by Kristen Kucharski
WATCH THE INTERVIEW: http://youtu.be/o6CL4arqM34
Anderson’s Bookshop hosted a very personal book signing with legendary Grammy-nominated singer, drummer, and percussionist Sheila “E” Escovedo where she very candidly spoke with fans about her powerful memoir, “The Beat of My Own Drum”. The book takes readers through a fascinating journey from Sheila E.’s very first band to her tours with Marvin Gaye, George Duke, Lionel Ritchie, and Prince, to the launch of her own solo career. But it’s also a heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive look how music can save a person’s life.
Although “family” was her protagonist in the book, as she always had them by her side, even for her biggest performances and music videos; "family" was also her antagonist, as she endured unbearable abuse at the hands of several cousins when she was child. Sheila holds steadfast that family will always be the most important thing in her life. “They are important to who I am as an artist and my music, and the person I have become,” she says. Her unwavering respect for her parents influenced career decisions such as refusing to say the “F” word while recording a song with Prince, staying away from a life of drugs and sex, and ensuring to always give back to those less fortunate than herself. “I saw people in my dad’s band strung out on drugs and that frightened me,” she shared.
“I just thought - that’s not the way to live a life.” Her parents, who she likens to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, provided a home of love rooted by a strong conviction in God. “My parents always said, ‘just because we don’t have, doesn’t mean we can’t give; we can give from our hearts, it doesn’t cost anything’.” Sheila’s memoir shares the inner details of her life on the road during her music career, including all “the money and belongings and applause”, but it also discloses how her glamorous life made her demanding, depressed and surprisingly, in debt; and how her biggest regret was not graduating high school.
“Education is the biggest tool that we can have in pursuing our career,” she says. “That’s the mistake that I made and learned from.” After 40 years in the business, she is just learning to read music now amongst many other things on her bucket list which include acting, performing on Broadway, and opening a second club, all the while knowing that God may have a different plan for her.
Q & A INTERVIEW
In your book "family" is your "protagonist" as in always having them by your side even for your biggest performances and music videos; yet, "family" is also your "antagonist" as in your cousins taking advantage of you when you were a young child....when you think of the word "family" what immediate words come to your mind?
Love – always, no matter what. Unconditional love. Family means everything to me. They are important to my life, they are important to who I am as an artist and my music, and the person I have become. After reading your book.....I love your mom, even though I've never met her. I love the overall respect you have for your parents...even to the point of telling Prince you didn't want to sing the F word because your mother would have a fit. When parents these days struggle so much with disrespectful children, how did your parents earn your never ending respect?
I respect my parents, I always have. My parents are people who are not only my parents but my best friends, but I still have that respect level. There were times when - of course - I’m not an angel; I wasn’t good all of the time. I turned out okay. There were times when I was bad, absolutely. Some lessons learned very quickly - Not to disrespect my family, my parents. The thing is that there were decisions that I had made during my musical career that I think weren’t great decisions, but they were things I wanted to do, and they allowed me to go through the process, like saying to your children, ‘don’t put your hand on the fire because it’s going to burn’, but we do it anyway. Because we have to experience what that really means in order to figure out not do it anymore – sometimes that happens. So there were some things, but it didn’t matter - they still loved me and cared for me and were still very supportive. We all went through a process of things together and it takes communication with parents and children to keep that bond and that respect. When the communication breaks down that’s when you end up hiding things, when you can’t talk to your parents, or the parents can’t talk to their children, and then there’s no respect. I’ve always had communication and a bond with my parents.
Although your dad was an extraordinary musician he struggled to pay the bills while you were growing up....Even in the most financially difficult times, your moms and pops never gave up on their belief that God would provide. Somehow through situations that tear most families apart, yours gained strength. How did their faith become so deeply rooted?
Moms and Pops have always said there are always people that are less fortunate than us. We are rich in who we are as people, even though financially in what we have is not rich, but that’s okay. There were times when literally my mom, if we didn’t have milk, she would use water in our cereal. If we didn’t have cereal, she would use bread and milk, it didn’t matter; most of the time we ate rice and beans because it was cheap. No matter what we had, we always gave back to the community. My parents always said, there are people less fortunate, let’s go back and give back to the community anyway – just because we don’t have, doesn’t mean we can’t give. We can give from our hearts, it doesn’t cost anything. So that was always the way we grew up – knowing that God would provide. What we don’t see right here on the table – because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean we can’t get it. He always provides for us and if we know that, then that allows us to walk freely in faith instead of walking in stress. We are too blessed to be stressed. It’s easy to say that, but you really have to walk in that. You really have to believe that. You have to really know it. We all go through things. In the hardest times, the really bad times, you want to call on God and go “Why, why…., but at the end of the day, you look back and go, ‘of course, He took care of us’. He always does. Although you played with some incredible musician like Carlos Santana, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie, George Duke, Ringo Starr, Elton John...... It appears Prince is to credit for Shelia E. becoming a household name? Why do you think he was so humble in his involvement in co-producing, co-writing, and performing your entire first album which reached #28 on the pop chart, was nominated for a Grammy, and went gold?
I did play with many people when I first met Prince and I turned around to introduce myself to him and he said to me, ‘I already know who you are, I’m a huge fan of yours’. He had been following my career for a while – I was playing with George Duke at the time and doing a lot of television appearances. When we finally got together to do my record, he had reached a level of popularity that was greater than mine and he was in a position to say, ‘hey, I’m signing other artists, I would love to have you on my roster of artists, and I can help you - if you have any songs, we can do them together’. And that’s exactly what we did, we got in the studio and the record was done in about a week. He was in a place of really giving back to a lot of other artists and wanting to get out their great music and be able to write with other people he hadn’t written with. It was an opportunity for him as well. Prince was enamored with you and taught you the ins and outs of the business. I was heartbroken when I read the part about you coming home from the Purple Rain tour in debt.... Why don't you think he protected you from his management team and your increasing expenses?
Interesting enough, we both had the same management, so that was a conflict of interest anyway. He didn’t really show me all the business, my dad did, all the people that I had performed with, like George Duke. They showed me the business. Even Lionel Richie – he said ‘make sure’ – and I didn’t listen. Yes, Prince should have said something as well, but he was actually defending his team to say they didn’t do anything wrong and I said, ‘Yes they did’. When I did get my team together, I said, ‘Let’s audit them and find out because this is not right’. There were some mistakes in their calculations and they were double charging me for things, which was even worse. Up until I did that, they hadn’t actually known that the person who was taking care of their finances had actually stolen millions from Prince as well. So I knew in my heart something was wrong and pursued it, and we went up against the wall that was built so we wouldn’t do it, but we did it anyway, and it was good.
Most musicians dream of being famous with all "the money and belongings and applause".....you had it, but said it made you demanding, depressed, and surprisingly in debt. If you could redo your musical career…..and you had to choose a path – would you pick playing in your dad's band and simply having enough to pay the bills, or choose the glamorous life with all its ups and downs?
I wouldn’t change any of it because there was a reason for me to go through and experience what I did. I can never take back what had happened, but where I’ve gotten because of that, is well worth the light at the end of the tunnel. Through all of that…I wouldn’t change a thing.
You mention one of your biggest regrets was not finishing high school with a traditional graduation ceremony....what advice do you have for teens of today regarding education while pursuing a passion?
Absolutely education is the biggest tool that we can have in pursuing our career. That’s the mistake that I made and learned from…reading the fine print and realizing this is my career. I love music but the business part of it is what we are really not taught, and that part is the most important part of having a successful career. Make sure you know the business end and make sure you get a team of people that are really helping you. Not just, ‘hey, I’ll take care of the bills’, but actually teaching you to learn on your own - so if you have to do it - you know what’s going on; mentoring you along the way. It’s really important to stay in school.
You're an incredible musician but reiterated many times throughout your book that you don't know how to read music.... you play by ear....did you ever learn to read music?
I’m teaching myself now. Is that one of your bucket list items? Yes. I did go back to school a couple times – college – even though I didn’t graduate; they let me take some courses anyway so I could take classes for music. But every time I took classes, I got called away on tour and leave. So even right now, on my iPad, I can show you, there are like five apps that I’m teaching myself how to read music. When we watch E! entertainment shows that share the life of a celebrity, especially musicians, the story always seem to include the high and appreciation of young success, then a life of drugs and sex, then finally a road to recovery. Your story is different...how did you stay clear of the life of drugs and sex in the midst of your career?
My mom and dad wore platforms and bell bottoms, leather pants, suede – they were hip! They were amazing. It was that era of Woodstock and all that. I was afraid of it. I saw people in my dad’s band strung out on drugs and because I saw that, I was afraid of it. I think that frightened me that I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to be that. It killed my uncle, it killed many of our friends, and I just thought, ‘that’s not the way to live a life – dependent on a substance’. And I think the part about sex - well I have two parents that married first then had me and my other two brothers and sisters, and that’s what I always wanted – to be married first, then have a family. I wanted to find someone that I really loved to start a family with. When I saw others sleeping with whomever – I thought, how can you just sleep with someone and you don’t love them. That didn’t make sense to me. I know that might be old school but that’s how I feel.
You pursued your passion......what's left on your bucket list?
There are pages. My bucket is pages. It’s a book. You are currently working on learning to read music and I know you want to be an actress. I want to do a movie. This book will become a movie. Just recently, I wanted to open up another club. I have a club now in Los Angeles, but I’m opening my second club. I’d love to do a play on Broadway. I heard that’s a lot of work. There are many things I want to do. I can make my bucket list and there’s something you think you want to do and then God opens this door over here, that you had no idea was open, and you go, ‘Oh my God, I never thought of that’. And then you go this way and it allows you to go somewhere else. I do my book and then He does His.
What up and coming musicians of today do you think will be legends and stand the test of time?
Wow, wow – let’s try Bruno Mars. I think he’s incredible. He’s a pretty incredible guy and we sat down and had a heart to heart. I really want him to win. I want him to sustain. I want him to realize that him being so young - I was there – I know what he’s going through and it’s just like saying, ‘man, please don’t put your hand on the fire – just don’t, just don’t, it’s not worth it’. So I wish the best for him. I told him, ‘We are praying for you’. There are a lot of people we pray for. We have teams of Prayer Warriors that we have and we get a list of more people that we pray for. I told him, ‘You are on our list and I just want you to know that we are praying for you’.
There's an immediate opening for a drummer at the 10:15am service at Alleluia! Lutheran Church in Naperville .....interested?
Ooohhhh – I’ll come back and play. I promise. I’m going to come back and play. What are your seven nicknames?
Sheila, Cho, Lila, Cho Cho San, Sheilarita, Aunti Cho, Nina, Ni, there’s more…..