NEW YORK (AP) — It was during a musical high – a rhapsodic rendition of “Purple Rain” – that Prince turned to his drummer, Sheila E., and asked her to marry him.
“In the midst of that song, you sometimes forget where you are,” Sheila E., a former percussionist and vocalist with Prince whose real name is Sheila Escovedo, said in an interview Friday from Minneapolis, where she’d flown upon hearing of Prince’s death.
“You’re playing and you close your eyes and you don’t realize that there are other people in the room. I opened my eyes and at that same moment he turned around because musically we had hit a place where we were at a high, and he proposed to me.”
The 58-year-old musician said she was coping with the loss of her former fiance – the two never married, but had a long collaboration – by trying to remember some of the more amusing times with Prince.
“Thirty-eight years of him and I being together, there’s just so many memories good and bad,” she said. “It’s a pit in my stomach and I’m sad and then (I) try to think of something that made me laugh so I can stop hurting.”
What memories make her laugh? “You know he was very competitive,” she said, “so him and I would battle each other on who’s going to be the best at anything, something. Of course I always tried to win, and when I did, it made him mad, and that was funny.” Like the time the two played basketball, and she beat him – and talked about it.
“They wrote about it in one of the interviews, and when … I went back to the studio he put me in a headlock and said, ‘Who said you won?’ and I said, ‘I did, and you know I did.'”
Sheila E. said Friday that she last spoke to Prince about eight months ago. She called him last week at his compound, Paisley Park, when she heard news reports of an emergency landing for medical treatment, but he was resting, and so she spoke to his drummer, Kirk Johnson, who said he would pass on her wishes, “but said he was good.”
She said that Prince, like many other performers, had often suffered physical pain from performing. But she said she had no knowledge of his taking painkillers. An autopsy was performed Friday on the 57-year-old musician; the medical examiner’s office said it won’t release its findings until all information was in, including results of toxicology tests.
“There was always something kind of bothering him, as it does all of us,” Sheila E. said when asked about Prince’s physical health. “You know we’re like athletes, we train, and we get hurt all the time. We know all the years of him jumping off the risers and the speakers onstage in the heels, you know, (it) messed up his hip and his knee, but he kept doing it because he loved doing it and it was something no one was doing.
But “he really took care of himself,” Sheila E. added. “He ate well, he ate better than I did. I mean I tried to copy what he was doing.”
In the interview, Sheila E. reminisced about meeting Prince in 1978, backstage at a concert in San Francisco. “I had heard so much about him,” she said. She thought she needed to introduce herself, but he already knew who she was.
“Before I could get my name out he put his hand out and said, ‘I already know who you are. I’ve been following your career for a while.’ And so he was a fan already, and we became friends instantly and we started hanging out.”
They also collaborated for years, on songs like “Erotic City” and “The Glamorous Life.”
The fact that Prince took an interest in her career was nothing out of the ordinary for a musician who was always seeking to help other musicians, and was particularly known for boosting the careers of female musicians. Sheila E. said Prince was exceedingly generous in that way.
“Sometimes it was, ‘Let’s see how we can work together in the studio. Sometimes new music comes out of it and sometimes (it’s), let me help produce you because I can bring something really good out of you, that I don’t think you’re aware that you can do.”
While new artists had much to learn from Prince, it was a two-way street; Prince, she said, was “always, always” learning.
Asked whether Prince was a private or public person, his former fiancee said he “wanted to be both” – and succeeded. “He created (the life) he wanted,” she said. “He had the best of both worlds, and what he created was what he got.”
Sheila E. said she was now mourning both what she lost individually, and what the world lost.
“I lost my friend, I lost someone I loved, and we lost a musical icon and a genius,” she said. “We know all the wonderful music that he’s left us and his legacy … and the hundreds and hundreds of songs that were also written that probably no one will ever hear.”