Heart’s Ann Wilson Stretches Her Musical Legs

Ann Wilson at rehearsal

For nearly four-and-a-half decades, Heart has worked hard establishing their legacy thanks to a successful recording and touring streak. The Seattle-based band has not only circled the globe numerous times, but scored 20 Top 40 singles along the way and had the longest span of Top 10 albums by a female-fronted band. Last year’s Beautiful Broken, the band’s 16th studio album, landed them on a bill touring with Cheap Trick and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and playing numerous open-air sheds throughout the summer. And while these dates were well-received by fans, the hit-driven set lists got Heart vocalist Ann Wilson wanting to change things up a little bit in 2017.

“[Heart] went all over the world last year with Cheap Trick and Joan Jett. It was a big, middle-of-the-road shed kind of tour where each band got up and played their hits,” she recalled. “It kind of drove me to the point of wanting to stretch my legs out a little bit more musically.”

With both Wilson and sister Nancy putting their main gig on hiatus, the former is getting a chance to play with a number of ex-Heart members (Craig Bartock, Denny Fongheiser) and road test some newer material that just might wind up on an EP by year’s end. And while this solo tour won’t exactly be Heart 2.0, Wilson expects fans of her other group to be pleased with the live results.

“The major thing [concert-goers] should expect is that this is not a Heart tour. There will be some Heart songs played for sure, but there will also be some of my originals that are newer and some really cool covers,” she explained. “This is a really great little, lean and mean unit and I like it a lot. It’s going to be really fun for people.”

(Photo by Jess Griffin)

With a deep canon of songs that includes classic rock staples (“Barracuda,” “Magic Man”) and 1980s pop favorites (“What About Love,” “Alone,” “Never,” “Who Will You Run To”), Heart’s combination of longevity and consistency eventually earned the band induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. And while the Wilson sisters have always been respected rock stars, they’ve never stopped being fans dating back to when the duo first saw Led Zeppelin on a bill with Three Dog Night and the Fifth Dimension back in 1969. And while Wilson admits that Zeppelin’s rendition of “The Lemon Song” proved she and her sibling “…weren’t ready for big girl sexuality yet. Several years later, it was a different story,” the elder sister’s earliest musical inspiration came from a far more unlikely source.

“If I can boil down to a moment what really made me want to be a singer, it would be when my parents would listen to Harry Belafonte’s Live at Carnegie Hall all the time. It’s just a classic record with some amazing performances on there,” she explained. “He did this version of the old Irish song ‘Danny Boy’ on there. He just has the audience right in the palm of his hand with all this delicacy and tenderness before he goes up to this one high note and nails it. I was just a little kid listening to that and I felt the thrill of that high note so deeply that in that moment, I knew that I had to do that somehow. I didn’t know how, but I had to get up there and feel that. It had very little to do with an audience. It had more to do with being a hollow reed and taking orders from the Force.”

Who are Ann Wilson’s favorite vocalists? Click here to check it out.

And while Wilson has plenty of rock and roll war stories to share, one of the more interesting times she lived through was when Seattle served as ground zero for the grunge explosion in the early 1990s. As a longtime native of the iconic Pacific Northwest city, Wilson saw her hometown go from being a place where musicians who hailed from there avoided admitting that in an attempt to avoid being mocked by music industry types to becoming a scene young musicians and record company executives flocked to from around the country. It’s a time she looks back at fondly, particularly when she recounts hanging out and being accepted by members of Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

“I think that, back at that time, there was a lot of rebellion and revolution against what had gone before in the 1980s regarding music and lifestyle. The whole cocaine-driven, entirely materialistic, fake and phony synthesizers—that was what was being kicked out by the tsunami of grunge,” she said. “It was so intense being in the middle of that, because we’d just come off the road in the 1980s having all those songs like ‘These Dreams’ and ‘Alone’—these big, bombastic ballads. It was exactly the kind of thing that all the things the grunge guys hated. For us, it was like a re-liberation.”

Ann Wilson of Heart appears on March 30 at The Space at Westbury, 250 Post Ave., Westbury, For more information, visit www.thespaceatwestbury.com or call 800-745-3000.

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