Ed Shaughnessy died of a heart attack on Friday at age 84 at his Calabasas home. On his 80th birthday, Ed Shaughnessy said, “I wanted to make a good living for my family.” The 84-year-old longtime drummer who played drums in Doc Severinsen’s “Tonight Show” band from 1963 to 1992 until Johnny Carson left and Jay Leno took over as “Tonight Show” host, is being remembered in an obituary published by the Los Angeles Times on May 25, 2013.
“Buddy Rich called Shaughnessy ‘one of my all-time favorite drummers’ — high praise from a musician whose dynamic, virtuosic style contrasted with Shaughnessy’s profound belief in the drummer as a vital member of a band’s rhythm section.”
In 2004, Ed Shaughnessy was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.
Ed Shaughnessy was born in Jersey City in New Jersey on Jan. 29, 1929. His father was a longshoreman and his mother sewed in a garment factory.
Ed Shaughnessy grew up in the New York City area and at the age of 12, he started taking piano lessons. At the age of 14, his father gave him a drum set and the young teen had found his passion.
Throughout his teen years, Ed Shaughnessy was part of New York City’s thriving jazz scene working with Jack Teagarden and popular bands led by George Shearing and Charlie Ventura.
In his twenties, Ed Shaughnessy played in small jazz groups with Billie Holiday, Horace Silver and Gene Ammons, and eventually with big bands like Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and the Tommy Dorsey’s band.
Still in his twenties, Ed Shaughnessy became a staff musician at CBS and performed on the “Steve Allen Show” and the “Garry Moore Show.”
In 1963, now in his thirties, Ed Shaughnessy became the drummer in Severinsen’s band on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”
In 2009, when Ed Shaughnessy celebrated his 80th birthday, he spoke with JazzTimes about the 1960s.
“It was the early ’60s in New York City. I was happy being a freelance guy, and I was working a lot of jazz clubs at night. But then, in a few months, about four jazz clubs closed down, just when I was doing a sub or two on the show. Plus, my daytime studio gigs were getting slower, too, because it was the advent of the electronic drum machine. So I saw the handwriting on the wall. And when I went in to sub for two weeks on the show with the band, there I was sitting next to one of my oldest friends, Clark Terry, with Snooky Young next to him. And the band sounded good. So I took the job. And it was always a great band to play with, but, frankly, I originally took it for security. I didn’t take it because I was hot to get on television. I took it because I wanted to make a good living for my family. And it enabled me to do that.”
Ed Shaughnessy was married to Ilene Woods who was the original voice of Cinderella. Ilene died on July 1, 2010.
Besides working on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”, Ed Shaughnessy also played in an early incarnation of the “Sesame Street” orchestra and he was a sought-after teacher, an activity which he pursued while at the same time keeping a busy recording and live performance schedule.
In 2012, Ed Shaughnessy published his long awaited book “Lucky Drummer – From NYC to Johnny Carson” with great personal stories from behind the scenes.
In Ed Shaughnessy’s 2010 memoir “Lucky Drummer,” Doc Severinsen described Ed Shaughnessy as “the superb engine that drove our Tonight Show Band for thirty years … with spirit and immense skill.”