Jay Leno may have beat Conan O'Brien in the battle of The Tonight Show, but one of the casualties of the late-night war may have been his bandleader Kevin Eubanks, who will reportedly abscond from the 11:35 p.m. time slot to pursue other opportunities. According to the New York Times, while Eubanks will have guitar in hand and be eager to laugh at all of Leno's jokes when The Tonight Show returns on March 1st, his status after those transitional first weeks is still unknown. Eubanks has professed a desire to tour and record; he last released a new album in 2006.
However, Eubanks might just be seeking an agreement similar to the one Max Weinberg had with Conan O'Brien, which allowed him to rejoin Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band whenever they went on tour. If this is the end of Eubanks' tenure as The Tonight Show's bandleader, Rolling Stone is here to help Leno and his producers think up a worthy replacement. Rumors that Hootie & the Blowfish's Darius Rucker was in talks to replace Eubanks have been quickly shot down. Instead, taking a page from Jimmy Fallon's playbook by hiring the Roots, here's some of the artists we'd recommend as the next Tonight Show rocker-in-residence.
Steven Van Zandt:
Pros: Has television experience thanks to his run on The Sopranos. Infectious laugh would enhance Leno's jokes. Plus, with O'Brien — and Weinberg — getting the boot, Little Steven would fill the E Street void on late night.
Cons: Would make things awkward on the Springsteen tour bus. Rules out Sopranos reunion show. Lives in New York, but NBC proved with Conan that money could convince anyone to move anywhere.
Pros: Los Angeles native. Bandleader position would give him easy access to talk to musical guests about whether they'd be interested in becoming Velvet Revolver's singer. Has proven he's willing to do pretty much any musical task, from appearing on Rihanna's Rated R to remixing the Who's "My Generation" with Will.i.am for Super Bowl.
Cons: Axl Rose and Scott Weiland would become Letterman viewers.
Pros: Endless amount of beats and cleared samples for commercial segues and guest introductions. Would segue nicely into the Roots at 12:35 a.m. Funny People role showed comedic prowess. It'd be funny to hear Leno say "Yo RZA, yo Razor, hit me with the major" on a nightly basis. Opens up the door for surprise Wu cameos.
Cons: It's an FCC nightmare waiting to happen. Strange aroma emanating from dressing room could distract guests. Takes away hours RZA could be spending watching Shaolin movies, playing chess and producing the next GZA record.
These are just some of our suggestions. Hit up the comments and let us know who you think could fill Eubanks' stool on The Tonight Show.