Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Ann and Nancy Wilson first showed the world that women can rock just as hard as men when their band, Heart, stormed the 1970s music scene with evergreen hits like, “Magic Man,” “Crazy On You,” “Barracuda,” “Heartless” and “Straight On.”
Four decades later, they still rock on. Lead singer Ann Wilson spoke to GetOut about Heart’s career, the influence of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and why the sister act is still on the road.
Q: Both our fathers were colonels in the military. I know how it affected me. How did being a military brat shape not only your personality but also your musical leanings?
AW: Because we moved around so much, we were really a tight family unit and always hung out with each other. On Sundays, my mom would make pancakes, and we’d listen to opera — usually things like ‘Madame Butterfly’ or something that us kids could handle. It was a big family day, and that’s really a great memory. We were a real musical bunch and being in the military, family and music were the two big anchors in my life.
Q: When The Beatles appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in February 1964, was that was the musical moment for you?
AW: That was a moment that crystalized what we wanted to do. We loved everything that was on the radio, but to actually see The Beatles playing music that was really different — and looking really different — really grabbed my sister and me. We said, ‘We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to get guitars.’
That happened to so many people in our generation.
Q: You’ve often been touted as having the greatest female voice in rock and roll. When did you know you had something special?
AW: [W]hen you’re a club band in the 1970s, all they want you to do is play songs on the radio. The groups played at the time were Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Elton John. We did a lot of Zeppelin and Deep Purple, and none of the guys in the band could hit those notes so it fell to me. Before that, I was the ‘chick in the band that sang the ballads’ and maybe had a tambourine in my hand. Because we were playing really hard rock at the time, we’d just go out there and blow it out. So that’s when I figured it out.
Q: In your 2012 book, ‘Kicking and Screaming,’ you wrote about the sexism you and your sister Nancy often endured in the music industry. Has that changed or softened in today’s world?
AW: It’s changed for us. I can’t speak for any other women in the industry, but it’s changed for us because we’ve decided not to allow it any longer. We just don’t take it. If somebody is going to treat us that way, then they’re gone or we’re gone. We don’t hang or work with them.
Q: Heart’s comeback in the 1980s was nothing short of miraculous, but the downside was that the record company, Capitol, pressured you to cut hit singles, record songs that weren’t written by you, tour and record more, shoot more videos, and continually feed the machine. It seemed as if there was no reward for you.
AW: There really wasn’t any reward in the 1980s other than money, if you want to call money a reward. It bought us houses and sports cars and clothes and stuff that we thought was important in our twenties and thirties. But it didn’t bring us the musical satisfaction that we craved. We were really musical trapeze artists in the 1980s.
Q: One of rock’s biggest moments in recent memory is when Heart sang ‘Stairway to Heaven’ to the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in December 2012. What was that experience like for you?
AW: Being on stage and singing that song while Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were up there in the balcony with President Obama and the First Lady was a sublime moment. I would have to say that was the favorite musical moment of my life. It was only one song, and it wasn’t even our song, but it was one of those moments that will never happen again. It was so amazing. Later when I watched it on YouTube and saw their reactions, it was what I had hoped, and that was to please them.
Q: Tell me about your new album, ‘Fanatic Live From Caesars Coliseum.’
AW: The show was recorded in Windsor, Ontario, and in the middle of the tour. ... We added a few string players that night, performed our regular show, and it’s a good snapshot of what it’s like to see Heart live. It has all of the hits and about a handful of new songs off our ‘Fanatic’ album, which is (our) newest studio album.
Q: The industry has changed so radically from the time when you started in the 1970s. What are some things you like and don’t like about the industry today?
AW: From the 1970s it’s changed in so many ways that the music industry is unrecognizable.
Radio is so different. When we started, there was AM radio or FM radio. If your song was played on AM radio, it meant you had a crossover hit that was more like pop, and if you were played on FM radio, it meant you were a bit more underground and hipper.
Now it’s spread out in a million different directions. Now, you no longer get big advances or many record royalties unless (you’re) pop or hip-hop. If you’re a rock musician like me, most of the money is made playing live — going out and actually performing.
Even though performing live is hard on body and soul, it’s better because you can’t fake it as much. Sure, some people can go out and lip synch, but they always get busted. If you can go out and perform live and really sing, then you are something, and you’re worthwhile, and you’re a treasure to the people who pay the money to go and see you. I like the live thing and think it’s really healthy for the music world.
If you go
What: Heart in concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 27
Where: Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix
Information: (602) 267-1600 or CelebrityTheatre.com
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