STILL PRINCE’S CINDERELLA: A CONVERSATION WITH SHEILA E.


This article is written by MIKE RAGOGNA at THE HUFFINGTON POST

MIKE RAGOGNA: Why, it’s the one and only SHEILA E.

SHEILA E.: Hi, how are you?

MR: I’m pretty good. How are you doing?

SE: Great, thank you.

MR: Sheila, it seems that you are up to something lately that has to do with the one and only PRINCE.

SE: Well, he’s been performing shows every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at THE FORUM in Los Angeles. He has different opening acts every night. So you never know who’s going to open and the show changes every single night. I never know when I’m going to play. Lately, I’ve been playing just Fridays and Saturdays. It’s an awesome show and I really advise anyone who can come and get tickets to see the show to do so.

It looks like most people who came all ready enjoy it so much that they have bought multiple tickets to come to see PRINCE. Every show that they’ve seen, if it’s more than two or three, they just can’t believe how much the show changes every night or every time that they see the show. It’s incredible. It’s like, how could it get any better? But it does.

MR: It’s really hard to imagine that level of creativity, that level of output. So, you have a concert series like this and of course you’re going to want to go to all of those shows.

SE: Yes, most people that we’ve seen have come more than once and they thought they were only going to see it once. But they loved it so much, they’ve been buying multiple days.

MR: Do you do the same thing, changing up your track list when you play these concerts?

SE: Yes, I’m within his show. I opened up once and that was a couple of weeks ago with my family: THE E FAMILY. We opened up the show. And then later on that evening, I performed most of his show with him as well. Then we played an afterparty, so I took the next day off. But yeah, the set changes for me even not knowing what songs I’m going to play. His playlist is so extensive. If you think about it, there’s probably a good 250 songs that he could pull from easily, which is crazy and amazing at the same time and they are all great songs. Depending on what the songs are, I come in and out of the show based on what songs I can apply my gift to, whether it be timbales, congas, vocals or even just dance.

MR: Do you perform all your hits: THE GLAMOROUS LIFE, BELLE OF ST. MARK and LOVE BIZARRE – tracks like that?

SE: I haven’t done BELLE OF ST. MARK. But I have done THE GLAMOROUS LIFE as well as LOVE BIZARRE and some of the other songs that PRINCE and I have done together. For instance: YOU’VE GOT THE LOOK. People remember that song that we played together and there was a video for that during SIGN O’ THE TIMES. A lot of good stuff, though.

MR: Nice. Who is in PRINCE’S band right now?

SE: JOHN BLACKWELL on drums, IDA NIELSON on bass, RENATO NETO on keyboards, CASSANDRA O’NEIL on keyboards, MORRIS HAYES on keyboards. And then he has three singers: SHELBY J, ELISA and LIV. That’s it. Oh…and periodically he had an amazing ballet dancer from New York, but she had to go back to her show. She was in and out of the show as well as the twins who are dancers. They are called the twins…and they are twins. They are in and out of the show most of the time now as well.

He’s trying to make room for everyone to be on stage since the stage is the actual symbol that you used to see. It’s very strategic how he places everyone because of the stage being limited in space. That’s why we interact as far as being up and down. Like if the twins do a lot of dancing, then I won’t come up as much because I might interfere with the dancing because of the limited space in the front.

MR: What are some of your favourite on stage extravaganzas that you’re either a part of or witnessing?

SE: Well, last week, I was able to take the day off and I sat there on Friday and I actually watched the show. I haven’t seen this show live ever – the one that he’s doing now – and I had such a blast. I was up singing and dancing like all the other fans were and I had a great time. He’s just so amazing, you know? I’m such a fan – not just his friend – but a fan of his music and his musicianship. There’s never a dull moment. He changes it up.

There aren’t too many artists that can do that, that can change up their entire show – the set lists, the lights and then being very spontaneous and just go with the flow based on how he feels, how the crowd feels and how much time we have. To be able to be free like that, I don’t know very many artists that can do that.

MR: How about the crew and everybody that has to keep up with him?

SE: Oh, absolutely. If anyone was able to film what happens underneath the stage, it’s like a jam on the freeway sometimes, you know. Everyone racing around trying to figure out what’s next because we do have a set list, which is very cool. We get excited when we see that set list, the list of songs we’re going to perform for the night and somewhere in the midst of it, it all changes, which is even more fantastic because they are songs that aren’t on the list and we’ll just start playing because he wants to jam and just play and…I’m telling you, it’s unbelievable.

Every time I hear another song, I think, “Oh, my God, that’s one’s my favourite…No, this one’s my favourite.” It’s a blast. I’m underneath the stage when I’m not on stage.

MR: Underneath the stage?

SE: I’m underneath the stage because it’s in the round and I’m down there dancing.

MR: And like you said, how can you not dance to PRINCE’S stuff? There’s got to be this feeling of, “Isn’t that cool?” and then, come the next song, “Isn’t that cool?”

SE: It’s kind of like being in a nightclub and it’s one long club mix. It’s one hit after another, and he does say, “I’ve got so many hits I don’t know how long I’m gonna be here tonight.” And it’s the truth, he’s got a ton of fantastic songs.

MR: Which do you feel are the songs that the crowd not only goes nuts over, but you also hear the most folks singing along to?

SE: You know, I have to say that probably 90% of the time, they are singing on most all of them. Literally. The fans have been die hard fans that really know his songs, all of them from different years. And then there’s a segment where he’s out there by himself and he does a ton of hits by himself and the crowd goes mad.

MR: How long is this concert series?

SE: There were 21 dates.

MR: Has this ever been done before by any other artist?

SE: Not that I know of. I’ve never known an artist to be able to just come into town and set up camp and just hang out and play a colosseum every weekend – a residency type situation. I don’t know of too many people that are able to do that. And 21 shows…he might be breaking a record. It’s a possibility. I don’t know. I don’t know how many people have played THE FORUM and have done at least 21 shows.

MR: That’s a really wild ride that you’re on right now.

SE: Yeah, it’s fantastic. We’re having such a great time. The camaraderie of all the musicians in the band – me being a part of what they’re doing, what PRINCE is doing. I love being around him. He’s just a joy to be around. We just have a great time.

MR: You also have your E FAMILY album.

SE: Yes, the E FAMILY CD is out and you can actually buy it at the PRINCE concert as well as online at the-e-family.com. We also have EARTH, WIND & FIRE, JOSS STONE, RAPHAEL SAADIQ, GEORGE DUKE, ISRAEL HOUGHTON, a lot of artists on the CD.

MR: All incredible artists too.

SE: Yes. Yes they are.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

SE: The advice that I have basically is to be true to yourself. Be honest and search for what you want to be. As a new artist, sometimes, you’re not really sure and then you end up changing your direction based upon what you go through in life experiences. You start changing the music you want to sing, you want to write, you want to perform. Beyond time, be very respectful. I think the best attitude is gratitude.

MR: Seriously.

SE: Seriously. There are so many new artists that I hear about that have such an attitude and thinking that this is the way it’s supposed to be, to disrespect people in so many different ways. It’s not even worth it. Longevity is going to be based on the experience that you’ve had in your career based on how you treat people and your musicianship and what you do. So, I think definitely treat people how you want to be treated and enjoy it.

But you’re going to have to work really really hard, especially because the industry has changed so much. There are not that many record companies. But there are a lot of opportunities to get music out now and so many people right now have their own studios in their homes or know someone that does. It’s easy to sell your CDs on line as well as your music, you know, singles.

But you really have to work hard. You have to know how to market yourself. Get a good team. It takes a team. It’s not going to be just you that’s going to do it. You can’t do it by yourself. You’ve got to have a great team.

MR: And that circles right back to how you started in this, meeting PRINCE, his then having protégés and artists he developed.

SE: Yes.

MR: I imagine PRINCE is someone who still is supportive of new artists.

SE: He is very supportive of new artists. When I first met him in 1978, I hadn’t changed my name yet. SHEILA ESCOVEDO is my real name. When I went to see him for the first time perform in San Francisco, I walked up to him and he saw me coming and he turned around and I put my hand out to introduce myself. I said, “Hi, my name is…” and he said, “I all ready know who you are.”

I said, “Really?” and I was kind of shocked and thrown back because I had no idea. He said, “Yeah, I’ve been following your career for a while and I’ve been watching you perform with George Duke, watching you on television shows and watching you play percussion and drums.”

So he was all ready into my career, which was great. I had no idea. I’d played with so many different artists up to that point. When he hears new music that he really enjoys and new artists that are really trying to make a way and they have that passion, I think all of us are behind new artists that want to do that.

We’re rooting for them. It’s not a competition. It’s more like a celebration of music.

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