Prince & Sheila E., Ensnared

Go Booklets
5 min readFeb 21, 2021

Sign O’ The Times movie centerpiece played by two pop music icons is for sale now through March 10

Prince, with the custom drum kit for Sign O’ The Times

Amherst NH — RR Auction is selling a unique piece of rock and roll history this month (Feb. 19 - Mar. 10) during its online event, “Fine Autographs and Artifacts Featuring Prince.”

The winning bidder will acquire a snare drum skin played by Prince and Sheila E. from the Sign O’ The Times and Lovesexy albums, tours, concert films, and after shows. The skin is autographed and certified authentic by Sheila E herself. Provenance also includes full chain of custody, with photos and notes from previous owners.

A Fascinating Journey

This story includes both well-known and unknown chapters.

It begins with Prince’s invitation to Sheila E. to join his rock band after the Purple Rain and Under The Cherry Moon movies. She riffs on the moment during a recent interview with Kelly Clarkson (watch below). “Rock and roll is passion — it’s heartfelt,” shares the legendary drummer.

VIDEO: Sheila E., The Kelly Clarkson Show (11/20)

It‘s 1987. Prince produces his finest record — perhaps even the greatest record of all-time — the eclectic double album Sign O’ The Times. The deluxe reissue (2020) includes 45 unreleased tracks. Together, it’s a body of work surpassing the entire studio output of Jimi Hendrix by volume.

To take this sprawling year of music on the road, Prince surprises many in breaking up his legendary group The Revolution. He wants a driving force at the foundation of this new ensemble.

By her early twenties, Sheila E. had backed an impressive list of Latin and American acts on percussion: her father Pete Escovedo, Carlos Santana, George Duke, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, and Diana Ross. For Sign O’ The Times live, Prince envisions her center stage with him. They’ve had success with the formula on hits A Glamorous Life, Erotic City, and A Love Bizarre. He commissions a gorgeous turquoise drum kit she designs through Yamaha. He plans a killer solo for her mid-concert.

WATCH: Sign O’ The Times concert film: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

PHOTO: Prince plays the Sign O’ The Times drum kit
VIDEO: Prince and Sheila E. stage great drum theatre (see 2:40 in the above clip)

During one number, It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night, the two icons trade places (2:40, above clip). They high-five. Prince assumes the drum throne as Sheila grabs the mic. She returns to the kit without the band missing a beat. While Prince’s chops are known to peers like Questlove, he rarely drums for concert audiences. This special occasion becomes routine for both SOTT and Lovesexy live (1987–8).

For the rocker I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man, Sheila E. wails emphatically on the snare. It’s a wider and deeper shell to absorb the force of her blows. The thwacks echo from arenas for miles. While the drum takes abuse, it also registers fond memories. According to Sheila, Prince mouths a marriage proposal as she sits over the snare drum.

VIDEO: Sheila E. drum solo, Sign O’ The Times live
VIDEO: A classic number from Sign O’ The Times live

After 34 European shows in 1987 then 38 North American, 8 Asian, and 31 European concerts in 1988–9, Prince gifts the drum kit to Sheila for her hard work. She ships the cases from the final performance in Osaka, Japan and stores them for nearly two decades. It’s a deal he’ll regret, to a degree (he later displays each of his drum kits at his Minneapolis recording studio, Paisley Park).

EXPORE: Sign O’ The Times Tour Dates | Lovesexy Tour Dates

Changing of the Guard

In 2005, Sheila E. auctions the kit to benefit her Lil’ Angel Bunny Foundation. Here’s where it gets deeply personal. She keeps the snare drum shell as her memento. She removes and autographs the snare drum skin: “To Allan’s, Thanks, God Bless, Sheila E.” and includes a Biblical reference to “1 Peter 4:16,” which is: if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

PHOTO: No mistake — Sheila E. autographs are mirrored

The winning bidder in 2005 is Allan’s Music, the oldest music retailer in Australia (founded in 1850). The kit is displayed in their rock and roll museum until Allan’s closes (2012). One of the store’s employees strikes a deal with liquidators to acquire it, which he possesses for several years. He contacts the Director of Archives at Paisley Park on an undisclosed date to sell everything but the snare drum skin. In 2020, he sells the drum skin to author Eric S. Townsend as he writes Blue Cloudz, his prequel book to Purple Rain now in pre-sales through Etsy.

PHOTO: Sheila E. provenance to Allan’s (inc. in new auction)

The next person or organization to acquire the drum skin will share in the last remaining piece of arguably Prince’s most famous drum kit. It’s the musical instrument equivalent of a friendship necklace.

Townsend is a long-time fan of Prince, having spun the 45 for “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on his Mickey Mouse record player as a child. “The relic has brought me good fortune. It provided further insight into two lead characters in Blue Cloudz (Prince, Sheila E.). Ultimately — Paisley Park, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Grammy Museum — they deserve a shot at it.”

Townsend met Sheila E. after a Yale University event in 2017. “Sheila’s been an inspiration for many years. We spoke about the lead in my children’s book series, Tabula Raisa — how a girl of color achieves great success by embracing adventure. I gave Sheila a gift pack, and she gave me a big hug. Priceless.”

How to Register a Bid

RR Auction is a premiere seller of rock and roll artifacts. The signed snare skin listing is available February 19 through March 10. Interested parties must register (free of charge) and place an initial bid by 5pm EST March 10. Bidding reconvenes 7pm, March 10 until no other bidder remains. Bids begin at $500. Reserve is set at $5,000. Similar auctions have closed as high as the $137,500 invested by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay to acquire one of Prince’s iconic cloud guitars.

The Prince Estate is not affiliated, associated, or connected with RR Auction, nor has it endorsed, authenticated or sponsored the items available for auction. The Prince Estate has not licensed any of its intellectual property to RR Auction.