Howard Leese Is An Affable twenty-eight-year-old with shoulder-length shag-cut blond hair. He has played keyboards, synthesizer and guitar with Heart since the Dreamboat Annie LP. His role in Heart seems to be co-musical director. He writes charts and helps the Wilson sisters translate their ideas into technical language.
"The band is a pretty democratic thing. There's no duking it out," he tells me. "The girls bring us the songs, then we hash things out. Sometimes the songs change a lot. 'Strange Night' came in as a folk song, then turned into heavy rock. Then sometimes they bring us a jewel in the rough, like 'Mistral Wind.' That song had bars of 5/7 and 9/8 in it – a pop song! Ten years from now, that's the song people will remember us by.
"Roger? He was nontechnical, a 'feel' musician, and just didn't fit the band. I did the lead on the recording of 'Magic Man' when Roger was having trouble. Sometimes he would forget his lead parts and have to learn them over before we went out on tour again. But he'd been in the band almost thirteen years, and we went along with it. Probably longer than we should have."
Roger Fisher, 30, lives with his brother in a house several minutes away from the Wilson sisters' in the Seattle outskirts. He is currently working with his own band, Fisher, and looking for a record deal, but he's willing to talk about Heart. He chooses his words carefully, and stops often to make sure he is understood.
"I have no animosity toward anybody. Whether or not I had to relearn my guitar parts, I always gave 100 percent onstage. The break was pretty mutual. The girls weren't liking anything I was playing. I was so depressed in the last year and a half. There was no future! Ann doesn't think much of lead guitar playing.
"You see," he sighs, "back in Vancouver, it was mainly Mike at the wheel. His spirit had Ann and me cranked up to do our best. But once we got more famous, we lost sight of the need for greatness. It's Ann and Nancy's band now. It's not a group."
It's two weeks before the first date of a ten-month tour to support Bebe le Strange, and Heart has rented the Seattle Paramount, a splendid old art nouveau theater, for five nights of rehearsals. There's every reason for the rehearsals to be tense; without Roger Fisher's guitar acrobatics, the band has lost much of its visual focus. In addition, all the songs have to be reworked – the guitar breaks reassigned to either Nancy or Howard Leese, or written out of the arrangement. Yet the atmosphere is relaxed, even a little careless. Most of the old songs get one run-through, and nothing is played more than twice. The evenings end promptly at 10:30.
On the last night of rehearsal, the band invites family and friends to come by. During the middle of the set, Mrs. Lou Wilson, a pretty, fiftyish woman with bright blue eyes much like Nancy's, introduces herself. We move out into the lobby, sit on the stairs and talk while the sound of her daughters' band echoes softly in the distance.
The Wilsons, she explains, are an old military family, going back several generations. John Wilson, her husband, was a colonel in the marines who settled in Seattle after retiring and taught English at Sammamish High School. While Nancy and Ann were growing up, they lived in Southern California and Taiwan with their older sister, Lynn (now in Oregon with her four children).
"Yes, the girls have been able to hold onto the friendships and the values they've had from childhood. I was so afraid when I saw they were intent on entering the world of show business. But they haven't gotten tough or hard." She smiles thoughtfully. "It's a miracle.
"I don't have all the answers to why they haven't changed, but I have a theory," she continues. "We had incredible friends, an incredible support system based around the Congregational church. It's a very liberal church, with young ministers. At the same time our children were going through the Sixties, so were John and I. We left a world of phoniness and suburban values and became active in social issues. We smoked pot with our kids and did other things we never would have dreamed of doing. I marched in a peace march with three daughters and a grandson on my shoulders."
Ann, according to Mrs. Wilson, had a difficult childhood. "She was born just about ten days before her father left for Korea. All my loneliness and my fears, and here was this beautiful little baby that looked so much like him. Well, I smothered her with more affection and love than was normal." Ann had a bad speech impediment, and was obese during adolescence. Her stammer began to disappear when she took up the guitar, but she still has a running battle with her weight. "Ann learned very early that trick she has of standing outside of herself and making fun of herself. It was a defense."
Once, Mrs. Wilson says, she asked Ann what it felt like to be onstage in front of thousands of people. "It was a silly question, but I knew she'd really tell me what was in her mind. Do you know what she said? 'I think, okay for all of you. You guys used to call me fatty!'
"She's always so scared before she goes onstage," Mrs. Wilson muses, almost to herself. "Mike used to walk her out every night. I wonder who will walk her out now?" She stands up to go back inside, drawn by the music. "She'll be all right. I know she will."
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