Just hours after Conan O’Brien made headlines by revealing he’ll join TBS’ late-night lineup in November, The Tonight Show announced its own big news: Bandleader Kevin Eubanks will officially leave Jay Leno’s side on May 28th. As Rolling Stone reported in the weeks before Leno resumed his Tonight Show gig, there was speculation that Eubanks’ time as Leno’s bandleader was coming to an end.
“After 18 years, I just need a change of pace and see what else is going on,” Eubanks said from Leno’s couch last night. “But it’s a really difficult decision because this has become my second home, as it has been for the band, and I love the audience and the American people really love the show and it’s been a wonderful experience.” Eubanks’ first order of post-Tonight Show business? “After 18 years of playing America in to commercials, I’m gonna go somewhere where I can finish a song,” he joked.
When news of Eubanks’ potential departure first leaked, rumors began circulating that former Hootie & the Blowfish singer Darius Rucker was in line for the spot, but NBC quickly denied the rumor. Then came a Movieline report that speculated Leno would replace Eubanks with, gasp, Conan O’Brien’s bandleader and E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg. So far, neither Leno nor NBC have tipped their hand regarding potential replacements, though Weinberg didn’t appear alongside O’Brien as he debuted his live show last night in Eugene, Oregon. As for who would be best suited to laugh at Jay’s jokes — we have a few recommendations.