when the Roots played a cover of Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass B***h" for Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

As time goes by and celebrities turn up for second and third appearances, ?uestlove says the walk-on music game is getting a little more complex. "Now that people are familiar with the show, there's a weird pressure on us now. Now they expect something, like, 'What song are you going play for me? What are you going to hit me with?'"

Speaking of pressure, then there's task of writing a new theme song for "The Tonight Show." Says ?uestlove, "We're trading musical ideas. Everyone is sort of lining up wanting to give me musical ideas. 'Why don't you do this?' 'Why don't you do that?'"

?uestlove points out that for the first time in the history, the show's band will not be called "The Tonight Show Band," rather they'll continue to go by the Roots. He also reveals "this is also probably the first time in which there won't be a horn section."

For now, ?uestlove and the Roots are keeping their options open. "We're the type of people that if the inspiration comes and hits us, we'll know for sure this is the theme, but I'm thinking about it every waking moment."

?uestlove calls the iconic Paul Anka-penned "Tonight Show" theme heard during the Johnny Carson years, as"classic as hell." He adds, "If history allows [the new "Tonight Show"] theme to go down in the hall of fame, I'll be happy. I was kind of happy with 'Here I Come' [the 2006 Roots' song that serves at the current "Late Night" theme], but I guess it's symbolic that we should move to something else and I'm certain that will happen."

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