Long time drummer for the band on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Ed Shaughnessy, died at age 84 this past Friday, May 24. CNN reported his close friend, Robyn Flans, said he suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in California.
Shaughnessy was born in 1929, and grew up and worked in the New York City area. He started working with the Tonight Show in 1963 and became best known for his ongoing drum competitions with Buddy Rich. Other famous musicians Shaughnessy worked with include Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Billie Holiday.
Flans was also the co-writer of Shaughnessy’s memoir, Lucky Drummer – From NYC to Johnny Carson. The book was just published in 2012 and includes behind the scenes stories from his career.
CNN quoted Flans reflecting on Shaughnessy, saying, “He influenced so many people. He was the guy. He was on television every night reaching all those people. You always saw the smile behind the kit. That was my Eddie.” Flans went on to say that although the heart attack came as a surprise, Shaughnessy had been taken to the hospital the night before complaining of not feeling well.
In a 2004 interview with the Percussive Arts Society, Shaughnessy recalled his first moments on the Tonight Show, saying “My God, this is not your ordinary studio situation.” The New York Times reports one of his fondest memories working on the Tonight Show was accompanying Jimi Hendrix on stage in 1969.
Although Shaughnessy was extremely popular, he remained a humble man. In 1998, during an interview with the Chicago Tribune, he said “When you have a high-profile gig like [the Tonight Show], people kind of assume that’s your bag, and I certainly don’t blame anybody… But prior to getting that gig, I had a really deep and rich jazz background, and I really made my living as a jazz drummer.”