Sheila E. on Beating Prince at Basketball, Not Rehearsing for the 21-Nite Stand and Whether She's a Better Drummer

Categories: Q&As
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www.sheilae.com
Sheila Escovedo, better known as Sheila E., didn't really need Prince to discover her: Her dad is Latin jazz legend and timbalero Pete Escovedo, and she'd toured with Natalie Cole, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, among others, before Prince took her under his wing in 1983 and pushed her first solo album, The Glamorous Life. Because she's toured with Prince throughout both their careers, something just clicks when you watch her open for and perform with Prince at his "Welcome 2 America Live: 21-Nite Stand" at the Inglewood Forum.

After the jump, read what she has to say about being a hot timbalera at 53, being on call for Prince's "21-Nite Stand" and who's the better drummer.


Sheila E and Prince - A Love Bizarre by abelflexes

OC Weekly: What's it like playing the "Welcome to America Live: The 21 Nite Stand" tour with Prince? 
Sheila E.:
Every show with Prince is always amazing, you never know what to expect. I don't know how many shows I'm doing; I haven't played every single show thus far. (She didn't play last night either.--Ed.) I'm just on call, when he wants me to play, I'll play.

What kind of advance notice do you get? Sometimes the night before, or the day of. Because I know he's playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I try to schedule things according to knowing I'd have to be at soundcheck or performing at night. But life goes on as normal as possible for me because I'm running around promoting the E. Family's new CD called Now and Forever: The E. Family, so we've been pretty busy.

You've played on a lot of Prince's tours--how different is this one?
I think it's pretty awesome that he's an artist that is able to say, 'Hey I'm doing 21 shows in Los Angeles' and not do them in a row. It's pretty amazing to be able to do that--[touring on] the road is pretty hard and takes its toll on your body, so I think it's very cool to be able to [jump in the shows] and still be at home.

I saw you last week and your energy on stage is off the hook. How do you sustain that?
I don't exercise and work out as much as I used to, and I should because I have a lot of injuries, and now that I'm 53...

You're 53!? You look amazing.
Thank you. I'll be 54 in December. [Drumming] takes a lot, and it's so demanding to put out like that every single night. My sister is a masseuse and she works on me, because the day after a performance I'm in a lot of pain.
But of course I choose to perform in 5-, 6-inch heels and jump around on stage like I'm 20, so... I enjoy what I do, but definitely all drummers and performers should work out.

You paved the way for many female drummers...do you keep tabs on a lot of new ones these days?
I'm not the first to make my name known, I'd say that was Karen Carpenter. But I think I was one of the first--timbaleras. I've never seen a woman front their own band and play timbales before me. Who would've thought to do that? It ended up working. Right now, I'd say the drummers for Beyonce are really really good. Cindy Blackman (Lenny Kravitz's drummer) is good. Most of the women drummers I know right now, most of them can play rings around me. And they're more advanced technically in playing.

I'm always listening other musicians and artists, I'll continue to be a student of music for the rest of my life, because there's not enough that I could ever learn. Different types of music, where it comes from, different musicians and how they play, songwriters--that can keep you pretty occupied.

What about Prince? What did you learn from him?
I learned that I can beat him at basketball and ping-pong. And pool, sometimes!

Do you ever have drum-offs?
Yes, he can play drums very well!

Are you better than he is?
I don't know. (Laughs) Everyone asks me that, even with my dad and my brothers. but it's hard to say because everyone's style is different. I can be a chameleon, if you need me to drum and just keep time, I can do that. If you need me to solo, I can do that. If you need me to do Latin jazz, I can I do that. I don't think Prince is that versatile in other styles but he plays it his way, which still makes sense. He plays beats that I can't do!

How much input do you get on Prince's set list? Do you get to choose songs?
He asks my opinion, and he's always open to suggestions. Like I said, we're all students to ideas. [The thing about these shows is,] when you think you've seen the best and you think you've seen it, you haven't. The set list changes every single day, so every show is different. You can't say that about any other artist. 

How do you prepare for an ever changing setlist?
I haven't done any rehearsals with Prince. I showed up one day for rehearsals on the first day. That was it. When I see him I get a set list, and I talk to him about certain songs, where I should come up or down. The band rehearses every day but I don't, I just show up and I just play.

Sheila E. performs with Prince tonight and Saturday at the Forum in Inglewood.

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