Born in Scotland, living in Las Vegas, winning a pair of Grammys (one for a Spanish language record)....starring on TV in “Miami Vice”, hosting a talk show, featured on Broadway, doing voices for cartoons, playing a major show in Vegas....and, oh yeah, having No. 1 hit records and being the only recording artist with Top 5 hits on Billboard’s five major genres—pop, R&B, country, adult contemporary and dance.
Quite a quixotic plateful for anyone. But Sheena Easton has done it all...and a whole lot more. In fact one of her fondest projects was the one where she worked with Alexander Nevermind.
Well, Prince. The “Nevermind” name was a pen-name he used when he wrote the Sheena Easton hit song “Sugar Walls”. She also performed with Prince on the duet “U Got The Look” (which made it to #2 in the U.S.) and on his Sign O’ The Times Tour, which is filmed and included on his video.
“I don’t think people have given him enough credit or realized what a phenomenal producer, director, writer, musician, choreographer, and performer he is,” Easton told us in an interview. “He’s one of those rare people with this incredible creativity, you feed off of his energy. He has this way about him. Working with him is an experience I treasure.”
You may remember the song created a bit of controversy when the lyrics caught the attention of the Family Resource Center, a group headed by then “Second Lady” Tipper Gore. The group deemed the lyrics sexually explicit and Easton and other artists were quick to defend themselves. Easton still does.
“There’s nothing nasty, disgusting or explicit in any song I’ve ever recorded,” she said. “I’ve never recorded any song like that. None of the songs I’ve recorded have been banned from being played on the radio—or banned from music stores. The lyrics in ‘Sugar Walls’ are implied sexuality, but nothing is said outright.
“Even before I had children, I agreed it’s important for parents to pay attention to what their children are listening to. I’m the same way. One of my children will be humming a song or mouthing the lyrics and I’m like, ‘what are you listening to?’ When it’s something that’s not appropriate, I make them take it off their ipods.’
Which brings us to the “mom-side” of Easton. A side that she relishes and cherishes.
“I made the decision a long time ago that when I became a parent, my work would take a back seat to raising a family,” Easton said. “It was important to me to find projects that meld my two loves, with the understanding that my kids come first. The time goes by so fast and you don’t get it back. Being a part of their day-to-day lives is important to me. I need to be there for the homework questions and the life questions.
“I don’t do Broadway shows right now because when you do a show like that you’re in rehearsals for days at a time, putting in long hours. My kids would be coming home from school about the same time I’d be going to the theater…and leaving them home alone isn’t an option. I never leave them home alone—even now, as teenagers. They’re like, ‘Mom, we’re too old to have a babysitter.’ I tell them, ‘O.K., you are too old for a baby sitter...but she’s here so the bad people won’t try to come in.’ They accept that.”
Her Laughlin show at the Tropicana fits into her dual roles of mother and entertainer nicely for Easton now calls Las Vegas her home (she was even recently inducted into the Las Vegas Hall of Fame).
“I can do my show and be home in time to yell at my kids,” she joked.
For those who remember the early ‘80s and the Sheena Easton of “Modern Girl” and “9 to 5” (“Morning Train”), the motherhood connection may seem strange. But throughout her entire career, Easton has always been in control. She has been the consummate pro throughout.
“You have to take responsibility for your music,” she said. “When it’s your name, your voice and your talent on the line, you ultimately have to decide what’s right for you, no matter whether you write the song or you interpret it.
“It was also up to me how I wanted to present myself. It has to be your decision when it comes to every aspect of your career. That’s not to say that you see a picture of yourself from 20 years ago wearing a pair of pants or a hairstyle that you thought were really cool at the time and now you’re asking yourself, ‘what was I thinking,?’ Everyone makes those mistakes, but you have to be in control. It’s your career and your talent, and your life. You have to take responsibility for it.”
Easton had done a fine job of control. It took her, in short order, from a precursor of today’s reality shows back in 1979— a star-search documentary show called “The Big Time” —to a contract with EMI Records and a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1981.
The Easton story then wound its way through
The Easton story then wound its way through all the paths and avenues mentioned in the opening paragraph...acting, singing, doing voice-overs....and on. We had to ask her. Any regrets about songs that got away—or singers she didn’t get to go the “duet” route with?
“Sure there were songs I wanted to record, but didn’t—or other people had a hit with songs that I wanted to record. But who’s to say my interpretation would have been a hit,” she said. “I feel very blessed to have had the success that I did.”
As to who she missed the chance to sing with...
“Luther Vandross,” she said. “I always wanted to work with him but I didn’t get the chance. When he passed away last year, it was such a loss. He had such an amazing voice. I did have the chance to work with Michael McDonald. He’s another one I’ve always wanted to perform with.
“For the past few years, I’ve been part of the Colors of Christmas Tour for the holiday season and I’ve gotten the chance to work with people like Peabo Bryson, James Ingram and Michael McDonald.”
So what’s her live show like?
“I’ll perform all my hits, of course, that’s what people want,” she explained when asked about her Tropicana Laughlin shows. “As an artist, I can’t disappoint them. I don’t like it when artists fill up half their show with songs they wrote ‘just last week’ and leave out the songs people come to hear—the songs they paid to hear.
“I have to sing ‘Morning Train,’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only.’ I’ve had songs that were hits in other countries and not in the United States; and songs that were hits here and not in other countries; but no matter where I go ‘For Your Eyes Only,’ is the song everyone wants to hear.”
Easton’s favorite song? That’s like asking her to pick her favorite child.
“That changes every night,” she said. “Sometimes one of the guys will add a little nuance off the top of his head that just gives a song a little something extra and it works great. It gives the song and the moment a little different vibe, a different energy. Maybe it’s a guitar riff or a drum beat, but it works and works well. And the audience feeds off that—and we feed off the audience. Those are fun shows.”