The Late Show taped and broadcast its last show on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Immediately after the taping that night, work crews began dismantling the set. The following day, remains of the entire studio — the set, the audience seats, everything — began to be placed in truck-sized dumpsters outside, available for public scavenging.
By Friday, barricades had been put up to restrict access of the outside trash to authorized personnel only.
The following Monday evening, May 25, I was in the area having dinner with my dad and step-family. Afterwards, I wanted to take the last photos of the Late Show marquee before, I was told, it was to be torn down the following day (it would end up being a few days later).
I then decided to walk around the corner to W. 53rd St. to see if the barricades were still up. They weren’t. There were just several small dumpsters by the sidewalk. There were no crowds.
I inspected two of the accessible dumpsters and discovered that one was filled with CDs and videotapes. (Visible here are just the CDs. The tapes are over to the right.)
As I was scooping up the videotapes, others began to gather by the second accessible dumpster. They had no interest in what I was looking for, because they no longer had VCRs. I had the CDs and tapes dumpster to myself. (Later they noticed the CDs, and I told them they were all theirs as soon as I was done with the tapes.)
I also found a basket, and the plan was to fill it with the tapes and carry it back home. But I soon realized that it was too small to fit everything; I’d need something larger. I noticed a giant double trash-bag on the ground, filled with food scraps. I separated the outer bag and filled it up with the tapes. A security guard told me to make sure that I left the sidewalks clear before I split. That’s all that concerned him; he didn’t care what I was collecting.
I dragged the increasingly-brittle bag down to the street corner on 8th Ave. and caught a cab home. While lifting the bag, it began to tear at the bottom, but I was able to retrieve the tapes slipping out onto the street.
I made it home, the bottom of the bag now nearly disintegrated but all tapes now safely in the apartment.
I spent the next week digitizing some of the tapes. I learned that they had been in Late Show writer Joe Grossman’s office; he had left them behind for workers to toss out after he and everyone else on the staff had departed for good. Around half of the tapes were live feeds of news events. The other half consisted of raw production footage that captured the rehearsals and takes of comedy segments Joe had written for the show and, after editing, would be scheduled to air at a later date (though a few never did). There was other show-related material on the tapes whose beginnings had been erased in place of the new production footage. I digitized that, too.
Update: I was asked to remove the videos I had uploaded. I willingly obliged. Maybe someday in the future.
First and foremost: This was neither my creation nor promotion. Some have suspected it’s a play on “The Fonz,” but it’s not. Here’s what happened:
In the mid-Eighties, I was working as a music editor at a publishing house in midtown Manhattan. One of the art directors, Mary Ellen (“M.E.”) Morganteen would add an “s” or a “z” to our names. For the hell of it.
Here’s a memo from 1986 that cc’s “Stan” as “Stans”:
And here’s a note from M.E. to me from June 20, 1986:
Somewhere along the way “The” was added, here also from 1986. Note the “z” is missing:
The music project ended in mid-1987, and with that everyone working on it went their separate ways, nearly all into other publishing houses or their own companies. I began my career as a freelance music typesetter.
Three years later I signed up to AOL and selected “Donz” as my screen name. But it was already taken, as were “Donz1,” “Donz2,” “Donz3,” and “Donz4.” So I grabbed the next available slot with “Donz5.”
In the mid-Nineties, as I began cultivating contacts with David Letterman’s writers, producers, and musicians, they would soon refer to me as “Donz,” and soon after “The Donz.”
The writers even got Dave in on the action when they composed a Top Ten list to commemorate the launch of the Late Show’s web site in May 1998:
And now I’m stuck with it for life. Here’s an excerpt from an episode of the “Upgrade” podcast, June 24, 2019, with Jason Snell and Andy Ihnatko:
“I’d like to know more about your Letterman databases, please,” said no one ever.
I. The Background
I had been compiling written logs for the first three-plus years of Late Night while recording most of the shows onto audio cassettes. Because I lacked a VCR until mid-February 1985, I’d scribble as much detail as I could so that it would hopefully remind myself what the various sight gags had been if and when I would ever convert those notes into something more permanent, like, say, a digital database. Here’s one page from the audio cassette logs, late December 1983:
I also lacked a computer, and so the search was on for what sort of database application would work best on an as-yet-to-be-determined machine. I had been working two jobs in the early ’80s as a graduate student in Historical Musicology at Columbia U.: The first was during the day in the Ethnomusicology Department, where I would dub and catalog rare reel-to-reel World Music audio tapes for the department’s archives; at night I’d be in the university’s computer lab, inputting Busnoy chansons in their original mensural notation, one coded note at a time, for a database project that would facilitate manuscript source comparisons.
It was the Busnoys project that suggested to me the potential of databases, and I wanted to see how such a project could lend itself towards organizing my Late Night logs. The Ethno. Dept. had bought its first non-networked multi-sectioned IBM behemoth in 1983 (256K RAM as I recall), and it intimidated the hell out of me with all of the time-consuming coding required to accomplish the most simple tasks. It wasn’t for me.
In 1984 I checked out my friend’s home Kaypro to see how it could handle databases. Its rigidity in creating fields and its search limitations left me unimpressed. I scratched that one off the list, too.
I found work as a music editor in an educational book-publishing company in midtown Manhattan in February 1985, a week after I had purchased my first VCR. The offices were networked with Wang computers — built for basic text editing, non-existent for graphics and databases. That summer, the computer manager had the company purchase a Macintosh; it was the earliest model at the time, a self-enclosed unit with a 9″ (diagonal) display, one internal 400K floppy drive, and RAM at a whopping 128K. He kept it on his mostly-abandoned office desk and invited anyone to test-drive it.
I was among the few who did. There was one “feature” that I found intriguing — the ability to sort the Finder window any way one wanted — by name, by file size, by date created. That flexibility was just what I was looking for, so any database that could do that was what I wanted.
At the time, there were several affordable database-focused applications for the Mac, all targeted for the business/finance world: Jazz, Excel, and OverVue. What attracted me to OverVue was that it was RAM-based, which meant processing speed would be much faster than disk-based, depending on the amount of RAM available (it would take Jazz five minutes just to load). Also, OverVue allowed for multi-paragraph-length text cells, a feature then missing in Excel and Jazz.
So in August 1985, I walked over to midtown’s 48th Street Photo and got a free demo of OverVue.
(Standing beside me at the counter was Will Lee. He was there shopping for a computer. I had never met him before, so we chatted for a few seconds, and after I picked up the demo disk and began walking out, I turned around and yelled back, “Get the Mac!”)
I launched OverVue into the office Mac. Because it was a demo, file-saving was disabled, but after inputting just a few fields and rows, I knew that this was just what I needed. It was time to finally buy a Mac for myself.
That happened a month later, in late September 1985. It was the most current model, a 512K RAM monster. The first applications I bought were Word and OverVue. I finally began to create my first Letterman database, transferring all of the hard-copy logs I had compiled since 1982 into the application. The best part was its flexibility; I could expand and create more fields whenever I wanted. It allowed for anticipating data not yet available as well as adding details that would become useful down the line.
It’d be ten years later when, in 1995, I finished inputting all of my Late Night data, then in a 1988-purchased Mac II, later upgraded to a IIfx. (There’d be subsequent desktop Macs bought — a PowerMac 7600 in November 1996; a G4 in April 2000, a MacPro in March 2007, and the MacPro trashcan model in August 2014.) By the early ’90s, OverVue had changed its name to Panorama, and it still thrives today. I use maybe 10% of its capabilities, but it fully serves my purposes.
II. The Databases
A. The Late Night Database (SSIDB)
1. The Source Material
The bulk of my Late Night database came from both my audio cassette and videotape logs. But it wasn’t complete. While I watched and logged in the shows, it was clear that there was a lot of information I didn’t have at the time — song titles, obscure guest spellings, shows taped on days other than when aired.
Much of that information was filled in when, in the mid-’90s, I received logs of the complete Late Night inventory from various sources. I had begun a phone correspondence with the producer of E!’s “Smothers Brothers” syndication in 1992, and when the network began airing Late Nights in December 1993, the Smothers Brothers producer connected me with the person handling the Late Night account.
Through that contact, I was sent E!’s Late Night log in 1994. It listed all show dates, comedy bits, guests, song titles. Here’s the first page, from 1982:
Around a year later, someone at the Late Show handed me a copy of NBC’s own log of the shows. It included more details, mostly pertaining to NBC concerns, such as repeats and contract restrictions. Here’s one page from that log, from 1985:
A short while after I had acquired the NBC log, I was given another log that had been prepared by then-Late Night staffers Barbara Gaines, Barbara Sheehan, and, for a while, Jay Johnson. The three were positioned behind the stage, keeping track of what was going on in front by way of a tv monitor. One version, sent to me from California in ’94, had been compiled in 1989. It was titled “Almost Eight Years.” The final version included the entire 11 1/2-year run of the show, and it was titled, appropriately, “Eleven Years”:
Two sample pages from “The Gaines Log” from 1987 and 1991:
The last log I received was the ‘Talent Payments” book, begun in mid-1984 and stopped in the Spring of ’93. It kept a record of who appeared on each show and how much they were paid. The payment data has been blackened out, but the log’s value was more in the inventory of names. One sample page from 1989 (the week in Chicago):
Both the Gaines and Talent Payments logs have since been scanned and converted into searchable PDFs.
In addition to the hard-copy logs, starting in the mid ’90s I began cultivating contacts with writers, producers, and musicians from Dave’s Late Night and Late Show years. Through them I gained back-stories to comedy material, guests, musical memories, and histories of the writers’ tenures. And a whole lot more. It all went into both the Late Night and NYC Musicians databases (more on the latter below).
2. The Contents
The SSIDB consists of several elements:
a. Basic information on show numbers, dates, and repeats. Here’s a sample image from mid-November 1985 to early January ’86:
b. Broadcast sources from my collection. A sample image from the same period.
c. Sources from others via trades and acquisitions. (Image not provided due to some requests for anonymity.)
d. The main course: Show and band details.
The show details. Each cell contains as much information as I currently have. Here are two screen captures for June 12, 1985, the day “The Late Night Anthem” premiered. Included are details of its origins (because it’s so long, I copied the contents into TextEdit; otherwise, it would have taken 10 pages):
The band details. Each cell consists of all band members who played throughout any particular show. From this data I can locate any participating musician and band (David Sanborn, Bruce Kapler, Charley Drayton, Tower of Power horns, etc.) and determine total counts for each. Two examples from February 25, 1982, and September 14, 1988:
Much of the band information is collated into the “Into the Index” database, detailed below.
e. Various miscellaneous fields: Top Ten lists, TV Guide listings, Viewer Mail running count (establishing that Mark Hamill’s totals were way off), my pre-VCR audio cassette catalog, Cold Open intros to repeats, and other stuff for future video compilation projects.
3. The Name
Why it’s lovingly called the SSIDB: It’s short for “Super-Secret-Informational-Database,” and it springs from the following alt.fan.letterman newsgroup thread from the week of July 2004. Based on a skeptic who suspected and therefore resented that I must have had a privileged entry into a secret online source for all things Dave. Despite hints from fellow posters, he refused to consider the possibility that the information I had been sharing in the newsgroup had all been derived from my own files. The thread, initiated by another fan of mine, was titled “Donz5 Sux Ass.” I couldn’t have been more proud.
In 1995, I unexpectedly received a package from one of the Late Show producers. It consisted of hundred-plus-page printouts of two databases that Late Night staffers had put together throughout the show’s years at NBC. One consisted of guests, the other of comedy segments. The printouts were sorted in alphabetical order. Here’s the first page of the Guest printout:
And the first page of the Comedy printout:
I scanned the printouts, then, after fixing the OCR errors, I combined them into one database. Rather than alphabetical, I arranged the data by show date/number. Here’s a sample screen capture from June 1983:
I could now search and sort anything I wished. Such as the band members, which I added from the SSIDB. Here’s a sample image showing all of the times bassist Neil Jason subbed for Will Lee during Late Night’s first two-and-a-half years and, in most cases, the reasons for Will’s absences:
The “Into the Index” database is far from finished, as I continue to add staff information from the Talent Payments log, such as those seen in the “Players” field from the first screen capture.
I had also separately received a printout log of Dave’s 1980 morning shows, so I incorporated all of that data into this same file.
Searching through the SSIDB, the Gaines log, the Talent Payments log, and the “Into the Index” log, I can find nearly everything I’m looking for.
C. Closing Credits Database
Every so often there’d be enough time in the Late Night hour to include a full closing credit. I compiled nearly all of them into my “Closing Credits” database. A sample screen capture from July 7, 1982:
Again, now inputted, searching and sorting is a snap. Here’s a search for Barbara Gaines. You can see her gradually rise during the 1982-1989 period from Third Production Assistant to Production Coordinator. (By 2015 she’d be one of Late Show’s Executive Producers.)
There’s another field, not shown, with biographies of and notes from many staffers.
Also not yet finished; there are around 40 more Closing Credits to input.
D. NYC Clubs Database
I spent the mid-’90s summers in the Columbia U. library microfilm room, where I searched its microfilms of Village Voices from the early ’60s up to when I began collecting the hard-copy issues after I moved to NYC in the Fall of ’78. I was initially interested in tracking the Late Night band members’ careers — their recording sessions and public performances, mostly NYC-centric — but it soon expanded into something broader, tracing the career whereabouts of countless other selected musicians (such as members from Encyclopedia of Soul/Stuff; Steps Ahead/Steps; the Brecker Brothers, Larry Coryell, Joe Beck, Steve Marcus, Mike Mainieri, and many, many more).
Here’s one page of notes from January 1977:
And here’s the same data, plus all of February 1977, as input into the NYC Clubs database:
Here’s one of the “Musicians” cells opened up, from Mike Lawrence’s gig at Mikell’s on January 9, 1977:
And, finally, an opened cell from the “Comments” field from the same January 9th gig, an email from Hiram Bullock:
There are currently over 19,000 entries, and its far from complete. Much more to input.
E. Non-Late Night Database
This database consists of as many of Dave’s broadcast appearances as I could find before his career landed at NBC. It includes game shows, Tonight Show guest and guest-host dates (and his guests), and singular appearances. A sample image from 1976 to early ’79, with some air dates still to be determined:
F. Music/Bumpers Database
This one began this year. It documents every song Paul’s band performed during the commercial breaks, as well as all of the bumpers used within those breaks. It’s only up to September 1982 so far. A sample screen capture from June/July 1982:
G. ManWhos Database
Another ongoing project, inputting all of Bill Wendell’s show introductions, in two sections, “From New York…” and “And now, a man who…” A sample image from late March to late April 1982:
H. The Late Show Databases
I maintained my own bare-bones Late Show databases: One consisted of guests and performers throughout the show’s 22-year run; the other focused on the more basic data — dates taped, aired, and repeated and where they could be found in my videotape collection. It’s since expanded to include other show-specific details, such as band song titles as compiled by Micah While from 2002 until 2007.
I plan to incorporate other logs into the latter database: one put together by Late Show media producer Walter Kim from 1993 to September 1996, all of the Wahoo Gazettes that Production Coordinator Mike McIntee had published in Late Show’s online sites from late 1998 until the end in May 2015, and Supreme-Fan David Yoder’s logs that he had maintained throughout all of Late Show. Walter’s and Mike’s are in Word, while David’s is in PDF format.
A couple months after Late Show ended, I was sent the show’s own databases, split up, like their Late Night counterparts, into two categories: Guests, and Comedy Segments, but here as Excel files rather than printouts. Like all projects of this enormous size, it was not error-free: A few music acts would find themselves in the Comedy database; there’d be some misspellings, which would make searching more difficult; and some guests would be missing. All minor and fixable, but it meant that all of those end-of-show stats that were made available to the media were incorrect.
Still, it was an invaluable resource, and once I had converted and combined both Excel files into one Panorama database, organized it into a more accessible format (for me), and corrected errors when I found them, it ended up saving a ton of time when looking for nearly any detail.
So, as with the Late Night data, combined searches through Walter Kim’s and David Yoder’s logs, Mike McIntee’s Wahoo Gazettes, and the Late Show’s own databases, as well as my own, I can find nearly everything thrown at me.
I. You Tube Videos Database
Lastly, my You Tube Videos Database. It seemed wise to keep track of the 1,400-plus videos I’d so far uploaded onto my You Tube channel, and a database was the logical solution. It’s gotten to the point when I’ll get a video request and will have to check the database to see whether I’ve already put it up. And if I have, it’s a simple and quick matter of just providing the link.
Aaron Barnhart interviewed me in my apartment on August 2, 1995, for a profile in the Village Voice. A photographer dropped by a week later. Despite failing to get anything remotely interesting out of his subject matter, Aaron managed to put this together, published on August 29, 1995:
Meet Don Giller, Letterman Archivist and Infomaven. By Aaron Barnhart
In the small Minnesota town where my wife grew up was a Jack Sprat Food Store that an eccentric widower named Ed Krueger ran for 65 years. Early on, Krueger discovered he had an insatiable appetite for collecting things, and started using his store as a repository. Anything inanimate was saved: unbought merchandise, customer receipts, town records, movie memorabilia, opera music, his dead cat, and of course endless stacks of newsprint. By the time Krueger was ready for the rest home, the only usable work space in the store was a glass counter at the front where he sold candy and cigarettes. The rest, as he called it, was “Ed’s Museum,” but it worked kind of like the old full-service groceries. You came in and struck up a conversation with Krueger, and at the mention of anyone or anything having to do with the town, the cinema, or the opera, he would go rummaging through all the crap and find some relevant item to look at in remarkably short order.
There are probably hundreds of Ed Kruegers in every major city, voracious gatherers of information who, in another era, might have endeared themselves to neighbors, or met under the flourescent light of a civic center. But in this increasingly anomistic age they have taken instead to the online services and the Internet, where they mingle with a larger and more diverse community than would otherwise have been possible. In turn, each of these infomavens performs the valuable service of helping civilize one more corner of the wild wild web called cyberspace.
On the alt.fan.letterman newsgroup, the resident infomaven is Don Giller — Donz5@aol.com as he is known to the newsgroup’s 30,000 or so regular readers — who specializes in answering questions about the 20-year television career of David Letterman. Donz5 can tell you on what game shows Letterman was a celebrity contestant in the 1970s, reconstruct the look and feel of Dave’s 1980 morning show on NBC, list every date that your favorite entertainer appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, or produce detailed CVs for most every writer and musician who has worked on the show.
My favorite Donz5 messages conjure images of a Midwestern sociologist combing census data, block-by-block. Someone recently complained on the newsgroup that Letterman was now habitually sacrificing the program’s scheduled third guest, usually for the sake of some lame comedy bit. Inspired, Donz5 quickly compiled and posted a list of every guest bumped in the 101-week history of the CBS Late Show. His conclusion? Dave’s been leaving more guests in the green room in recent weeks than ever before. Donz5 added a disclaimer: “I lay no claim to completeness, as I know I missed a few, such as one of Bobby Tessel’s bumps.” But it _looked_ complete — and anyway, who the hell was going to challenge him?
Internet statistics rate alt.fan.letterman as the second most popular personality fangroup after Rush Limbaugh’s. While alt.fan.jay-leno barely registers a pulse with 10 to 20 messages a week, alt.fan.letterman averages 1000, ranging from casual viewers to die-hard fans like Pam Cox, an Oklahoma City housewife who logged in to the newsgroup to crow about her unexpected selection as cohost-for-a-night of a recent Late Show. When others posted messages suggesting Dave should have picked someone else, she wailed, “This has been the greatest moment of my life so far and I am not going to let people like you ruin it for me.”
Donz5 arrived at alt.fan.letterman a little more than a year ago, when America Online, where he has an account, began offering its subscribers access to newsgroups. Before that, he had been recording Letterman programs for a decade and exchanging rare videotapes (such as broadcasts of Dave’s morning show) with other collectors on AOL and CompuServe. Don Giller moved to New York in 1978 to earn his masters in historical musicology from Columbia, then worked for the music division of Holt, Rinehart and Winston until its New York office closed in 1987. He bought a Macintosh and began working out of his home as a freelance typesetter for Holt and other music publishers.
Giller’s one-bedroom apartment combines work with life-away-from-work so thoroughly that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The eight-year-old Macintosh sits on a table in his work room (“the earth station,” he calls it); above it, shelves stretch to the ceiling with software manuals and several years of computer magazines, Beatles albums, bootlegs, and literature. To the left of the Mac, a stereo sits atop three VCRs; Giller points to the bottom machine and jokes, “I use that one as a clock.” Against the other wall are more magazines, more music, a keyboard and a stack of analog equipment from a long-abandoned hobby. There is just enough room here for the two of us to conduct an interview, and none for the videotapes. Those are in the front room — 3200 of them and counting, stacked three deep — where they share space with hundreds of classical LPs from the musicology days, his bed, and his cat.
Giller became the amazing Donz5 by inputting thousands of items from his collection into a database, which he tends like an organic garden. We get to talking about Rob Burnett, the Late Show head writer who is helming Bonnie Hunt’s new CBS sitcom. Without warning, Giller whirls around in his chair and keys “Burnett” into a search field on his Macintosh. Not much happens; instantly he realizes he’s searching the wrong part of his database. “Hold on,” he tells me, “I know exactly what I’m doing.” And like old Ed Krueger, he’s right: soon we are looking at a list of every Burnett mention from the Letterman show’s closing credits, 1985 to present, an impressive climb from “Production Staff 4” (meaning the fourth most senior member of production) to “Researchers 2” to “Writers 11” and up that totem to the top.
Amidst the chaos of the newsgroups, a man can walk tall when he sports a hefty database. A newcomer to alt.fan.letterman posts a message asking who was Dave’s worst all-time guest. Besides the usual suggestions (Cher, Shirley MacLaine), one message nominates the guy who invented the graffiti remover stuff that was orange- colored or -based or something. he had more jewelry than mr. t. Sensing trouble, Donz5 dips into the data and posts this message:
“Don’t recall the jewelry, but that was Rocky Dellutri. Bryant Gumbel was also a guest on the show, February 26, 1985 (#520) (as were the immortal Schmenge Brothers, who sang ‘Cabbage Rolls and Coffee’), and since Bryant wasn’t wearing socks, Dave spray-painted them on his ankles. Later in the show Dave gave a giant hand-shadow finger on the Exxon building with hand-shadow expert George Gilbert.”
Someone else offers that a drunken and hostile Oliver Reed, circa 1987, was the worst-ever guest. Donz5 swats that down with a reference so obscure:
“What tempers this view is the fact that Reed stuck around after 2 segments to participate in a show promo with Dave that aired a few weeks later.”
you wonder if even Letterman’s people would remember it.
In person, Giller seems a little embarrassed by this trove of Lettermania (at one point he says to me, “There’s a fine line between getting information and creeping people out”). But his online presence commands respect, and things can get ugly when it doesn’t. After someone challenges his mastery of the permissions guidelines for Dave’s on-air phone calls, Donz5 sniffs, “Thanks for jumping in; you must be new here. And if you claim it, it must be true: I just make up things around here. Ask around and get back to me.”
Online and in person, Giller bears the pride and the countenance of the academic. He tells me he’s working on a theory he’d like to publish about the evolution of Letterman’s show. There have been three distinct phases since 1982, the most recent occurring when several senior writers, including Chris Elliott, quit Late Night in 1990 and Dave’s longtime mentor, Peter Lassally, began to assume a larger creative role. At that point, Giller says, the format changed “from a repertory into a show that’s just about Dave.” I ask him if he’s ever tried this theory out on Letterman’s staff; he smiles and says, “The easy thing would be to just ask them. It’s more fun to figure it out yourself.”
Indeed, despite living just a subway ride up Broadway from the Ed Sullivan Theater, attending the occasional taping, and engaging in frequent e-mail exchanges with Letterman staff — a number of whom are online addicts (including producer Robert Morton) — Giller keeps a respectful distance from the show. He is, however, trying to get an official blessing for a book project, modeled on Mark Lewisohn’s exhaustive two-volume Beatles chronology. Lewisohn got the green light from producer George Martin, says Giller, because his proposal fixated on the sheer data of the Fabs’ careers and avoided mentioning their personal lives. (Giller also has collected most of the records and performance dates of the three musicians who formed the original Late Night band with Paul Shaffer in 1982. He says he is still trying to fill in some of the musicians’ early dates but adds, “If they were in _rehabilitation_ then I don’t want to know about it.”)
So far, three book publishers have taken a pass and a fourth has suggested a small trade paperback similar to other “unofficial” Dave guides published in recent years. It seems unlikely that an official encyclopedia will appear until Letterman’s retirement, if ever.
Fortunately, the fandom industry is shifting towards electronic media, where Giller excels. (Trekkies are so numerous on the Internet that the old rec.arts.startrek newsgroup had to spin off six new subgroups to keep the message levels manageable.) The coffee-table book Donz5 is compiling will in all likelihood be published on the the rapidly-growing Internet multimedia space of the World Wide Web. Giller would need a substantial computer upgrade to access the Web, and he wonders how he will be compensated for his efforts, since the Internet still lacks a decent payment scheme for online content.
My feeling is it’s just a matter of time before ultraspecialists like Donz5 generate at least a modest cash flow from cyberspace. Look at moneymakers like CompuServe’s Entertainment Drive, which succeed despite mediocre content and interfaces. Giller doesn’t have the marketing savvy or broad, bland focus of E-Drive, but his work ethic and his ability to think clearly amidst staggering levels of inventory bode well for him in the coming information economy. He is a curator in search of patronage, and given the mass appeal of Dave it’s safe to say that eventually he will find it.
Meanwhile, it’s back to alt.fan.letterman, where someone has posted a message addressed to Paul Shaffer, asking what music the band played for David Hyde Pierce on the previous night’s Late Show. Donz5, who has never sighted Shaffer (or Letterman) online, handles the question.
“No need to ask Paul. The band has played the Beatles’ ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’ every time Hyde has guested on the show.”
October 13, 1967. Sixteen at the time, growing up in Baltimore, a month into the 11th grade. Neil, a school buddy, worked as an usher in the Lyric Theatre downtown, and he arranged to reserve tickets for my pal Paul and me: Front row, center seats.
The city was then more tuned in to Motown and not the Doors, so we figured the crowd would be relatively light. But I forgot that that Friday night was Yom Kippur. It turned out there were maybe 15–20 people scattered about in the audience.
Tim Rose was the opening act. Alone with his guitar, he sang “Hey Joe.” I muttered to Paul that Dino Valenti had written that song (learning decades later that it was actually Billy Roberts). Tim then instructed us that _he_ had written it, and that was that.
Then The Doors came on stage. I can’t imagine they were all that thrilled performing in front of so few people, but they went ahead with their full set. There was a moment when, during a brief lull between songs, Paul and I were whispering to each other, and Jim Morrison suddenly shouted into his mic, “WAKE UP!!” while leering at us. His way of introducing their closing marathon number, “The End.”
The show was over. I have no memory how this happened, but I do remember tagging along and chatting with Ray Manzarek outside the theater as he and the rest of the band walked toward their car, which was parked in an alley a block or so away. Robby Krieger was the only one carrying his instrument; I assume their roadie was taking care of the rest of the equipment in a van parked besides their car.
Keep in mind that there were no other fans around; it was just the five of us.
I asked them all to sign the back of the playbill, and they did, writing their first names only. Not at all the persona he had displayed on stage, Jim was civil and gracious as he added his signature. I remember he even said “Thank you.”
They all then got into their car, Jim in the driver’s seat, and off they went.
I haven’t a clue why I chopped off a quarter of the playbill. I did write down the songs as they performed them, also seen on the back.
It was Autumn, 1971. I was three months shy of 21, living with some friends in Silver Springs, MD, on a break from college. On December 7, I went to a Pentangle concert in DC. After the performance, I walked backstage and spotted an open door. It was the band’s dressing room, so I stepped inside. There sat Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Badly attempting to express how much their guitar chops had meant to me, I managed to convey to John that I had learned “My Dear Boy” by ear from his 1968 LP “Sir John Alot…”
John then asked me to play it for him: He picked up his guitar and led me outside the dressing room into a nearby empty stairwell. He handed me his guitar, and I then performed his song in front of him. I hadn’t felt so simultaneously humbled, intimidated, and thrilled.
When I finished, I gave his guitar back to him, and he then proceeded to play it the right way, without my awkward, gymnastic fingerings all over the fretboard. Oh, you barre it here, and there, and it’s so simple and approachable that way!
John then offered to send me a guitar transcription of the song and asked me to write down my address. I did, but, alas, the transcription never arrived. No matter; that evening with him in that stairwell, playing his guitar to an audience of one — him — was quite enough.
Rest in peace, John Renbourn. You were the most enduring influence in my late teenage guitar daze.
Originally posted on my Facebook page on March 28, 2015, shortly after John’s passing.
Here’s my story of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird,” the original extended acetate.
I entered Antioch College in late June 1969. Located in Yellow Springs, Ohio, some of what I knew of its location was that a few miles up the road was Springfield, the birthplace of Jonathan Winters, and that Yellow Springs itself was where Buffalo Springfield guitarist/singer/songwriter Richie Furay was born and had grown up. I was a huge fan of the Springfield before I left Baltimore for college, so this was a big deal for me. (For those unfamiliar with the band, in addition to Furay were Stephen Stills and Neil Young.)
In the middle of the main town drag in Yellow Springs was a small knickknack store owned by Richie’s mom called, surprisingly, “Furay’s.” I went in there that summer and chatted with her, and she ended up selling me a copy of the debut LP of her son’s then-new band, Poco. (The Springfield had broken up the year before.)
Fast-forward two years later, mid-May 1971. A nearby dormmate named Andy Plesser was a budding entrepreneur, and, through Richie’s mom, managed to persuade Poco to extend their Spring tour for one more day and come home to Yellow Springs. And so on May 23 they performed at an outdoor space on the college campus. I had been futzing around at the college’s radio station since I entered the place, and so I was able to borrow its portable tape recorder and ask the band’s sound mixer, whose equipment was located in the middle of the lawn, if I could plug his mixer’s outputs into the recorder’s inputs. He said sure, so I ended up with a soundboard recording of that day’s concert.
Here are photos taken by fellow student Dan Marshall:
After it was over, I walked over to behind the makeshift stage and chatted a bit with Richie, asked if he wanted a dub of the show, then mentioned a little-known and unreleased song he had written and recorded with the Springfield, then re-recorded it with Poco to very little chart success (“My Kind of Love”).
I then asked him about this legendary 20-minute studio version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” I had heard about for a number of years but never heard. A 4-minute version had been released on the Springfield’s second LP in 1967, but legend had it that this take was originally far longer. The song was written by Stills, and it was one of the first records I remember hearing back in Baltimore that mixed the acoustic guitar playing (Stills) with the two electrics (Richie and Neil) so seamlessly. It was such a standout recording.
Richie said it was actually around 10 minutes long, not 20, and he suggested I contact a radio station in Boston, WBCN, and ask them for a copy, using his name as a reference. After spending the rest of the night and following day making dubs of the concert for Andy, the radio station, and whoever else wanted it, I wrote to WBCN on the 25th, using the station’s stationary, declared myself its “chief recording engineer,” made up some fiction about an upcoming Springfield retrospective the station was planning, and hoped for the best. The school term was close to ending, and it seemed realistically doubtful anything would come of this.
Just over a week later, on June 2, I was walking around on campus and this student I didn’t know came up to me, asked if I was who I was, and told me there was a package addressed to me at the station but that someone had taken it. He knew who it was and where he lived, so we went to this guy’s place where I retrieved whatever it was he had swiped. No questions asked, at least I had the package.
It was from WBCN; it included the letter I had written, though now with some annotations from the person to whom it was addressed and the person to whom he had referred it. There was also a reel-to-reel tape. Based on the annotations, it consisted of two unreleased Springfield tracks, Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire,” and the song I had been wanting to hear for years, “Bluebird.” It was recorded at the station’s top professional speed, 15 ips, so the first thing I did was to go to the college station and make a dub at a speed most home recorders could play, 7 1/2 ips. And it was that version I’d play for myself and friends. The original 15 ips version I stored away.
This version of “Bluebird” sounded like a dub of an acetate, with very minor acetate “noise.” Besides the extended length (9 1/2 minutes), this mix included an added Neil Young lead guitar that had been edited out of the released 1967 version.
The person who sent me the tape signed his name on that annotated letter, but all I could make out was his first, “Charles”; his last name was “Laqui…” something (“Laquiclara?”). I didn’t recognize the name.
Until late that year, when Poco released their live LP, “Deliverin’,” recorded in Boston and New York. The liner notes were written by a “Charles Laquidara.” Aha! That’s who that was. One mystery solved.
In 1973, the band’s record label, Atco, released a 2-LP anthology, and included was an extended version of “Bluebird.” But it was different from what I had been sent. First, it was in stereo (the acetate was in mono); second, its length was 30 seconds shorter than the version I had; and third, it didn’t include Young’s added guitar lead. (Also, Atco had edited out a vulgarity that Stills had slipped out.)
So what I had was still rare and unreleased. Over the next few decades there’d be the occasional Springfield bootleg that would include this rare version, but the sound quality was horrible: it’d start in the middle of the intro, it’d skip, it sounded like an acetate played way too many times so that it had deteriorated greatly. But it was a collectable since it was so rare. But I knew what I had was of far better quality.
Fast-forward again, now to late 2003. Now having the equipment to digitize music, I dug out the original 15 ips tape, played it back for the first time in over 32 years on a reel-to-reel that had 15 ips recording and playback capacity, and transferred it into the computer, saving it in both lossless AIFF format and .mp3.
I also set about looking for Charles Laquidara and to finally thank him for the tape. A few hours of Google searches, and there he was, retired after decades at WBCN, now living in Hawaii. So I emailed him, apologized for waiting so long to get back to him but wanting to close this circle.
He sends back an email 10 minutes later and says he was just at that moment searching online for this version, having lost his copy many, many years ago. So I immediately sent him my .mp3 version.
I asked him what he remembered about this version: he told me that when he was working at KPPC in Pasadena in 1968, Richie Furay and Jim Messina (the new bassist and producer on the Springfield’s final album released that year) came by and gave him a copy of the acetate. I had then also learned from the late Ted Alvy that the band made the acetate at their recording studio in L.A. so that they could then take it to a local radio station and have the deejay there (the famous R. Mitchell Reed) spin it. They’d then listen to the broadcast on their car radio to see how it sounded on tinny speakers and how many potential record buyers would be listening to it.
But they decided to scrap it and release the edited 4-minute version instead. They even refused to include it on their 2000 multi-CD anthology.
So, after all the decades, after all of the bootlegs, I believe that the version Charles had sent me in the Spring of 1971 remains the cleanest, clearest version that exists of this particular mix.
(This initial contact with Charles paid further dividends a year later when John C. Winn and I were researching the history of the earliest Beatles bootlegs, but that’s a tale for another time.)
Update: I’ve been told that the link no longer works. It does on my end, but what I’ve done is make it available on YouTube, along with every known studio mix and live performance by the original band in 1967-‘68.
I suppose you could say this project began on February 1, 1982, but I was surely unaware of any far-sighted overview. I just wanted to preserve, in my own primitive way, what I was watching for an hour every late weeknight. It started on audio cassettes, at first intermittently, then nightly by Spring ’83.
Keeping track of each cassette content required logs. Here’s what I jotted down for the first half of Late Night’s debut (yes, I didn’t know the correct spelling of Paul’s last name):
I had purchased my first VCR in mid-February 1985, and from that date on I videotaped every Dave until his final Late Show thirty-plus years later. The logs continued throughout. This is from June 1992, documenting the contents of Videotape #1,611:
I bought my first Mac in the Fall of ’85, and one of my earliest computer projects was to transfer all of the logs — both audio cassette and VCR — into a searchable database. The data would later expand to include thousands of supplementary information provided by both public and private sources. Here’s a screenshot of one portion of the database, affectionately known in some circles as the SSIDB (SuperSecretInformationalDataBase):
In the mid-’90s I began trading videotapes with others around the country to close gaps in my collection, primarily the years preceding my first VCR.
The trades would eventually lead to both dubs and acquisitions of entire collections. By 2016 the number of incomplete shows had shrunk to around twenty-five. By the end of 2017, the Late Night collection had finally reached 100%. I had every show, all complete.
There are many folks to thank for helping me complete the collection. Some prefer to remain anonymous for now, but I hope in time they’ll be ok with my acknowledging how crucial they were. Among the major contributors I can name:
Christopher Bay (videotapes from 1977–93), Jim Chamberlain (1982–83), Dario Roaz (1982–83), Treg Tyler (1982–88), Laura Ryan (1985–89), Lisa Gilliam (1987–93), and Deborah Todd (1989–93). Among those with smaller but no less important contributions: Bill Rood, Bill Bredice, Richard Handal, Traci Gilland, Mitch Blank, Michael Covher, Ray Mitten, Dick Bullock, John Czach, Wyatt Clough, Keith McLeod, Ken Dixon, Jeff Kadet, and Cheryl Bulbach.
When Late Show ended in May 2015, my tape collection had been scattered throughout various locations in the apartment. Many were inaccessible, with immovable “stuff” blocking them. There were thousands of tapes in the back room and thousands more in the front. The back room was where all of the Late Nights were stored; here’s a photo from 2011 of one area. It wasn’t a welcome sight:
It was in the late Spring to early Summer of 2015 when several moments occurred that helped me begin to better appreciate what I had accumulated over the past three decades. The first involved one of Dave’s producers. She was still working after Late Show had ended — the only remaining staffer employed — and she was then dealing with payments to folks who were in video clips that had aired on CBS’s Letterman special a week before his final show. Because the documentation was lacking, it was left for her to track down the show dates for those clips, and there were several she couldn’t find.
So she asked me for help, and I was happy to oblige. It took around a week, but eventually I found the show dates to which the clips were attached. I soon realized that the reason she had asked me in the first place was because there was no longer anyone on staff she would normally assign for this sort of task. I was the only person she knew who would have had the resources readily available.
During the same period I gained access into Worldwide Pants’ licensing site, where Dave’s Late Shows were made available for licensing to media interests. I spent all of June and July inspecting each show, finding a number of problems: mismatched thumbnails, missing shows, and corrupt uploads. I made a list and sent it to the Late Show producer, and she then forwarded it to those managing the site, referring to me as someone who “had the time to do what I haven’t been able to do.”
Again, the resources she would have normally had during Late Show’s run — a full staff — was now absent, and so it was for me to figure this stuff out, on my time, on my dime. There was simply no one else around. It was a new self-awareness of value I hadn’t recognized before, and it planted a seed.
The other event during the 2015 late-Spring/Summer period: On June 10, Adam Nedeff, game show historian/author/expert/producer, posted a photo on his Facebook page: it was packets of Late Night and Late Show DVDs he had digitized from his own collection (posted here with his permission):
I was thoroughly impressed by his organizing prowess to hit the “Like” button to his photo. Adam’s reaction: “I like that Don Giller clicked ‘like’ when I know what he’s really thinking is ‘Aww, three cases. that’s cute.'”
He could not have known then that my own Letterman digital collection had been near-nonexistent; I had digitized practically nothing. And the thought of beginning such a project was daunting and laughable, considering the chaotic state of my storage.
Four days later, Adam approached me online and solicited a trade of Letterman-related DVDs. He had been looking for the 90-minute Late Nights that had aired on a nearly-monthly basis in 1982, then less frequently in 1983. I said let’s do it, partly because I had stored most of those particular tapes in the front room, not the back, and so the chore of cleaning everything up in the back could be postponed.
I spent some time setting up my VCR–>DVD equipment, finding the computer software needed to convert DVDs to video files, digging out the tapes, and getting to work.
The trade concluded late summer, and from that exercise, along with the potential value I had begun to sense months earlier with the Late Show producer, I finally got the itch to start what I had been dreading. First, I cleaned up the back room area:
I then set up the computer directories:
With that in place, I began to digitize the Late Night tape collection in earnest in September 2015. My first progress photo from late November documented the first six months of 1982:
Two weeks later I had reached the end of ’82:
Keep in mind that at this time I was missing many complete shows for the first three years of Late Night (1982-84), so what I had digitized here was only what I had, not what I needed. Eventually, all of the complete shows would find their way here, and they would all be incorporated into the digitized collection.
By late January 2016, 1983 (or, rather, what I had of 1983 at the time) was done. Here’s 1982–’83:
Early-April 2016, to the end of 1984:
All the while, each DVD had been converted to a computer .mp4 file and all of those files backed up onto other drives.
Early-June 2016, the DVDs up to the end of 1985:
Mid-September 2016, everything up to 1986:
I was running out of shelf space, so I emptied my CD cabinet and moved all of the Late Night DVDs there.
Late-February 2017, 1987 was completed:
Mid-May 2017, 1988 went quickly, thanks to the months-long writers strike:
Mid-October 2017, the DVD collection up to the end of 1989:
After months of delays, and, in the meantime, digitizing hundreds of shows from later years, 1990 was finally completed a year later in late November 2018:
Because I had already digitized many shows earlier, 1991 was finished just a month later in late December 2018:
And 1992 quickly followed in mid-January 2019:
On January 18, 2019, 1993 was done, and with that milestone reached I finally finished digitizing and converting to computer video files the entire eleven-plus-year run of Late Night with David Letterman. It was all backed up onto this mobile drive:
It’s taken three years and four months. Every show is now just a mouse-click away:
There remain duplicate shows from ’89 to ’93 to digitize from other sources. The reason for the redundancy: one video source may have a glitch that another source can then be inserted in its place, the ease of digital editing at the home level unthinkable when Late Night premiered in ’82. So while all of Late Night is done, there’s more digitizing ahead before the project is fully wrapped up.
Throughout this project, the persistent question had been “Why? Why were you doing this?” The answer was the realization brought to light in the Summer of 2015: No one else was. And so there was no option not to.
It’s conceivable that this is the only collection of its kind. There’s reason to suspect that not even NBCU’s archives have as many shows, and what they do have, very little has been digitized. (March 1, 2020 — I’ve recently learned that it’s worse than I thought: There are years of Late Nights in NBCU’s archives that, because of the videotape format used, are unlikely to ever be playable again.)
Lastly, a plug: I have a You Tube channel that’s devoted mostly to Late Night uploads. Over 1,100 videos are up; they include selected segments, full shows, and comedy and guest compilations. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/user/dongiller