Jimmy Fallon Details How He Convinced The Roots To Be His Show’s House Band (Video)
Next March marks a decade for The Roots and Jimmy Fallon working together five nights a week. The partnership began in 2009 when the Grammy Award-winning band from Philadelphia joined The Late Show With Jimmy Fallon in the midst of one of their strongest album-making strides. That relationship carried over when Fallon assumed the coveted earlier TV slot, branded The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Since joining Fallon’s fold, The Roots have released four group albums and three collaborative projects. Questlove, Black Thought, Kamal Gray, Captain Kirk Douglas, Tuba Gooding, Jr., James Poyser, and the rest of the players have added two Grammys to their shelves (thanks to 2010’s Wake Up! with John Legend).
However, the transition pulled one of the hardest-touring acts in all of music from their home on the road. While The Roots still do occasional dates, and they host their annual picnic in Philly, the move put them on the stages of NBC Studios’ “30 Rock” for all to see, instead of inside of a venue near you. Appearing on The Breakfast Club, Jimmy Fallon explains that it took some convincing, all in the name of TV history.
At 22:00, Charlamagne Tha God asks Fallon if adding The Roots required some convincing of the NBC brass. “Yeah, it wasn’t that easy. It was interesting,” begins the Emmy and Grammy Award-winning host, actor, and stand-up. However, he reveals that the convincing aspect was more about courting the group than any exec.
“My friend Neal Brennan produced Chappelle’s Show. I was talking to Neal about producing [my show]. He [was more interested in stand-up comedy at that time]. He goes, ‘Who’s the band gonna be?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. But [I] need a good band, ’cause I’m following Max Weinberg [from Late Night with Conan O’Brien], which is a fantastic band.’ He goes, ‘You should ask The Roots.’ I go, ‘You think The Roots would be my house band?’ He goes, ‘Oh, no, no. I was saying you should ask them because they know a lot of people to put together a band. Hell no, they’d never do your show.'”
However, the idea planted a seed for Fallon. “Then I said, what’s the worst thing that could happen? They say ‘no’? So I called their manager and asked them, and I didn’t hear back from them for like three weeks. [Laughs] They were on tour; they were in Paris. They toured—I want to say 325 days out of the year. Crazy. Like, every day they’re on tour all over the world. So then, I heard back from the manager. Richard [Nichols] called me up and said, ‘Let’s have a meeting in your office and talk about what this idea is.’ [I respond], ‘That’d be great. Perfect. Thanks so much.’ I hung up. [At the time], I do not have an office; I have a cubicle. So I’m like, I need an office. I called Lorne Michaels, I said, ‘I want to have this meeting with The Roots. They’re thinking about it. I need an office.’ So I borrowed Lorne’s office. So I went in his office, which is really nice and looks out on the Saturday Night Live stage. It looks like I know what I’m doing.”
The Roots’ Questlove, Black Thought, and the late Rich Nichols came to New York City. “So I had their manager, Questlove, Tariq, and my producer. We had a meeting. I said two things: ‘One, if you do this, you’ll be the best band in the history of TV. In the history. Ever. There’s none better. ‘Cause you guys can play with JAY-Z, but you can also play with Tony Bennett. I’ve never seen any band like you. Number two, we’re real close to Philly. We’re a train ride away. You guys are from Philly, so you can train, raise your kids there, whatever you want to do.’ Questlove said, ‘I want to ask you two questions. One is if we have a Jazz [artist] or someone that can’t normally get booked on a show [like yours], can we have them sitting with the band? Like, if Herbie Hancock or somebody…’ I go, ‘Herbie Hancock? Dude, if he wants to be in the band… Matter of fact, let me call Herbie Hancock.’ [Questlove asked], ‘Number two, if this is Lorne Michaels’ office, where’s the popcorn?’ [It] was a great question, ’cause it was a comedy nerd question. Only comedy nerds know that Lorne has a basket of popcorn in his office. Every sketch on Saturday Night Live, have you seen that? That was an amazing thing for me. I was like, I think I can get along with this guy.”
Just before The Roots discussion, Charlamagne asks Fallon if he really is a fan of Hip-Hop. The Tonight Show has produced many memorable sketches surrounding Hip-Hop history, freestyles, and other aspects of the culture. The host answers, “I like everything; I’m a pop culture fanatic. Growing up, in those ’80s days [I was a fan of] Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, N.W.A., Eazy-E.”
Fallon also added that he is a fan of the newly-released Beastie Boys Book memoir.