Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sex Cymbal: Sheila E.'s Sound Examined

 Sheila Escovedo tore into her first drum solo at five years old as a last minute substitute for Azteca's Pete "Coke" Escovedo, her father. Pulled by her calling, Ms. Escovedo adorned records as a percussionist for acts like Lionel Ritchie, Diana Ross, George Duke, and Stevie Wonder. It was in 1978 where she met the enigmatic funk force, Prince. Sheila Escovedo would become "Sheila E." and release her first solo LP, Sheila E. in the Glamorous Life in 1984 under Warner Brothers Records.

The lead single "The Glamorous Life" is a classic. This portion of the lore people know and aren't aware of anything else about Ms. Escovedo. Like that Escovedo is not only a singer and percussionist, but an arranger, songwriter, dancer and all around entertainer.

Here at The Blend, I've always enjoyed Sheila E., and have started pouring through her musical works to discover a range of sounds. It's my pleasure to share my three favorite Sheila E. LPs, of the overall six, that she has released from 1984 through 2001.

Sheila E. 1986
Ms. Escovedo's third album with Warner Brothers, and second under Prince's own minor label Paisley Park, was a voracious variety. Written, produced, and arranged by Escovedo, in conjunction with David Z. (brother of Revolution drummer Bobby Z.), the self-titled junior set mixed Minneapolis funk and other intriguing edges.

The opening explosion "One Day (I'm Gonna Make You Mine)" was full of dippy percussive work. Escovedo sang through the labyrinthine groove with kittenish aplomb. The dance steam rose higher with the Sign 'O' the Times flavored "Koo Koo" and  instrumental flair on "Soul Salsa." Excursions outside of the atypical Minneapolis field included the adult prettiness of "Hold Me" and the rock rave-up "Faded Photographs."  Escovedo was one of the few acts associated with Prince who was an artist in her own right. Taking to his sound didn't stop her from bringing her style to the fore.

Sex Cymbal 1991
After touring with Prince extensively throughout 1987 and 1988, Sheila E.'s fourth LP, the aptly titled Sex Cymbal was symbolic for two reasons. First, it saw her bringing in her brother Peter Michael to produce. This was Escovedo's first album that struck away from any Minneapolis dalliance.

Second, Escovedo moved to Warner Brothers exclusively leaving the Paisley Park imprint behind. Without hesitation, Escovedo acknowledged the indomitable, if suffocating success of "The Glamorous Life." Escovedo began the album with that classic jam, before comically letting the audience know it wasn't that song but the groovy cool of the title track. A statement of independence by not allowing her biggest hit to stifle her creativity. Escovedo's Latin-jazz elements were at attention alongside the (then) contemporary sounds of New Jack Swing, house music, and rock-pop.  The girl power jam "Funky Attitude" was timeless in its lyrics and she presented her best ballad, "Cry Baby." Peppered with a spicy LaBelle cover "Lady Marmalade" and a pleasant drum solo or two, Sex Cymbal was Sheila E. reinvented.

Writes of Passage 2000
Escovedo took several years away from the popular music, but maintained a presence behind the scenes. Esvocedo's fifth album was her rebirth and a return to jazz music with an assemblage of excellent musicians, The E-Train: Eric Leeds (sax & flute), brother Peter Michael (vocals, drum, percussion), Renato Neto (keyboards), Marc Van Wageningen (bass), and Ray Obiedo (guitars). Escovedo brought her own drumming, percussion, and voice to the pot of talent.

Writes of Passage boasted the sensuous "Paragon," its playing meticulous and handsome courtesy of The E-Train. Additional sonics found throughout included Peter Michael's vocal solo on "Rite to Paradise" and the melancholic "Passing Through." Escovedo had evolved and come home with Writes of Passage, an assertion of her multi-expressive approach.

"Sex Cymbal"
Directed By: Matthew Rolston

[Editor's Note: For a comprehensive view of Sheila E.'s career and collaborations, please visit . Sheila E.'s six LPs are all in print, and available at your local independent record retailer, Amazon, and iTunes.-QH]

1 comment:

Reggie said...

I Love Shelia E.Esp.her stuff she did well she was with Prince,but all her stuff is good.