Every Prince fam has an opinion on Celebration, the four-day event hosted at Paisley Park. For better or worse, the Prince extravaganza is back for the second year running, drawing some locals and a few thousand out-of-towners to Prince’s Chanhassen complex. On day one, attendees watched panel after panel and a live performance by Sheila E., one of Prince’s strongest musical and personal connections.
After listening to the just-released Prince version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” together, the crowd welcomed Sheila E. (short for Escovedo) and Gilbert Davison to the stage. Their conversation topics ranged from Escovedo’s musical influences (Karen Carpenter, Sammy Davis, Jr., and her percussionist father Pete Escovedo) to Paisley Park itself; before its construction, Prince took her out to the building site. “He grabbed my hand,” Escovedo remembers, “and he said, ‘Let’s step into Studio A.” Together, they walked through the whole complex, imagining the walls and doors as they went.
Escovedo grinned when asked about competition with Prince. “Who’s better at basketball?” Davison wanted to know. “Me,” she said, thrusting her shoulders back. Dancing? “Me,” she responded again. “Well, the splits and that James Brown stuff was cool, but this?” She hopped out of her seat to mock the way Prince would shimmy forward, hand on his butt. What about guitar? “Me,” she joked before admitting Prince took this category. “He’d just play one note,” she said, “and I’d start crying.”
According to Escovedo, the couple would bet about who was better-dressed each night. “If I won, Prince had to give me $1,000. If he won, I had to give him $1,000.”
Davison, Prince’s former manager and head of security, also shared a few stories. When Escovedo asked him about Prince’s name change, he shook his head and laughed. That day, he and Prince had a lot to get through in their morning meeting. So when Prince told him, “I’m going to change my name,” he didn’t pay too much attention. Prince pulled out his necklace, its pendant then known as the Glam Slam symbol. He continued, “I’m going to change my name to this.” In the present day, both Escovedo and Davison seemed befuddled by the name change, an eccentric move even to them. “I just called him honey [after that],” Escovedo said, laughing. Davison said he kept using “Prince.”
The Current’s Andrea Swensson moderated my group’s next two panels. The first, “Iconography,” featured photographers and artists Nancy Bundt, Allen Beaulieu, and Steve Parke, who worked with Prince at varying points of his career. In one image Bundt shared from Prince’s First Avenue birthday show in 1984, he sits on the stage and stares carefully at his guitar. Looking at the iconic Dirty Mind cover, Beaulieu said he bought the bedsprings at a junkyard, and he took the photo while he and Prince listened to a Todd Rundgren song on repeat.
The last panel of the day focused on musical arrangement. Mike Nelson (of the Hornheads) and Brent Fischer (arranger Clare Fischer’s son) discussed their task of transcribing Prince demos and building horn or orchestra parts to accompany them. Nelson says that Prince included at least one challenging or unrecognizable sound in each song, which made transcribing tricky. According to Fischer, 75 percent of the Prince music he and his dad worked on hasn’t been released; he hopes his favorite song, “All My Dreams” from the ‘80s, comes out soon.
All three groups reunited to watch Sheila E. and her band perform for over an hour in the soundstage. Like she teased during her discussion with Davison, she took Paisley Park for a ride, blazing through at least 21 songs. Prince wrote most of them, but she outfitted each one with a percussion layer, employing timbales, cowbell, and cymbals to get her trademark sound. She also brought out siblings Jacob and Emma Taggart, young pianists who appeared at her Orchestra Hall show in 2016, to perform successive songs on keys. As the tunicked band played, the screen showed a love symbol with a butterfly on top, matching Escovedo’s forearm tattoo.
During Sheila E.’s song “Rockstar,” Mychael Davison – Gilbert Davison’s son and Escovedo’s godson – tore into the “Purple Rain” guitar solo. “I thought I would be okay singing that song,” Sheila E. said after it wrapped. “But in this building…” What’s more, “Purple Rain” is the song she and Prince were playing when he proposed to her in 1987.
“I was one of none who could hang with him,” Sheila E. said of Prince earlier in the day. Their bond shone through.
Sheila E. set list
Sign O’ The Times
Play In The Sunshine
Erotic City/Let’s Work/U Got The Look/The Word
Get On The Boat
The Belle of St. Mark
A Love Bizarre
Jam session including “I’ll Take You There” (The Staple Singers cover)
Instrumental song (featuring Jacob Taggart on keys)
Te Amo Corazón (featuring Emma Taggart on keys)
America/Free (?)/Baby, I’m A Star/The Glamorous Life
All photos by Steve Parke for Paisley Park Studios.
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