It was “somewhere in the middle of Europe” in 1987 that Prince spun around half way into “Purple Rain” and mouthed to his drummer, “Marry Me?”
Of course, the fierce, sexy Sheila E. said yes.
In her new memoir “The Beat of My Own Drum,” Sheila E. finally confirms in glorious detail the long-swirling rumors that she and His Purple Majesty actually had been engaged. Everyone always knew they were lovers. But Prince had so many women.
“He blew me a kiss, turned to the audience, and took the most amazing guitar solo ever,” she writes of the moment she made Prince a happy man.
“For the rest of that year my relationship with Prince was a dream … We were with each other all day and all night, so if he was fooling around on me, he would have had to be quick about it.”
Sheila Escovedo, the daughter of Latin percussionist Peter Escovedo, was just making a name for herself as a woman who could pound a hot beat when she bought a ticket to see Prince in concert in 1978 in San Carlos, Calif. After the show, she walked in on him in his dressing room as he was combing out his long, straight hair. Before she could introduce herself, he interrupted her.
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“Oh, I know who you are,” Prince said. “I’ve been following your career for a while.”
She was stunned and thrilled. The two started hanging out, often jamming in her bedroom equipped as a mini-recording studio.
Escovedo wasn’t ready to take things further — she was still hurting from an earlier relationship with Carlos Santana, who she had fallen in love with as an 18-year-old. Santana had even asked her to marry him. Then she found out he was already married. Santana’s wife left him and Escovedo couldn’t deal with being a homewrecker. She ended it.
Though the relationship with Prince remained platonic, he didn’t stop wooing her. On what would be Marvin Gaye’s final tour, “Sexual Healing,” Escovedo was met by a bouquet of flowers from Prince every night in her hotel room.
She was back home rehearsing with Lionel Richie for his upcoming tour when she learned Gaye’s father had shot him dead. Escovedo writes that there were “dark omens” on the road, but nothing to prepare her for something like that.
Prince would fly in to join her on the Richie tour, and back in Los Angeles she hung out with him in his Sunset Boulevard recording studio. One night, he insisted that she step up to the mic. Her throat closed up, but Prince coaxed a performance out of her.
The song was “Erotic City,” and she wouldn’t sing the “f-word.” They compromised — he sang the original lyric while she went with “we can funk until dawn.” For years, fans argued about what they were actually hearing.
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She signed a contract with Prince’s production company and he masterminded her first album, “The Glamorous Life.” For the video, she debuted her new full-out sexy persona, big hair and a leopard print bustier. Both were big hits.
Escovedo and her newly formed band went on to open for Prince on his Purple Rain tour. It was then they became lovers.
Escovedo writes that she had always been disturbed by “the harem” around him, but working and playing together day in, night out, proved too much. They tried to keep it on the down low, but people knew.
She also starred in the hip-hop cult movie, “Krush Groove,” with Blair Underwood. A story based on the early days of Def Jam Records, the set was loaded with rappers — some of whom she found hostile. Prince, in Monte Carlo shooting “Under the Cherry Moon,” didn’t want her to do the love scene that called for nudity. She ended up drinking for courage before, she writes, allowing “Blair to suck on my neck.”
But Escovedo was becoming more aggressive with her sexy-girl persona. After all, she was sleeping with the most sultry, simmering being on the planet. Her performances became less about playing the drums and more about posturing in barely-there clothes.
“I started to feel naked in the wrong way,” she writes.
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The partying never stopped, and even when Prince wasn’t around she found herself indulging her every whim. If the urge suddenly struck to have lunch at the Eiffel Tower, no matter where she was in Europe, her assistants made it happen. She writes that she had a “growing feeling that I could have anything I wanted, whenever I wanted.”
She became so helpless that it scared her. One day her assistants, Connie and Karen, forced her to walk down a street by herself and order lunch at a deli. She was nearly incapable of even doing that. “I became mean, demanding, and angry. I stopped asking and started telling … I was becoming a nightmare,” she says.
When the tour ended, she and her family took up Lionel Richie’s offer to stay in an unused wing of his Bel Air mansion. The littlest member of the Escovedo tribe was her brother Peter’s 2-year-old daughter, Nicole. Her brother had broken up with the child’s mother, Escovedo’s assistant Karen, but everyone remained close.
Lionel’s wife, Brenda, insisted that the little girl stay with her whenever Karen was on tour with Escovedo.
“As a single working mom, Karen was extremely grateful, but very torn,” Escovedo writes. “If Nikki stayed where she was, living rent-free, then Karen could earn enough for their future without disrupting her child’s life.”
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Then Richie’s wife Brenda, who had been hungering for a child, suggested adopting Nicole. “Lionel … would do anything to keep Brenda happy,” Escovedo writes.
The Richies convinced Peter and Karen to give up their child.
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“The hearbreaking part is that once Nicole Escovedo legally became Nicole Richie, it felt like we lost her. We all lost her,” says Escovedo.
Richie (inset right), of course, later gained fame as a reality star alongside best pal Paris Hilton in “The Simple Life.”
Meanwhile, the bill for the “Purple Rain” tour came due. Not having even skimmed her contract with Prince’s management company, Escovedo was unaware that she was responsible for all the expenses from her outlandish indulgences — to every last drink from the mini-bar — for herself and her band.
She owed a million dollars.
“He (Prince) had casually told me at the start it would be easier to go with him,” Escovedo writes. “It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t.”
And now, she and Prince weren’t even “a constant” couple.
“I tried to ignore the sadness I felt about not being the only woman in his life, but I learned to deal with it early on,” she writes.
She signed on to be his drummer anyway, a gig that lasted for two years and began with his “Sign o’ the Times” tour, an album she had collaborated on. But then came that stunning moment onstage “somewhere in Europe” when he proposed.
Prince didn’t want the barrage of publicity that would come if they announced their engagement. They already dealt with huge fan frenzy whenever they stepped out in public surrounded by burly bodyguards. So Escovedo kept it secret.
Between concerts, she and Prince divided their time between L.A. and Minneapolis. Prince was so relentlessly driven for the “next big thing” that their life together began to wear on her. She came off the “Lovesexy” tour that had them playing 77 international dates exhausted.
By 1990, Escovedo was in a bad way. While working on her album, “Sex Cymbal,” she collapsed. She hid her health problems — her musculature actually became twisted from her fierce drumming posture — from Prince. She had to keep up with him.
But she was also growing uncomfortable with his artistic direction. “His songs were getting too dirty for my tastes,” she writes. “It just wasn’t fun to be around.”
On the next tour, Prince refused to let her fly home for her grandmother’s funeral. “He was my boss, he reminded me. He signed the paychecks,” she writes. She stayed, but after that she refused to cash those checks, sometimes tearing them up in front of him. It was all but over.
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Escovedo faded from Prince’s life as she immersed herself in a new spirituality. The time had come, she writes, to deal with the ravages of sexual abuse she had endured as a child and mature into a new life.
In the years since, she’s kept up the beat, working steadily with likes of Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez while making appearances on reality shows like “Gone Country.”
“The Beat of My Own Drum” goes on sale Sept. 2.