Letterman’s Best Musical Guests

by Steve Spohn
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Letterman with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir

David Letterman is retiring from late-night TV where he’s been a brilliant, hysterically funny and enormously influential host for more than 30 years. In addition to a slew of actors, comedians, athletes and stupid pets (and their tricks), Dave hosted some of the brightest lights in rock music – a deep talent pool, including Jerry Garcia, Warren Zevon, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Here’s a retrospective of some of Letterman’s best musical guests over the course of his extraordinary 33-year career. Everybody gave it hell on Dave’s show.

James Brown delivers an unforgettable performance of “Get On Up” in 1982:

Peter Tosh in 1983 – “Where You Gonna Run”:

REM performing “Radio Free Europe” in ’83:

Bob Dylan does “Jokerman” in 1984:

Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir performing “When I Paint My Masterpiece” in ’87:

Sonny Bono and Cher performing “I Got You Babe” in 1987:

Stevie Ray Vaughan does “Tightrope” in 1989:

George Clinton & The P-Funk Allstars – “(Not Just) Knee Deep”

Lou Reed performing “Busload of Faith” with Buddy Guy and James Cotton:

Bruce Springsteen doing “Glory Days” in ’93:

Jerry Garcia and David Grisman – “Friend of the Devil” in 1993:

Green Day performing “Basket Case” in 1994:

Phish doing “Chalkdust Torture” in ’95:

Bruce Springsteen – “Murder, Incorporated” in 1995:

Tom Waits doing “Chocolate Jesus” in 1999:

Warren Zevon performs “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner” (his final appearance on the show):

Darlene Love doing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”:

Foo Fighers playing “Everlong” on February 21, 2000 (Letterman’s first show after quintuple bypass surgery):

Arcade Fire – “Rebellion (Lies)” in 2006:

Beck doing “Gamma Ray” in ’08:

Die Antwoord performing “I Fink U Freeky” in 2012:

Adam Sandler’s ode to Letterman:

Thank you, goodnight.

Steve Spohn is a former Saturday Night Live and Nickelodeon Television executive. Growing up near Princeton, NJ, led to a musical addiction, with WMMR in Philly and WNEW in NYC providing the daily dose. When not attending or planning to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts, he's plugging away as a screenwriter in Beverly Hills. Reach Steve at SSpohn@SongMango.com.