Straight to the HEART at the Riverside

Heart_onstageBY Jane Spietz

WHAT: Heart
WHERE: Riverside Theater, Milwaukee
WHEN: Monday, December 7, 2015
COST: Tickets: $85, $70, $60, $50

Sisters, Ann and Nancy Wilson led the iconic rock ‘n roll group Heart to success in the ‘70s, at a time when female artists were not readily welcomed into the music scene. Heart flew up the charts with major hits like “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” and “Straight On.” It was a winning combination from the start with Ann’s incredibly powerful lead vocals and Nancy’s virtuoso guitar stylings. Heart’s accomplishments continued on with classics like “These Dreams,” ‘What About Love,” “Never,” and “Alone.” Recent album chart successes include Red Velvet Car and Fanatic, released in 2010 and 2012 respectively. Heart was inducted into the rock ‘n roll Hall of Fame in 2013 and continues to tour to the delight of its fans.

The Wilson sisters are accomplished musicians, singers, and song writers. They have achieved individual success as well. Ann performed on “Almost Paradise,” from the film Footloose, “Surrender to Me,” from Tequila Sunrise and other motion picture themes. Nancy wrote and performed the scores to numerous motion pictures including “Almost Famous,” and “Jerry Maguire.”

Together, Ann and Nancy put out their memoir, “Kicking and Dreaming: a Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll,” which was on the New York Times Best Sellers list for several weeks in 2012. In May 2015, they put out a children’s book, “Dog & Butterfly,” based on their hit song of the same name.

I spoke to Ann Wilson recently as the members of Heart were in Las Vegas enjoying a day off during their current tour.

Jane Spietz: What influences steered you and Nancy toward your careers in music? I know that your family played a large part in this.

Ann Wilson: Yeah, our family was always really musical. Our mother always played Judy Garland, Harry Belafonte, the Limelighters, the Kingston Trio, opera, operetta, classical music. I played in the school band. I think I really lit up to music when the English invasion occurred – the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Although before that, I had been a pretty big fan of R&B. Ann Peebles, Aretha, Fontana Bass, and some of those types of ladies. When we started trying to write our own music, it took a while before we found our own voice.

JS: Early on you and Nancy encountered sexist attitudes from those who felt that a female rock ‘n’ roll band couldn’t make it in the music business.

AW: The way it was set up back then, there was allowed to be one female artist played on the radio per hour. If it was Joan Baez, that was her hour. Or if it was Susie Quatro or Melanie, etc., then you are out of luck. That’s how it started. There was a disco craze going on then so most of the time there were disco divas on the air. There were no real rock women. That was something that had to take root and build and grow over time. And with some pushing. It took a few years for women to be accepted as even legitimate, let alone artists.

JS: At the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Led Zeppelin, you and Nancy were asked to perform “Stairway to Heaven,” as the finale. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones were visibly moved, and you brought the entire audience to its feet.

AW: That was quite an experience, never to be forgotten.

JS: President Obama and First Lady Michelle were in attendance at that event. I know that you are big fans of theirs. We have another election coming up. I’m not going to ask you tell us which candidate you like, but do you feel that you and Nancy might plan to throw your support behind the eventual nominee in the 2016 presidential election?

AW: Absolutely. We can’t go around blaming politicians for being at fault for everything that’s wrong if we elect the wrong people. And, if people don’t get out and vote, that’s an issue.

JS: You and Nancy released your memoir, “Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll,” in 2012. What was the inspiration for that?

AW: We wanted to tell our story and have it not be a whitewash. We wanted to tell the real story, tell a woman’s story, and our family’s story, and not have it be just another trashy rock book. Lots and lots of people have wanted to write Heart books, but I waited until we could work with Charles Cross. I had read his book about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, and his book about Jimi Hendrix. I thought that those two stories were told really in a classy way, and in a way that was dramatic and honest without being sleazy. Charlie is from Seattle and both of those artists were from Seattle, as we are. So, Charlie had a good sense of place. I think it worked out really well.

JS: Along the same literary lines, I’d like to hear about the children’s book that you and Nancy penned.

AW: Yes. We’ve both been parents, and we’ve both spent a lot of time reading books to our children. We saw the value in writing a book that not only kids would like, but also one that the parents could read over and over and over again, and enjoy as well. We thought, which one of our songs is the most childlike, and it was “Dog & Butterfly.” So we chose that for our book.

JS: You have been taking a different path with The Ann Wilson Thing. That has to be so exciting.

AW: Yeah, it is. The Ann Wilson Thing is totally different from Heart. We play no Heart music. It has a different mindset to it. We try to play songs that say something, and that are relevant. We do a lot covers. Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Tim Buckley. It’s just really a whole different way for me to stretch out and use my voice and my emotions. It’s really a great thing for me. So refreshing. We’re very stripped-down with this. We’re not making Heart money or anything. We’re doing it for love, really. It’s a whole lot of fun to go do whatever we want with no expectations.

JS: You are involved with numerous causes and philanthropic efforts. Please touch on one that is near and dear to your heart.
AW: I think that Planned Parenthood is one of the most important ones we have. To get people to understand the purpose of Planned Parenthood is first and foremost. It’s not just an abortion clinic. It helps people in that regard, but there’s so much more that’s available from them. Breast exams, physicals, all kinds of childcare, pediatrics, obstetrics. So much more than what the opposition would paint it as. I think it’s very important to get the truth out about Planned Parenthood. It affords the best of care.

JS: What do you and Nancy wish for the future of Heart?

AW: I wish for Heart that it can keep moving forward in an evolving way. That it can maintain relevance in the world. If not, I hope that it can bow out gracefully. We’re not thinking of doing that at the moment. I want to be involved in something that is real, and really has something to say. Something that doesn’t chase radio hits or pop image. I just want to make great music with Heart, and feel good about it.

JS: We are very much looking forward to Heart performing at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee on Monday, December 7.

AW: There will be rock ‘n roll, ballads, a lot of singing. It’s a big rock show. It’s going to be new stuff, old stuff, some surprising covers. It’s going to be very uplifting, and fans are going to be very glad they went.

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