Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sheila E. Flirts With The Glamorous Life

Sheila Escovedo, or Sheila E. to her fans, was born into a family with considerable musical heritage. Her father Pete had been a band leader with the Latin jazz band Azteca during the 70s, and her Uncle Coke is a noted percussionist. Sheila soon picked up the sticks herself at age three and was performing at age five. Inspired with the passion she felt for music Sheila Escovedo soon set about sharing her talents with the world.

From the age of 17 she work
ed relentlessly as a touring and studio musician with a swag of high profile artists, including Babyface, Natalie Cole, George Duke, Stevie Nicks, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie and Tito Puente. After coming to the attention of Prince, Sheila Escovedo took on the professional moniker of Sheila E. She toured with Prince as a percussionist and backing vocalist during 1983, and sang on the track ‘Erotic City’ which was a B-side to Prince’s 1984 hit single ‘Let’s Go Crazy’. The diminutive music maestro then took Sheila E. under his creative wing, overseeing the recording of her first album ‘The Glamorous Life’ in 1984. The title track was the lead out single and made Sheila E. a superstar, going on to reach #7 in the U.S. and #11 in Australia during the second half of ‘84. The album sold good numbers in line with the single’s success, hitting #28 on Billboard’s Hot 200 chart (OZ#66), and Sheila E’s profile surged to new heights on the back of multiple Grammy and American Music Award nominations, along with the promo video for ‘The Glamorous Life’ winning the MTV Best Video Award for 1984.

The second single ‘The Belle Of St. Mark’ further consolidated Sheila E.’s status as new generation pop royalty, reaching #16 in Australia, #18 in Britain and #34 in the U.S. It was therefore appropriate that Sheila E. should be the support act on Prince’s sellout ‘Purple
Rain’ world tour across 1984/85. Prince’s influence on Sheila E. was evident during this period, both musically and image wise, but let’s face it at the time Prince was pop music’s unofficial head of state, so who better to have as your mentor. During the latter half of the tour Sheila E. found time to compose the tracks for her second album ‘Romance 1600’ (US#12R&B). The album was released in August ‘85 and featured the hit single ‘A Love Bizarre’ which Prince co-wrote and contributed backing vocals to. The song reached #11 in the U.S., though its follow up ‘Sister Fate’ failed to breach the top 75. Her career continued at breakneck speed through 1986, during which time she toured as the opening act on Lionel Richie’s world tour, and found time to make her acting debut in the motion picture ‘Krush Groove’, contributing the song ‘Holly Rock’ to the film’s soundtrack.

Sheila E. took more time in writing and recording her third album, 1987’s self titled set. The album was once again released on Prince’s Paisley Park label, but Sheila E. started to take the reigns more in the studio. Though reaching a solid #24 on the U.S. R&B charts, the album yielded only the minor mainstream hit with ‘Hold Me’ (US#68), though the track topped the R&B charts. Sheila E. then rejoined Prince’s backing band for his 1987 ‘Sign O’ The Times’ tour. In between that tour and Prince’s next ‘Lovesexy’ World Tour, Sheila E. found time to join her father Pete Escovedo and Latin jazz legend Tito Puente for the special ‘Latina Familia’ concert.

Sheila E. returned in 1991 with her fourth album ‘Sex Cymbal’. The album featured a mix of dance/groove oriented t
racks and soulful R&B ballads, worthy in many respects of contemporaries Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, and as always featuring exemplary musicianship, though not especially inspiring, at least not in terms of a commercial pop release. The title track was a minor hit in Australia (#87) but missed the Hot 100 in the U.S., whilst the album itself only ascended to #56 on the U.S. R&B charts, a relative disappointment compared to previous outings. The promo video for ‘Sex Cymbal’ was a brilliant effort though, and Sheila E. also continued her flirtation with motion pictures, making an appearance in the comedy hit ‘The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane’.

After a relentless work schedule over the past decade, Sheila
E. then took some time out, in part due to health issues. But in 1994 Sheila E. came storming back, this time as conductor of the E-Train project, performing a mix of funk, Latin jazz, gospel and soul. The E-Train roared across Europe on a sell-out tour, and continued to regularly perform through the 90s. 1998 saw Sheila E. become the first female band leader on variety TV, when she fronted the house band on Magic Johnson’s short lived variety show ‘The Magic Hour’. The 90s also saw her continue to contribute to other artists’ albums including Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Gloria Estefan, in addition to founding her own production company called Heaven Productions Music.

In 2000 she returned to the recording studio for her long overdue fifth album, ‘The Writes Of Passage’, which
was quickly followed by ‘Heaven’ in 2001. Never far from the picture, Prince invited Sheila E. to join his band once again for the 2004 ‘Musicology’ tour, and she has performed with him on a number of awards show appearances since.

Over the last decade Sheila E. has also lent her talent and boundless energy to a number of charity and humanitarian causes, with music often playing a key role both in the direction and expression of her work.

Blessed with a gift and driven by a desire to share that gift, Sheila E. is an inspired creative spirit, who in her own words says “my goal in life is to bless just one person a day” through her music and art. In the oft superficial and ruthlessly transient world of popular music, artists of Sheila E.’s integrity and ilk are all too rare. And besides all of that she is one kick-ass percussionist!

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