Page Two: Sheila E.: The Helen Mirren of Pop
Don't let the Tea Party assholes fool you: It doesn't get more American than a prancing little black genius from Minneapolis and a gorgeous Latina amazon from California deeply grooving on guitar and percussion for the most truly integrated audience you are likely to see anywhere in the United States. And it's happening right now, right here in the Southland, at Inglewood's Forum.
As much as Prince blew us away on the opening night of his 21 Nite Stand at the Forum, Sheila E. left us scraping our jaws off the floor. (Read the account and see the photos at laweekly.com.) People were visibly excited when stagehands set up her drum set, but when she strutted onstage, they went wild. She's the Helen Mirren of pop.
It is Prince's gig, but Sheila E. deserves the spotlight, too. So we gave her a call.
L.A. WEEKLY: We were there opening night. It was so amazing. Did you all feel that way? Did you think you were just warming up, or did you feel like it was a special show?
SHEILA E.: For me, it's always special. It's always wonderful. To play Los Angeles — I don't think we've played since Musicology. That was the last time I played with him here that I can think of. It was special, but every show is so different. Last week Saturday — Thursday and Saturday — were just incredible. Beyond words. Like it was opening night. Again, every show is different, but like I said, last Saturday was a-maz-ing.
How much do you plan the show in advance?
Well, first of all, I don't really rehearse with him. He just calls me when he wants me to come and play. Like today, I'm not — I don't think that I'm playing. So I'm just here at the office, working. [Ed.'s note: "At Prince's office, working" must be the weirdest (or coolest) office job ever!] When he wants me to play, he'll send a message, and then I get there, go into hair and makeup. Maybe an hour before the show he'll give me a list, and I'll figure out where I come in and out of the show. But the rest of the band have been rehearsing every day.
So you actually don't know in the afternoon if you're gonna be playing.
Does that ever cause you anxiety?
Nahhh. He and I have been like this for a long time. Sometimes I'll even get there and he'll change his mind, and say, "Maybe we should wait until tomorrow, and you take a rest."
Last Thursday, my family, the E Family, opened up the show, and then I played the whole two and a half hours with him, and then I played the after party. So Friday I went to the Forum to go to work, and he said, "You know what? You should just rest." So I hung out on Friday and just got to watch the show. I don't think I remember the last time I was ever able to watch the show from the audience's perspective. He ended up calling me to dance onstage to "Cool" with Cuba Gooding Jr. But that's how he does things, and you just roll with it. They call me Miss Spur-of-the-Moment anyway, so I sometimes do the same thing. It's all good.
He's been doing after parties?
Yeah, at the Forum Club.
What happens at those? How does he have all that energy?
After the show he has DJ Rashida spin upstairs, and now what we've been doing is he's set up gear up there, and we'll just jam. And other artists come up there, someone we know, and we'll bring them up on the stage 'cause it's really small. It's more of a hang. It's not like we're performing; we're just having a great time in another room.
And you don't know if the actual show will be short or not?
The show on Saturday — the list of songs was so long, it looked like they made the font smaller on the page. It must've been 30 songs, I'm not kidding. Usually we do two encores, maybe four. Last week we did six encores, and each encore was between one and four to five songs. One of the nights last week, I didn't even start playing until the encores. And the encores, we played an entire hour. That's a whole 'nother show!
The first Thursday, that's what happened — half of the people left, they didn't realize that he kept going.
Yeah, so we never know. Sometimes he'll cut it short — it depends on how he feels. I mean, if you can imagine, that show was over three hours, three and a half hours or something like that. It takes a lot of energy to do that. Everyone's pretty tired. But once you get backstage and you say hi to everybody, get something to eat, you kinda just hang out and you wanna socialize with people you never get to see. Especially in Los Angeles, a lot of friends and family come out, people you haven't seen in a long time. It's a good time to fellowship.
The Welcome to America tour started on the East Coast, and then went to the Midwest.
I only played two or three shows in New York, and then they went to the Midwest, North, South Carolina, and I didn't play any of those. Now he's here for 21 shows. I think he's just picking and choosing where he wants to hang out. I think it's great. For us as entertainers traveling, the schedule gets really crazy — flying all the time, being on a bus tour, changing hotels every day. And it's challenging. I love this just as much, or maybe more — he's an artist who is able to say, "Hey, I'm gonna stay here for 21 shows," and just kinda hang out at a place. "Then I'll pick the next place where I wanna go perform." I don't know anyone who's ever done this. Ever.
What were you doing before you got the call to do this?
My family has a new album called Now & Forever, and we just released it. We have Gloria Estefan, Joss Stone, Raphael Saadiq, George Duke, Israel Houghton, Earth Wind & Fire. It's a great CD. We're doing a lot of shows. I actually bought the masters from the record company because they were holding our CD hostage for two and a half years. What a waste, all the work that we did — and they ended up letting their company go, and I bought the masters back myself about four months ago. And I released it and put it out on my own label, Stilettoflats Records. Right now, you can only buy it officially at the E Family website [the-e-family.com], and at the Forum at Prince's concerts.
Prince (possibly with Sheila E., if he feels like it) plays at the Inglewood Forum Thurs., May 5, Fri., May 6, and Sat., May 7. Go or you'll regret it.
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