BamMagazine.com had the chance to get an exclusive interview with Pete, Sheila E., and Juan Escovedo as they prepare for the KBLX Stone Soul II concert this Saturday at the Sleep Train Pavilion.
BAM: After all these years, you and your sons and daughter have just released your first CD together. How did it come to be?
PE: One day the family was out together and we just said, “Why don’t we do something of our own? Why don’t we collaborate together? Write all our own songs and see what happens?” We talked over what kind of music we wanted to do and who we may want to join us as special guests, and we’re real happy with what we’ve come up with. We’ve been getting some great, great airplay from KBLX in the Bay Area and also the WAVE in Los Angeles.
BAM: Did you do the digital downloads and all the modern technology?
PE: Being an old school guy myself, I kinda had to step back on what the kids have at their access. It’s a lot different today recording a new CD with all the digital technology, and I let them take the lead on that.
BAM: Who did you ask to be special guests on the E Family release?
PE: We have some great, great people on it. We have Earth, Wind, & Fire as special guests on a couple of songs, Gloria Estefan, Raphael Saadiq, Joss Stone, George Duke, and several others. We were so happy to have them on our CD. We’ve been friends, we’ve known them for years, and they were so great to work with. I think the magic was there when we combined their talent with our talent, it just came out great.
BAM: You mentioned KBLX, and we know the E Family is performing at the KBLX Stone Soul II gig this Saturday. This is kind of a homecoming concert for you. What will it be like to play again in the Bay Area with your family ensemble on stage?
PE: It’s really kind of an Oakland artists’ concert. We all come from Oakland, we all started our career paths in Oakland, we all know each other and have played together at one time or another. We’re so excited and looking forward to it. Coming back and performing in the Bay Area is always something special for us.
BAM: Let’s talk about your early days. What music did you listen to growing up?
PE: I was fortunate as a young kid because I had a dad who wanted to sing in a big band and he got on stage whenever he could. He loved to sing, and because he came from Mexico, he would always go see the latin bands. They had those ballrooms in Oakland–Sweet’s Ballroom, Ali Baba, The Sands, and others. My dad was asked to sing with a lot of the old bands. He would take us along because my mom kinda forced him to do that so she could make sure that he would come back home after the concert. That’s how I fell in love with latin jazz music.
BAM: OK Pete, let’s say you were stuck on a desert island and you only had one CD that you could play. Which CD would it be?
PE: That’s a tough one, because there are so many great musicians. I’ve always been a great admirer of Miles Davis. “Sketches of Spain.” But there is also a great CD of Joao Gilberto, who did a magnificent CD, “Amoroso & Brasil,” that is one of the best CDs I’ve ever heard. If it had to be one or the other, it’d probably be the Joao Gilberto.
BAM: Any Pete Escovedo career highlights that stick out in your mind?
PE: Let me see. I would have to say that my personal friendship with Tito Puente was special because he was, actually, really the guy I wanted to be. Once I met him, when I was 18, we became instant friends. And just knowing him and watching him and his legacy of what he stands for musically inspired me to be who I am.
BAM: My family went to see Santana this past Saturday night at Shoreline Amphitheatre. Is there anything you could mention about Carlos Santana and your time with him?
PE: Sure, sure, it was a special time for me. I’m so proud of his success. He has a very unique style of playing that has lasted over all the years. I was so happy to be in that band because it was the first time that I, as a young musician, got a chance to travel and see the world. Carlos is very popular in every country that he plays. It was an amazing, amazing time for me.
BAM: What’s it like, coming back to the Bay Area where you grew up, to play a concert with your family?
SE: You know what? This is something we really got excited about. When you think about it, we’ve played with all the genres of music in the Bay Area, we’re going to be back with the bands in the ’80s that I was playing with before I became Sheila E.
There must be something in the Bay Area water. I can name 20 bands right now, let’s talk about the diversity of Bay Area music, from the Grateful Dead to Santana. Sly, Tower of Power, Pointer Sisters, En Vogue, Tony, Toni, Tone, the Escovedos, Sheila E., M.C. Hammer, ConFunkShun, I could go on and on.
BAM: What was the first record you ever bought?
SE: I think it was a 45. It might have been James Brown. I think I was in the second grade. In our family, when it was entertainment time, we would start dancing to James Brown or the Temptations, and it was like “Showcase at the Apollo.”
In the early days, we used to catch the bus when either Sly or Larry Graham was rehearsing on 51st Street and just stand outside to listen to what they were doing. We couldn’t even get in. We’d just go outside and get some chips and soda and listen.
BAM: If you were stuck on a desert island with one CD, which one would you hope it would be?
SE: The “E Family CD.”
BAM: How about a personal career highlight or two?
SE: It’s hard to highlight just one or two things because I’ve done so many incredible things. It’s been a blessing, but it is a highlight for me to go back to one of the community schools where I had the chance to teach the kids about music. My whole life has been a highlight, and I can’t wait for what it is to become.
BAM: How’d you hook up with Prince?
SE: It was after one of my dad’s concerts and Prince was there. I stuck out my hand to introduce myself, and he said, “I already know who you are. I’ve been following your career for a while now.” He then told me, “My bass player and I have been fighting over which of us would be the first to marry you.” That was the beginning.
BAM: So, what’s Prince like when he has his shoes off and he’s just relaxing?
SE: You’ll have to ask him.
BAM: You had two songs that made it to Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 Dance Chart, “Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre.” What’s it feel like when you have the Number One dance track in America?
SE: It is pretty amazing. There are no words to describe what happens. Your life changes. It’s good, and it’s bad. If you accept this is what you want to do, then it’s all good. It was a lot of hard work, and I literally spent months preparing to try and make those tunes a Number One song. There was a plan.
We’ve been making music together for as long as I can remember. Percussion was like furniture in our house growing up. So to finally collaborate together on a family CD, where all of us are writing and providing equal creative input, it’s really exciting. It’s been a long time coming.
Growing up, Peter Michael, Sheila and I really looked up to Pops as a professional musician. Even though he initially wanted us to find more stable careers, knowing how challenging it can be for a musician, over time he realized that music was our passion and we wanted to follow in his footsteps.
This new E. Family CD, which integrates a variety of music genres, really represents this shared passion for all kinds of music that Pops passed along to us.
“Now & Forever” Track Listing:
1. I Take It Back (featuring Gloria Estefan & Wes Quave)
2. I Like It
3. Nothing Without You
4. The Other Half of Me (featuring Joss Stone w/ Raphael Saadiq and George Duke)
5. Do What It Do
6. Peace and Joy (featuring Earth, Wind & Fire)
7. Praise His Name
9. All Around (featuring Israel Houghton)
10. It’s Gonna Make You Dance
11. The “J”
12. Get Out of My Way (featuring Damon Castillo)
13. Live Percussion Jam
Photo © Kenny Wardell