Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, April 29, 1999

Pete Escovedo performs with daughter Sheila E.

Following her
own musical path

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


The history of modern music contains many stories about artists who recorded songs they didn't like, that eventually become hits. Shelley Fabares didn't like "Johnny Angel," Petula Clark asked her producer not to release "My Love," and Don Ho at first refused to record "Tiny Bubbles."

On the other hand are artists who had to fight for a song they believed in, and were proven right when the song hit.

Sheila E. fought such a battle in 1984 when she convinced Warner Bros. records to trust her instincts on a song she'd written, "The Glamourous Life."

"I really believed that it was the first single and they thought 'Belle of St. Mark' was," she said in a phone interview. The pop charts show Sheila E. won her battle. "The Glamourous Life," her debut single, reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The multitalented entertainer ("singer/percussionist" is just part of her job description) plays Hawaii Wednesday with her father, Latin-jazz band leader Pete Escovedo, as a featured guest with the Pete Escovedo Orchestra.

A month later, she'll welcome pop and her two brothers as featured guests during the 1999 ALMA Awards (ABC will broadcast the Latin music awards show on June 3). It will be the second year in a row that Sheila E. and her Heaven Productions Music production company have been involved with the ALMA Awards.

"It's really funny because even now, every time I try to expand in different fields I come up against the mentality, 'Are you sure you can do this?' People are surprised that I'm not afraid to try something (new), but I grew up playing Latin jazz."

Sheila E. seems to thrive on challenges. She became the first female band leader in late-night television, on Magic Johnson's short-lived "The Magic Hour."

She's also been on tour with her E-Train band and has a new album, "Rites of Passage," that will be in stores this summer but is already available through her website,

Her first two albums, "Sheila E. in The Glamourous Life" and "Sheila E. in Romance 1600," were both certified gold.

By the time Warner Bros. released "The Belle of St. Mark" as her second single (it peaked at No. 34), Sheila E. was opening for Prince's SRO Purple Rain Tour. She said she believes the song would have done better if she'd been able to release a video, but the tour schedule kept her busy, and three attempts to shoot "The Belle of St. Mark" as a performance video were thwarted by technical problems. She bounced back with a song she co-wrote with Prince, "A Love Bizarre."

"I didn't write a lot of songs, but what I did write was more personal than anything else. It was who I was and the different types of music that I listed to."

She looks back fondly at the experience of co-directing the video for "The Glamourous Life," and says she prefers songs and music videos that tell a connected story.

"I understand, from a marketing standpoint, if a song has nothing to offer they have to make up something visually to sell the song, but then why did that person get signed, or why is this song even pushed as a single if it wasn't that great in the first place? I tend to go toward the ones where there's a whole package -- there was a concept, something was thought out, and they're saying something lyrically and visually."

One of the biggest changes she's seen since Latin percussionist Sheila Escovedo became pop star Sheila E. is the involvement of record labels and production companies in manufacturing pre-fab acts for immediate profit.

"They find people and put groups together, find two or three people who can sing together, and even if they can't, it's about a look and quick money, not longevity.

"And, it's about control. The record companies create these acts who don't know what to do until someone tells them to do something. They want to make sure that they can control the artist and form them into something they want. People who come in who are already self-contained (and) more talented and pretty much know what they want are harder for the record companies to accept."

She adds that although "for a minute there it was really scary" she believes there are still opportunities for artists who have their own ideas. She still enjoys playing a broad musical spectrum.

"It's great to be able to just play. I'll be with Tito Puente or Gloria Estefan one weekend, and then the next weekend I'm playing with Lionel Ritchie in Las Vegas. I'm able to go back and forth and do these shows and not just do one thing."

Cinco De Mayo
Latin Music &
Dance Festival

Bullet Performers: The Pete Escovedo Orchestra featuring Sheila E., Tito Puente, Cecilio Rodriguez, Rolando Sanchez & Salsa Hawaii
Bullet Concert time: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Bullet Venue: Blaisdell Arena
Bullet Tickets: $20-$35
Bullet Call: 591-2211

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin