Jimmy Fallon and The Roots Spill Behind-the-Scenes Memories, Craziest Prince Stories
The 'Tonight Show' host interviewed his house band for a Paley Center event in New York on Wednesday.
Jimmy Fallon is no stranger to the music industry, hosting performances from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Miley Cyrus and Prince on The Tonight Show alongside his famous lip-sync battles and musical impersonation contests. And neither are The Roots, the legendary hip-hop group who serve as Fallon's house band.
But interviewing The Roots founders Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter for a panel at the Paley Center for Media on Wednesday night, Fallon spilled some surprising secrets about the band — like the fact that Questlove originally planned to decline Fallon's offer to join the show, and the one time Prince shattered a guitar belonging to the group.
Read on for five of the funniest, strangest and most surprising tidbits from the panel, from how Questlove and Black Thought met to their favorite musical guests.
Questlove and Black Thought met in high school — in the principal's office.
The two crossed paths during Black Thought's freshman year at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, the same magnet school attended by Boyz II Men and Christian McBride. "I was being disciplined for something,” Black Thought said. But the two didn't hit it off immediately. Far from it — Questlove said he and Black Thought were like "two complete opposites ... [Black Thought] was the cool dude, and I was the dweeb."
Thankfully, Questlove said he was awarded a spot at the "cool kids' table," as long as he played drums on the tabletop while Black Thought and the others freestyled. Eventually, the two became friends, and the rest is history.
"I had just never met anyone that thought that quick in real-time. Tariq was known for the idea of playing 'the dozens,' ‘your momma’s so fat' ... but he would rhyme it," Questlove recalled. "I’d never seen anyone that knew how to think that quick."
Prince once smashed a guitar belonging to The Roots' guitarist, "Captain" Kirk Douglas, on set.
By now, everyone's heard Fallon's famous ping-pong story, in which Prince allegedly challenged Fallon to a mysterious match. But remembering Prince's performance on The Tonight Show — Questlove's favorite act in the show's history — the gang recalled that The Purple One forgot to bring his guitar.
"[Captain Kirk] is playing this beautiful, white Epiphone guitar in rehearsals, and Prince goes, ‘Can I use your guitar?’" Fallon remembered. "Kirk is flipping out. He’s like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe Prince wants to play my guitar."
Problem solved — until Prince decided unexpectedly to throw the guitar into the crowd at the end of his performance. "[Prince] finishes the song, takes the strap off, throws the guitar for someone to catch, and there is no one to catch it," Fallon continued. "And then you see [his guitar] is broken in half. And then [Prince] split ... he left before the guitar hit the ground.”
In the end, Prince paid to get the guitar fixed. And years later, the Tonight Show cast still laughs about the memory. “The next day, we asked all the camera guys to give us every angle on Kirk’s face [when he saw the guitar smashed]," Questlove said, laughing. "It’s a gif.”
Before joining The Tonight Show, The Roots had never rehearsed.
Surprisingly, Questlove revealed that The Roots had never rehearsed as a band before joining Fallon's show. After landing his first record deal, Questlove admitted, he took a break from his once intense practicing schedule and never picked it up again.
The artist remembered calling his manager on the first day of rehearsal for The Tonight Show: "Like, yo, this is so weird, we've never played in front of each other before.'
"You put us in front of an audience, 20,000 people, no problem. But it was like, us alone in a room, looking at each other," Questlove continued. "I kept asking, like, ‘What do we do?’ ... It was awkward."
By now, Questlove said he's not only used to rehearsals, he's become a better artist because of them. "Since being here, I’ve become a way better musician, a way better songwriter. Even when the writers come in and say, 'We need a five-second song for "Hot Dog in a Hole,"'" he continued, referencing the often absurd tunes he writes for Fallon's sketches. "Our database now is up to, like, 6,000 songs."
The Roots almost declined the invitation to be part of The Tonight Show.
It's hard to imagine The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon without The Roots, yet Questlove and Black Thought revealed that they never intended to be part of the late-night show, even when Fallon traveled to UCLA to meet the group in person.
Back in 2007, the Roots members had just fulfilled their dream of moving to Los Angeles, and Questlove was skeptical about making any commitments to Fallon. "[The Roots] were kind of at this place where we finally — after years of climbing this mountain — where we were making a good living. Why would we ever want to turn our backs on this moment?" he said. "I figured, maybe at the most, we'll establish a good rapport with [Fallon], so that when we release records, we can come on 'The Jimmy Fallon Show.'"
As for the offer to join The Tonight Show? "In the back of my head, I knew we weren't going to accept it," Questlove added.
But that all changed just minutes after the group's meeting with Fallon, when Questlove looked outside his trailer window to see that Fallon had convinced a group of students to form a human pyramid on the football field.
"I look at it for like, 10 seconds, and then I looked at [my manager]," Questlove remembers. "I was just like, 'We're not getting rid of this guy, are we?'"
Roughly a decade later, though, the group has no regrets about joining the show — and it worked out better than Fallon expected, too.
"We lucked out, because we [didn’t] know if anyone [in The Roots] could act. They’re the greatest band in the world, but I don’t know if they can act," Fallon remembered. "Man, oh, man, [The Roots are] great on camera, and you can act, and you can be funny.”
Musical performances aside, the best part of the show is the audience.
The trio, alongside Tonight Show director Dave Diomedi, took some time to note their favorite performances on the show, recounting memories of Springsteen, Prince, Barbra Streisand and others. But their conversation always turned back to the audience. In fact, part of what made Springsteen's first performance on The Tonight Show Black Thought's favorite was the moment where the entire crowd joined The Boss onstage for “The E Street Shuffle.”
When asked how the cast and crew get energized for each show, Fallon pointed to the attendees. "Everyone's so psyched, that you don't even care what happens," he said. "I love that moment. That's one of the best parts of the show, when people are just — everybody's having fun, and you look at the audience. It's like watching a magic trick, perfectly performed."
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.