By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK — It’s a wrap for ‘Tonight Show‘ bandleader Kevin Eubanks after 18 years backing up host Jay Leno.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument,” Leno said, bidding Eubanks farewell on Friday’s show. “We’ve had a lot of fun.”
Eubanks, whose duties included comic sidekick to Leno as well as guitarist, had been aboard since Leno took over NBC’s ‘Tonight’ in 1992. Eubanks became musical director when Branford Marsalis left in 1995.
The 52-year-old Eubanks joined Leno last fall for the short-lived ‘The Jay Leno Show’ in prime time, then came back to ‘Tonight’ when Leno reclaimed the show from Conan O’Brien in March. O’Brien left NBC rather than move ‘Tonight’ to a later slot to make room for Leno in late night.
In April, Eubanks announced his plans to depart, but he insisted the recent turmoil had played no part in his decision. He said he was seeking a career change of pace.
Exiting with Eubanks will be the other five members of the Tonight Show Band. They include vocalist and percussionist Vicki Randle, keyboardist Gerry Etkins, bass guitarist Derrick “Dock” Murdock, saxophonist Ralph Moore and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith.
“We have gone through all this together,” said Eubanks, introducing and thanking them.
During the hourlong show, a clip reel highlighted comic moments Leno and Eubanks have shared through the years, then Eubanks was featured performing an original song.
He will be replaced by former ‘American Idol‘ music director Rickey Minor, who arrives with his own troupe June 7.
‘The Tonight Show’ will air reruns next week.