The Roots are ready to rock, rap, jazz and even disco the set of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
by Danny Gallagher, posted Feb 27th 2009 9:20AM
The Roots are taking their new gig as the official house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon very seriously, even if their initial chances of scoring such a gig seemed like nothing more than a joke by a couple of the show's overworked staffers.
"We were the musical supervisors for [Chappelle's Show] season two and three ... and Dave's partner Neal Brennan was brought over as a consultant, and he sort of jokingly recommended The Roots as a house band," said Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson in a conference call last Tuesday with Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter. "I guess the joke was sort of like, you know, I dare you to ask them, even though they're too busy to take it."
The dare paid off. The seven-piece band jumped at the chance to become the first hip-hop group in television history to serve as the house band for a late night talk show. Their new regular gig premieres on Monday, but Thompson and Trotter said the group has been going through a grueling rehearsal schedule to prepare for the show.
Their days starts at 6 a.m. with a 90-minute bus ride from their native Philadelphia to New York and don't end until around midnight.
"We had to get used to actual rehearsing," Thompson said. "Seriously, we have never prepped so much for any project that we've ever done, including our actual show. Which actually, at the end of the day, will probably make this an even better machine once we return to the stage."
The torch has also been passed from the old show to the new one for the host and now its band. Fallon received a giant plastic pickle from Conan O'Brien that Letterman passed on to him when he took over NBC's 12:30 a.m. slot. Former Late Night house band leader Max Weinberg and his Max Weinberg 7, who will join O'Brien when he moves to L.A. despite reports to the contrary, also helped out the Roots during their rehearsals.
"[Weinberg] was really helpful on how to make this job as smooth as possible," Thompson said. "And coming from the loose sort of unstructured environment that we are used to where we're the only people, [he showed us] that we might have to readjust to a situation in which the focus point isn't necessarily on us per se."
And just like Weinberg and his band, the Roots will get to be the butt of some of Fallon's skits and jokes, Trotter said.
"There are a few things that we're kind of trying to work out now that might be established as recurring bits," Trotter said. "None of the members of the Roots object to, you know, taking part in any of the skits and stuff. We're totally open to working out new routines and hopefully establishing something that could be our own."
The band doesn't have their a trademark or signature catchphrase down just yet. "Like Arsenio and his let's get busy?" Thompson said with a laugh. "We're not quite there yet."
The music for the theme, guest intros and commercial intros and outros will feature an eclectic range of their original sound and other familiar tunes, such as when Fallon's former Weekend Update partner and 30 Rock star Tina Fey takes to the couch next week. Trotter said you'll have to watch to find out what they have on the set list.
"I think ?uestlove has something up his sleeve for Tina Fey, though," Trotter said. "Something other than the 30 Rock theme."
And the music will go far beyond just their songs or even hip-hop. "We like to show the wide range that we have, so we pretty much made 20 rock songs, 20 disco songs, 20 solo songs, 20 hip-hop songs, 20 jazz songs," Thompson said. "We've done 20 cheesy songs, cheesy 80s pop, you know. It's not a do or die situation, because even now ... we did about six more [Monday], so I think we're up to like 61 (songs). By Monday, we'll probably have about 100 ready to go."