Jimmy Kimmel's childhood friend doubles as band leader

Sandy Kenyon Image
Monday, April 27, 2015
Jimmy Kimmel's childhood friend doubles as band leader
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LOS ANGELES (WABC) -- A talk show host with a house band and band leader has become a staple of late-night television, and Jimmy Kimmel is no exception.

But there is a special relationship at play in his case, and getting his band together had one requirement.

"I'll tell you one thing," he said. "It had to have my band leader, Cleto."

Born in Brooklyn, Kimmel moved to Las Vegas as a child and met best friend Cleto Escobedo at the age of 9, when they performed in the band together.

"He was a child prodigy," Kimmel said. "Like the whole school would gather to watch. He'd get standing ovations. It was a crazy thing."

Cleto had his influences, growing up the son of a professional musician.

"He became a professional musician," Kimmel said. "He toured with Earth, Wind and Fire, Paula Abdul. He had his own record deal."

Growing up, they both admired David Letterman and his band.

"And I just thought, oh my God, you know?" Kimmel said. "I have a talk show. Cleto has to be my band leader."

The year was 2003, and Jimmy decided to come clean to the president of ABC.

"I was nervous, because I thought they'd say 'we don't want your friend to be the band leader,'" he said. "So I took the president of ABC to see him play with his band, and he loved it."

It was a done deal, and that's how Cleto came to be standing there on stage next to his dad, Cleto Escobedo, Sr., who plays in his band.

And so two boys who grew up across the street from each other are still together every weeknight on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

"Of course I wanted great musicians, but I wanted somebody I had chemistry with," Kimmel said. "And there's nobody in my life I have better chemistry with than him."

Both old friends ended up gaining, because before Jimmy came calling, Cleto had actually soured on the music business and hung up his sax for a time.

Now, they've been together on stage in Hollywood for a dozen years and counting.