45°F
weather icon Clear

Shaffer’s talent, songbook never out of style

After entertaining up and down the Boulevard for more than half a century at hotel-casinos that no longer exist, there must be days well-traveled pianist Charlie Shaffer feels like he’s faded into the neon-lit mist of Las Vegas history.

Fortunately, he’s no ghost. But it was no small irony that he found himself opening a Chautauqua program before a capacity audience Saturday at the Boulder City Theatre. With scholars Peter Small playing Thomas Edison and Doug Mishler as Henry Ford, there was plenty of history in the air.

Thanks to Shaffer’s remarkable skill, there was plenty of music from the 1930s and the Great American Songbook, too. From George Gershwin and Fats Waller to Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, Shaffer had the theater owned by Desi Arnaz Jr. humming and singing along.

It wasn’t the biggest crowd he’s played for in a career spanning six decades, but I’ll wager it was among the more appreciative. The mostly older audience that turned out to watch scholars render the lives of two American inventors doesn’t often get the chance to hear great songs rendered at the highest level.

Shaffer was in the neighborhood — he and wife Martha are longtime Boulder City residents. For a guy who has spent endless nights in Strip lounges and showrooms, or on cruise ships around the world, it was practically in his living room.

Shaffer plays with such unabashed enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to wonder how he’s remained so passionate about his music after so many years. With a dozen recordings to his credit, he’s written and arranged for top talent in Strip showrooms, “The Tonight Show” and many other stages. At 76, he’s earned a decade of evenings off.

“There was hardly a place in the old, original Las Vegas that I didn’t play,” he recalled. “For a while it was a running gag for me that all the places I played were destroyed, they were all imploded.”

For the record, Shaffer has an alibi for every detonation. Like a generation of Las Vegas players who thrived in the live music era in the lounges and showrooms, he was very likely working.

Born in Texas, as a college kid in the 1950s he traveled for a time with future rockabilly hall-of-famer Johnny Olenn and wound up at Warren “Doc” Bayley’s Bakersfield Hacienda. By then Bayley had his attention and his bankroll invested in the Hacienda on Las Vegas Boulevard, and within months Shaffer was introduced to Las Vegas during its golden era.

“I was introduced to Las Vegas totally through the backdoor and by accident,” he said, smiling at the memory.

Shaffer eventually left the rock ‘n’ roll band — he got tired of conjuring Jerry Lee Lewis and “pounding on the piano all the time” — for a more grownup sound that was not only more challenging, but greatly improved his opportunities.

The jobs followed. Name it, and he played there: the Sands, the Riv, the Stardust and more than a dozen years at the Desert Inn.

He didn’t do it for the money, but for a long time the money was good. He had a fan club in Houston and a cult following in Albuquerque. You can still catch his music on satellite radio and buy it on his www.charlieshaffer.com website.

Like many of the best musicians in Las Vegas, Shaffer was never out of work, respected by stars and cherished by aficionados. Thanks to changing technology, satellite radio and an active website, he receives contacts from music lovers from around the world who share his affection for the standards.

These days, though, he’s satisfied to accompany his daughter Laura on Sunday nights at Lorraine Hunt’s Bootlegger and admits that he doesn’t “want to work more than about one day a week.” After years of nightclub success singing Top 40 hits, she’s fallen in love with the American classics, too.

Charlie Shaffer is living proof that the good stuff gets older, but never really goes out of style.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Give thanks for all we have

Because the Boulder City Review publishes on Thursdays, I get the honor of wishing all of our readers a “Happy Thanksgiving” each year — and this year is no exception.

Much can be done in an hour

Have you ever figured out just what an hour a day represents? How often have you wanted to do something but said, “I didn’t have the time”?

Consider alternative ideas for lawn’s replacement

History is the story we want to pass on to future generations, hopefully somewhere they can find it. How we tell the story for future generations is the responsibility of the present generation.

City true winner from elections

After months of campaigning, the 2022 election is complete. Ballots have been counted and congratulations are in order for those who were elected.

Low-cost grocery store needed

One of the hot topics I’m hearing discussed in town is whether or not Boulder City needs a second grocery store. There is a question on the ballot this month (by the time this piece is published, the votes will have already been cast) regarding whether or not to allocate land at the corner of Veterans Memorial Drive and Boulder City Parkway for a shopping center that would include space for a new grocery store.

Pelletier’s dedication was blessing for city

After five years of service to Boulder City, Finance Director Diane Pelletier is retiring. I was mayor in 2018 when Interim City Manager Scott Hanson hired Diane. She came to us after 18 years of distinguished service for the Atlanta Regional Commission and 12 more for the Orange Water and Sewer Authority in North Carolina. We thought she was a major steal at the time. And she’s proved us right in every respect.

Media is the mess-age

My entire, mostly monolithic career was spent as a commercial broadcast professional. Knowing at an early age broadcast would be my chosen field, I took requisite communications studies preparatory to entering the business.

Land sale for grocer not in city’s best interest

Boulder City voters will have a chance to weigh in on whether or not the city should sell 16.3 acres of land for the development of a shopping center, primarily a grocery store. From a resident’s standpoint, a second grocery store would be nice, competition is often good and choice can benefit the consumer.

Preservation ordinance remains controversial

Last week, after years of discussion and planning, the City Council passed a new historic preservation ordinance.