Malcolm X Abram: Sheila E. to perform at Tangier in Akron

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Sheila E. is on the road celebrating her 40th year in the music business while continuing to have a trailblazing career. As you know, shes a world-class drummer and percussionist whose credits read like chapters in a music history book, Ringo Starr, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Beyonce, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan and George Duke. She is bringing her talents to The Tangier on Wednesday, May 28th.

Sheila E. first hit the national music scene in 1984, duetting with Prince on the Let’s Go Crazy B-side Erotic City. Shortly after, she released her debut single and video for The Glamorous Life.

While most music fans assumed she was just another sexy Prince protégé who happened to play timbales, Sheila E., nee Escovedo, already had a lengthy resume as a session and touring percussionist that began at age 15 when she started playing with her family band led by her father, Latin percussion legend Pete Escovedo.

Before meeting Prince in 1978, Escovedo, who will perform Wednesday at Tangier in Akron, had already recorded and/or toured with a variety of artists, including Billy Cobham, Con Funk Shun, George Duke, Herbie Hancock and Lionel Richie.

With The Glamorous Life, Escovedo became a pop star and went on to have a few more charting hits such as The Belle of St. Mark, A Love Bizarre and Hold Me as well as serving as Prince’s drummer for a few tours in the late ’80s before leaving the Purple One’s purple auspices and striking out on her own.

Since then, the proud Oakland, Calif., native has worked constantly, releasing solo albums, periodically touring with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band and continuing as a first-call percussionist.

After taking a dozen years off from releasing albums, Escovedo, 56, returned to the digital store shelves last November with her latest — Sheila E. ICON — an eclectic collection of songs celebrating her four decades in the music business. It dovetails synergistically with the upcoming September release of her autobiography The Beat of My Own Drum in which Escovedo reveals early childhood sexual abuse as well as stories from her years of working with music legends.

“I didn’t know it was so long since I’d done a record because I’ve been busy,” Escovedo said from Los Angeles. “As I was writing my autobiography, I realized that there were stories that should be songs, as well as there were songs that I had written that should be told in the book, and that’s how the album came about.”

Escovedo said she had never stopped recording her music, but between working with other artists and her work in the Bay Area community, which includes her ministry, she hadn’t felt the need to put together an album of her own. Sheila E. ICON, Escovedo’s seventh solo album, covers a lot of styles and features Prince and several Bay Area guests, including members of the Escovedo tribe.

The 16-track collection touches on Latin jazz on Mona Lisa, funky hip-hop on Fiesta featuring emcee B. Slade, and Nasty Thang featuring rap legend MC Lyte. Then there is gospel-infused R&B on Lovely Day and Prince-flavored pop rock on I’ll Give You That and RockStar. There is also a Latin funk emphasis on the Prince co-written and guitar-laden Leader of the Band and a down-and-dirty East Bay funk sound on Oakland Is N Da House.

“It’s kind of who I am as an artist as far as different genres of music,” she said. “And since I started my own label Stilettoflats [Music], it’s made it easier for me to do the music that I love to do. … I’ve always wanted to do that since my first record.

“Growing up in the Bay Area, that’s a place where the music is very eclectic. You got Sly & the Family Stone, Tower of Power into the Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana,” she continued. “There’s so much music in the Bay Area, it made me the artist I am with the different types of music we were able to hear all the time.”

Lyrically, the album is her most personal, Escovedo said, in part because she was writing the book that also allowed her to take a step back and look at her life.

“I think about the people I’ve been able to play with, record, or go on tour, starting with my dad. … My brothers and I would catch the bus and go and sit outside of the community centers whenever we could and listen to Larry Graham or Sly [Stone] or Tower [of Power] or the Pointer Sisters, if we couldn’t get in or if they weren’t playing in our living room,” she said.

With a four-decade career behind her and plenty ahead, Escovedo said she realizes how special her story and career have been. And she gives back through her nonprofit Elevate Hope Foundation, which assists the needs of abused and abandoned children through music therapy. She also started Sheila E. Player’s Series, a line of percussion instruments for kids.

“I’ve been so blessed to be around those great musicians at an early age and they really have kept me inspired and I’ve learned a lot about what to do and even what not to do. It helps me in my situation,” she said.

“And to be able to be a student of life and continue to be learning so many things early on and having that opportunity, it’s just mind-boggling. I look at people who are 15 now and realize at 15 I was already starting to tour as a professional musician, so it’s pretty awesome.”

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.


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