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Nancy Wilson of Heart…Hey You!

Nancy Wilson of Heart…Hey You!

Heart has been famous longer than some of their fans have been alive. That’s a pretty interesting fact to contemplate. In the finicky, fickle world of music, Heart has managed to survive and thrive. I kind of think of them as the energizer bunny of rock and roll—they just keep going and going and going.

Ann and Nancy Wilson—the creative and spiritual nucleus of Heart—have been navigating the band through rock’s stormy seas for over 35 years. They have seen dizzying highs and near career-ending lows, yet they have maintained their vision and managed to keep coming back almost as many times as Cher. Through the years Heart has racked up 22 Top 40 hits, sold millions of albums and performed thousands of concerts for millions of fans around the world. Not bad for two army brats from the Pacific Northwest who taught themselves how to play guitar while listening to Beatles albums in their bedroom.

Heart has just embarked on their first full Canada-wide tour in over 30 years. The tour began in St. John’s Newfoundland and will wind up in the city where it all began, Vancouver, BC, by the end of February. The tour is in support of their latest album, Red Velvet Car (which debuted in the top ten on the Billboard Hot 200 Album Chart last autumn), their upcoming live DVD release and as a big hug to the country where Heart first found success. I had an opportunity to ask the band’s iconic guitarist Nancy Wilson a few questions before she set off for Newfoundland. Here’s a bit of what she had to say.

“Our mom has influenced every day of our lives.” – Nancy Wilson

Red Velvet Car has been a commercial and critical success garnering acclaim from nearly every reviewer who has listened to it. Produced by Canada’s Ben Mink (he of kd lang fame), RVC harkens back to Heart’s early sound with lots of acoustic guitars, harmonies, roaring riffs and evocative lyrics. It’s interesting to note that the album seems to close a lyrical circle that began with their debut single, Magic Man. The hook of that song was a conversation between Ann and her mother: “Come on home girl, mama cried on the phone. Too soon to lose my baby yet, my girl should be at home.” On their latest single, WTF, there is a lyric taken from the Wilson’s late mother’s journal: “The hardest thing you’ll ever learn is what bridge to cross and what bridge to burn.” Clearly, their mother has played an important role in their lives and their music. According to Nancy, “Our mom has influenced every day of our lives on a cellular level, including everything we ever did artistically.”

The lyrical circle seems to have a ‘both sides now’ perspective on life, from the concern for the welfare and innocence of youth to the view from the other side of it all. Nancy credits their survival skills to their mother’s examples, “She was a strong, independent romantic with formidable claws. We picked up many cues from her for survival techniques as well as songs.” Where would we be without our mothers?

While Heart has its roots in Canada (Ann followed her boyfriend to Vancouver when he was evading the Vietnam draft, a situation that spawned the lyrical core of songs including Magic Man and Crazy on You), the road to fame was not easily won. The band slugged it out in the bar circuit for years and was turned down by every label around while trying to get a recording deal. It was a radio station in Montreal that broke the band by featuring tracks from Dreamboat Annie and earning Heart an opening spot on Rod Stewart’s 1976 Canadian tour. The rest is history.

“The first few times we played in Toronto people just sat on their hands with their noses in the air.” – Nancy Wilson

Heart enraptured Montreal, but Toronto was another story altogether. As Nancy recalls, “Toronto was always the toughest nut to crack in Canada for us. The first few times we played in Toronto people just sat on their hands with their noses in the air. But then after Barracuda we had them.” It was that song’s convulsive guitar riff, searing vocals and ‘fuck you’ attitude that put Heart over the top. Toronto has loved Heart ever since!

The band is as famous for its distinctive guitar chords as it is for Ann Wilson’s jaw-dropping voice. And while they have had a succession of players in the band, they’ve managed to keep their signature sound intact. The latest incarnation of Heart features—among others—new bassist Kristian Attard. I’ve seen this guy play and he’s one of the best bassists I’ve ever seen. His grooves are sheering, throbbing and in places Rick-James-funky. And he never stops whipping his hair! I asked Nancy how he came to be in Heart. “Our previous kick-ass bass player Ric Markmann brought Kristian in to the band as his replacement,” she explained, “It’s been nothing but perfect ever since.”

 


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2 Comments

  1. Nancy Wilson rocks…Ann Wilson roars. Heart kicks ass and should be in the RRHOF…NOW!

  2. I agree, Heart has to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! They are the queens of ‘Rock and Roll’.

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