When Sheila E. picked up the phone Friday evening, she didn’t need to be asked how it felt to lose her friend, Prince. The breathy, reassuring voice of this singer and percussionist — a familiar presence in the mid-1980s thanks to tunes like “The Glamorous Life” and “Erotic City” — had grown small and measured, a clear indication that the news of Prince’s death Thursday at age 57 had taken a toll.
Yet Sheila E. — who first made a name for herself in the Bay Area playing with her father, percussionist Pete Escovedo, and other jazz musicians — seemed to brighten as she began telling me about her experiences with the legendary musician. After meeting in 1978, the two started working together around the time of “Purple Rain,” then spent much of the next half-decade side by side, both on the road and in the studio; they remained close, she said, even after they drifted apart musically. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
So, let's just get this out of the way: My favorite Prince album is the "Batman" soundtrack.
It's criminally underrated. It's dark, it's frantic and it's headlined by "Batdance," a wild track that flips Bruce Wayne, Vicki Vale and Joker samples into a sexually charged future funk opera.
I just wish the world could've heard the remix of "Batdance," which features a guest rap verse from Big Daddy Kane. It's wildly different -- stripped-down percussion, vocals from Prince that weren't in the original, riffs on the old "Batman" TV theme, and a furious, wailing synth solo.
During Prince's second-to-last concert, the early show in Atlanta on April 14, "his voice was perfection" -- said a photographer who was seeing him for the seventh time and found herself in the right place at the right time to snap a photo she knew she shouldn't be taking.
"I wasn't going to share it," said Nashville photographer Amiee Stubbs, 42, who had a third-row seat but found herself standing pressed up against center stage as the show was coming to a close. "Then this happened. He was so perfect that night."
He played "Linus and Lucy" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and David Bowie's "Heroes," she said by phone from Nashville on Friday, "and he took his songs and made them like I've never heard them."
Prince's 1984 movie, "Purple Rain," is coming back to the big screen in the L.A. area and elsewhere for a limited run starting this weekend. The film will screen Saturday through Thursday in select AMC theaters.
The screenings are designed to "pay tribute" to the musician, the theater chain said.
"Purple Rain" will be shown at the AMC Atlantic Times Square 14 in Monterey Park, AMC Broadway 4 in Santa Monica, AMC Covina 17 in Covina, AMC Norwalk 20 in Norwalk, AMC Ontario Mills 30 in Ontario, AMC Orange 30 with IMAX in Orange, AMC Promenade 16 in Woodland Hills and the AMC Rolling Hills 20 in Rolling Hills.
Much has already been written about Prince the composer, Prince the performer and band leader, Prince the musical pioneer. His skills at crafting a pop song and making it just weird enough to jump out amid lesser specimens was unparalleled.
Criminally less celebrated are his lyrics. Where aged, respected songwriters like Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello are praised for their language, few Prince appreciations have focused on his skills as a wordsmith. But Prince was as eloquent with the pen as those bards. Could it be that by wrapping his talent beneath spangled pantsuits and a high-heeled facade rather than in blue jeans or well-tailored suits, Prince has been given short shrift as a lyricist?
Prince’s primo opening lines, for example, are some of the best scene-setters in pop: “I guess I should have known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn’t last,” from "Little Red Corvette," contains a novel’s worth of information about a relationship, a rendezvous and its futility.
Often regarded as Prince's crowning achievement, his album and film "Purple Rain" is -- through the hazy lens of 2016 -- ridiculous, overwrought and full of enough leaden dialogue to sink the film into the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
But taken as a document of the artist at the peak of his powers, it's essential, even astonishing in moments, most visibly in its performances from Prince and his band. Whether you were there in the '80s as the movie captivated pop culture or somehow missed seeing the movie the first time around, L.A.'s Cinefamily has you covered with a series of screenings going into this weekend that serve as a fitting tribute.
And if you don't get chills leading into Prince performing the film's title track, check to make sure you're still with us too.