Sheila E. Recalls 'Insane' Time Playing Drums on Tour With Prince
Sheila E. has many blessings coming her way. The percussionist sat down with ET’s Matt Cohen to talk about her PBS special, Great Performances: Roots of Latin Jazz, and to take a trip down memory lane about hitting the road with the late, great Prince.
“It was insane,” Prince’s friend and drummer said of her time with the artist. “I always wanted to play drums in a rock and roll band, that was one of the things I always wanted to do because I started playing percussion first. And when I told Prince, I said, ‘I wanna play drums in a band. I don’t wanna be a lead artist anymore. I just wanna go play with people.’ And he was like, ‘OK, wanna play in my band?’ I’m like, ‘Sure.’ So that’s when Sign o’ the Times started.”
“I started playing drums, like, ‘Yes, I get to play rock and roll. I get to play funk.’ This was the first time playing an entire set playing drums. I loved it. I had so much fun,” Sheila, 63, noted. “But it was interesting because that Lovesexy tour, taking those solos, adding elements, we were adding, like, Miles Davis and little Latin stuff, just incorporating all the things that we loved.”
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Remembering her time with Prince fondly and recording her epic solos for Sign o’ the Times, Shiela believes it’s important for the younger generation to familiarize themselves with Prince’s music.
“Being educated in some of the older music is really important,” she expressed. “For me, growing up and my dad playing music that is older, it allowed me to be the musician that I am because he allowed me to really just play music to James Brown to Nancy Wilson and it was really just a mixture of so many different types of music. And older artists that I didn’t know, that they were really popular or anything like that, and later on meeting them or performing with them was really crazy.”
“Now with social media, a lot of the young kids are learning about different types of music, older music from that generation that I grew up in, which I think is important,” she said. “It makes me feel older but that’s OK…but I think it’s important.”
Fans will get to hear more of Prince’s music when his posthumous album, Welcome 2 America, drops on July 30. In the meantime, Sheila fans can see her on the PBS special Roots of Latin Jazz, which takes viewers on a musical journey from Cuba to Miami and Africa to Brazil, exploring the roots of Latin jazz. She joined the project when producer Tony Succar approached her to host.
“He’s just an incredible arranger, the way that he thinks, and musically he can go from one country to another. He knows all about the music and he arranges all the music. So he partnered with this guy and they got together and did this special and asked me to host it,” she explained. “I knew some of the stuff that he was playing because he would send it to me. And I still haven’t seen the entire performance. So when they called me, I met them at a warehouse. We did all the intros and everything…So it was amazing to be able to see what he’s created. He’s just incredible.”
The show premiered July 16 and also features performances by Raices Jazz Orchestra and GRAMMY-winning artists Richard Bona and Anaadi.
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And that’s not all Sheila has going on this year. She will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the upcoming Reader’s Poll issue of the popular industry magazine Modern Drummer, becoming the only female drummer ever honored in this way. And, later this year, Sheila and her extraordinary father — Pete Escovedo, a Latin jazz legend in his own right — will be honored by the Latin Recording Academy during the 2021 Latin GRAMMY celebrations in November with Lifetime Achievement awards.
“That’s the foundation of who I am, Latin jazz music. My dad practiced around the house every day, he had jam sessions, drums were in the house every day and he would have his band rehearsing in the living room,” she recalled. “And I just grew up listening to Latin jazz music. So it’s the foundation of who I am.”
As for what continues to drive and motivate Sheila to continue creating, it’s her “passion” and her “purpose.”
“And with that, every time I step on the stage it’s like it’s the very first time I played,” she replied. “The butterflies, the nervousness, everything about the excitement. Knowing that I’m about to get onstage, I just go, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, I get to do this again! Oh, you guys.’ Sometimes I’m like, ‘Y’all ain’t ready for this. Let’s go, woo!’ I’m back there yelling and screaming and I just go and I try to be calm when I get out.”
“I tell a lot of the young girls now that are playing, just be who you are,” she added of the advice she would give other aspiring drummers. “You know, God made you to be who you are. There’s only one of you and that’s who you are.”
Watch the video above to hear more.
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