Iconic Sheila E Beats To Her Own Drum
The Grammy Award-Winning hit maker opens up musically and in a new memoire
Sheila Escovedo, better known as Emmy and Grammy nominated Sheila E, is singing her own songs and drumming to her own beat these days.
Sheila E hit it big in the 1980s with songs “The Glamorous Life,” “A Love Bizarre,” and her collaboration with her friend and former lover Prince, “Erotic City.”
The Oakland native, who currently lives in Los Angeles, is following up the released her latest album, Icon, at the beginning of the summer with her tell-all memoire, The Beat of My Own Drum: A Memoir, availableSeptember 2.
Icon is available digitally and on a special vinyl edition that includes up to four additional songs.
The album is a collection of a variety of genres from gospel to Latin to pop that reflects the world of music she grew up enjoying listening to and playing that fans usually get during her life performances, rather than on her records until now, she says.
“This is who I really am. I am all of the above. I feel like I belong to everyone and I love all types of music,” says Sheila E, 56, who put her live performances where she sings gospel, Latin Jazz, pop and R&B on this album.
“Everyday seems like it’s the very first time,” Sheila E says about making music and performing. “I think that’s my love for what I get to do and the passion that I have. I know when that feeling goes away I need to quit. I hope that it never does.”
Her memoire, that goes hand-in-hand with her first solo album in 12 years, is an intimate and profound look at her experience of the so-called “glamorous life” revealing the hard, honest truth about what it takes to make it as an artist, especially a female artist.
The Glamorous Life
The “glamorous life” isn’t as it all appears to be and definitely not for the faint of heart.
Sheila E drops some bombshells opening up about her affair with famed musician Carlos Santana, when she was 18 years old and he was married, and other secrets during her music career spanning 40 years.
She has no idea what Carols will think about her sharing intimate details about their affair publicly for the first time in nearly 40 years.
“I think it’s going to be a surprise,” says Sheila E, about not informing Carlos about being mentioned her book. “The Beat of My Own Drum is about my journey and my experience. If there’s things that I want to share about my life, I think it’s OK to do so.”
That was just the beginning of life on the way up to being a rock star in her own right. Touring with some of the biggest names in music, she bumped up against Ringo Starr who tells her, “You are the drummer and don’t forget it,” to disagreements over style with Diana Ross to the unsolicited promises of record deals for a little action in bed to the heartbreak and grief over her mentor and friend, Marvin Gaye’s death. That’s just the famous musicians.
She learned how to play the drums mirroring her musician father, the legendary percussionist Pete Escovedo. She dreamed of being an Olympic sprinter before she discovered she was a talented musician and headed out on the road with her father when she was 15-years old.
The day Girls That Roam chatted with Sheila E, she was enjoying a rare day at home and working on her house in Los Angeles. She was excited about the chance to go out that weekend to see her father perform.
“I’m really proud of him that he’s still playing at 79 years old,” says Sheila E. “It’s amazing. I just love him and I love his music.”
Sheila E has toured and worked with some of music’s biggest names, such as Beyonce, George Duke, Gloria Estefan, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, Prince, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, and Ringo Starr among others before striking out on her own with her 1984 hit solo album, The Glamorous Life, which she shares her insights about being a woman in the music industry and growing up in Oakland.
“I always say to people, that this was a place, as far as music, some of the best music and best artists and musicians has come from the Bay Area,” says Sheila E. “Growing up in that environment has made me the artist that I am.”
The stories about the people are only part of the story that includes the grueling ritual of performing night after night and popping in and out of one city after city. Sheila E won’t complain about the challenges she faced suffering abuse at a very early age from a cousin to the mistreatment by fellow musicians and the harsh schedule of performing that sometimes led to her hands bleeding and took her far from home for long periods of time making her homesick.
“People say, ‘Oh the glamorous life and it’s easy and its fun.’ Yes it is fun. I try to make it as easy as possible, but being in the entertainment business … is very challenging,” says Sheila E. She kept her head up high in between jealous comments, sexual advances on her, and more in the male dominated music industry, not to mention many nights away from home touring. She has spent a life away from home so often that she jokes that her address is, “101 World.”
“We sacrifice. We give up a lot,” she continues, adding that she’s grateful for her parents, friends, fans and music.
“You never know what someone is going through and the same applies to artists and musicians,” continues Sheila E. “You never know what we are going through and what has made us the person or the people that we are now.”
“To me we are all human. If I’m just able to share my story and … they can relate that’s a great thing. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone,” she adds, stating that every time she testifies her experience at church and elsewhere it gets easier to forgive and move forward with her life.
However, that doesn’t mean that it was easy putting her truth into words on the printed page.
It’s challenging to “write and describe in detail” in a way that readers will understand the reality of “how hard it really is, the industry can either make you or break you,” she says.
Fortunately, for her, Sheila E had a great foundation with her parents, friends, mentors and fans, she says. Her parents told her to stay focused, no matter what anyone said to her, remain professional, keep smiling, and don’t burn bridges.
“This is a gift you are able to go in there and share this with everyone,” says Sheila E, who “still got a lot of flack” when she walked into the stage or studio. But she went in with a “smile on my face and sometimes it would hurt and I would smile anyway and get through it and after a while it got a little bit better,” she says.
The Gift of Music
Sheila E recognizes the fact that she grew up in a world of who’s who of music legends and cherishes music, which she says saved her life.
“If you don’t water a plant it’s going to die. That’s how I feel, music is water, it’s refreshing, it’s healing, music is everything to me,” says Sheila E, who is giving her gift and love of music and the arts to future artists through the Elevate Hope Foundation and Stiletto Flats, her record label. “It’s a place of expression and creativity, a place of release and allows us to express ourselves.”
Sheila E can often be found in the Bay Area supporting the foundation that she co-founded with Lynn Mabry and chairs. The foundation funds Elevate Oakland, a program that brings music and art to Oakland’s foster youth and public schools through programs and mentorships, with an estimated $100,000 raised at a fundraiser at the Fox Theatre in Oakland in 2013 and other donations. She anticipates expanding the program throughout the Bay Area in the future.
“Bringing the music and the arts back into the schools in the Bay Area has just been a blessing,” says Sheila E, who thought other girls grew up with drums in their own homes, but quickly found out that she wasn’t an average girl when she stepped outside of the Bay Area for the first time. “So we are going to continue to do that.”
Additionally, she’s looking forward to signing some new artists and producers to work with her.
“Stiletto Flats is not just for me it’s for everybody,” says Sheila E. “We just want to be an encouragement and mentor people.”
“Oh, you can go on television and be a star, but are you really equipped to be in this business?” asks Sheila E. “It’s a hard life.”
Stopping to See the World
Sheila E isn’t slowing down in terms of her career and sharing her love of music, but she is working on slowing down to enjoy the cities she performs in as well as pairing down her wardrobe when she’s touring, she says.
A typical girl, she had to have her shoes and clothes while traveling on the road. She often traveled with three suitcases: one for shoes, one for clothes and one for jackets.
Today, she has pared it down to make traveling easier and she advises other women to do the same.
“I’m making it simple. The simpler the better,” says Sheila E, who encourages women to sign up for Pre-Check, pack light, wear comfortable shoes, and “get as much rest as you can,” when traveling.
The days of landing in a city and entering through the back door and leaving just as quickly as she came are winding down a bit. Today, she makes an attempt to check out a city and its local performers as well as the food.
“Nowadays, I try to at least go and experience the food and find out if there is someone else playing in the city the night that we get in to experience their music,” says Sheila E.
Don’t ask her to pick which place she’s traveled to is her favorite.
“It’s such an unfair question because I love so many different places that I go, even if it’s a place that I’ve been many times before,” says Sheila E, who enjoys touring Europe as much as she enjoys traveling around the US. “I can’t just pick one.”
All the traveling she’s done, she still hasn’t been to Africa or India.
“I still want to go to Africa. I would like to go to India,” she says.
“I love the people and I would love to go there,” says Sheila E, who wants to perform in Africa. “A lot of the instruments that I play come from Africa, so I would love to experience being able to go there and play for the people.”
“India, I just love the people and I love the food,” she adds.
Travel has taught her to appreciate home.
“You are more thankful and grateful for the place that you live,” says Sheila E. Even though there are many places she envisions she could potentially live for several months to a year at a time, “I think about it, yeah, but I would miss home.”
“It’s nice to be home,” says Sheila E, who enjoys cooking and taking care of things around the house and playing with her dog and seeing her family and friends.
For more information, visit SheilaE.com.
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