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The Catalyst interview: Sheena Easton

Bill DeYoung



An indelible 1987 image: Prince and Sheena Easton in the "U Got the Look" video. Screengrab.

She had seven Top Ten singles on the U.S. charts in the 1980s – including one chart-topper, the infectious “Morning Train (9 to 5)” –  and she was a pioneering video artist, sex symbol and fashionista, a dance-pop diva. She performed the theme song for a James Bond movie, too – an unassailable indicator of coolness by proxy.

But Scotland’s Sheena Easton, who’ll sing in St. Petersburg Sunday for the free St. Pete Pride Grand Central Street Fair, made serious rock ‘n’ roll history by recording not one, not two but four songs with Prince. He was known for mentoring female artists – but Sheena Easton was apparently the poly-talented musician’s favorite.

Prince wrote her hit “Sugar Walls” (which, due to its libidinous lyrics, landed on Tipper Gore’s legendary “Filthy Fifteen” list of songs that were leading America’s children astray); they wrote and performed “101” and “The Arms of Orion” together, and Easton famously appeared on Prince’s “U Got the Look,” and in its elaborately choreographed music video.

Rumors flew that they’d had a fling, as they always did when the sexually-charged Prince wrote songs for, or sang with, an attractive young woman. “When a male and a female artist get together and work, they always say that,” Easton reports. “They said that when I did Miami Vice with Don Johnson.”

(And no, they didn’t.)

We caught up with the Grammy-winning pop star at her home in Las Vegas. These days, she goes out and sings two weekends a month, connecting – much to her delight, as you’ll see in this interview – with fans who never fully recovered from “For Your Eyes Only,” “Morning Train,” “Telefone,” “Strut,” “The Lover in Me” or even “Sugar Walls.”


St. Pete Catalyst: There aren’t a lot of people who had the opportunity to do so much work with Prince. What was that like?

Sheena Easton: If you got all the artists of my generation into a room together, I think we would all agree that Prince was one of the most unique and gifted artists of our time. He had a way of structuring sound that was uniquely his. So from that point of view, it was awesome. It was like a master class every time we went into the studio together. I learned so much just from watching him work.

Plus he was a friend and a very, very funny guy. We used to have a great time laughing, and just a lot of fun in the studios. Working with him was of the best experiences I ever had.


You once said something to the effect that when you wrote together, he was hyper-critical in a really good way ….

I don’t know that I’d say hyper-critical. I’d say that he was honest, and he was critical in a way that he wanted you to give your best, and get better. He didn’t just kind of brush it off and go ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ or spare your feelings, he’d go ‘That’s really good, that’s not good, work on this part, toss that one, start from scratch.’ He gave really good advice to where it did help me get better as a songwriter and as an artist. And I think that kind of guidance and advice to anyone – writing, performing, anything – you have to be gentle with people’s feelings, but you have to kind of be honest and steer them in the right direction. And don’t just tell them that everything is wonderful. ‘Cause that doesn’t help anybody improve.   


It’s been a few years. Going out today and singing “Modern Girl” and “Morning Train,” does that feel a little surreal?

No. I’m 64 now, and I recorded those particular songs … God, 40-odd years ago. I think that you go through different stages with your material.

When I was still recording and making new albums, when I would go out and perform, I always felt obligated to perform the new material. The record company wants you to promote the new album, blah blah blah.

And you go through a phase where you go ‘I don’t want to do the old stuff. I just want to do my brand-new songs.’ Every artist goes through that. But I think most people as they mature, and get older and advanced with their life and their career, you develop a real affection for your older stuff, and for your hits.

Because you see how much it means to the fans that have come to the show. People come and see you because they want to hear that old material. They have an emotional attachment to it. It reminds them of a time in their life; it reminds them of a love affair, or a breakup, or when they were happy, or when they were at college. Or ‘it was my wedding song,’ whatever it is. They want to re-live that, and that’s why they’re comin’ to see your show.

You see that on their faces. Especially, I’ll look out and I’ll see people that come to show after show after show after show. I see a lot of familiar faces. And I know which ones are gonna jump up, whenever the intro starts, because that’s their song!

So it really makes you feel that you’re a part of people’s lives. You’re a part of their soundtrack. I know that’s a cliched thing to say, but you picture that that song’s on their playlist on their phone, and that’s what they listen to when they’re workin’ out or whatever. I really appreciate my hits because of that.


It must be nice, too, to understand that it’s not just the song, it’s not just the hit record – it’s you, and your performance of the song.

I like the shared experience. I like that connection with my fans that go back a long way. I’ll be the first to admit, I stopped recordin’ a while back. I have not put out a new album, nor do I have plans to put out anything in the near future.

So I’m very aware that my fans are very loyal to me. They’ve supported me. It doesn’t depend on me havin’ something on the radio for me to go out and do a show. My people are comin’ for the nostalgia value of it. They’re comin’ to re-live that time, and those songs and that material, and that atmosphere in the room whenever we start up a show – you can feel it. You just feel there’s love there.

It’s cliché, but there’s like a warmth; people are there to have a good time. And it’s nice to be a part of that.

The Grand Central Street Fair takes place from noon util 5 p.m. Sunday, June 25 on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. Between 20th and 28th Streets, Central will be closed to vehicular traffic.

Tiffany (“I Think We’re Alone Now”) and Sheena Easton are the headline performers on the mainstage behind the Cocktail Bar, 2355 Central.

Tentative performance times are 3:45 p.m. (Tiffany) and 4:15 p.m. (Sheena Easton), although these might be adjusted slightly on show day. Early arrival is advised.

 Admission is free.




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