Wilson Sisters Talk Heart to Heart

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To a large extent, it's this particular streak of feistiness which kept Heart's spirits up when the group fell into a legal morass about six months ago – around the time that Dreamboat Annie was going double platinum.

The way the Wilsons and manager Ken Kinnear tell it, their record company – a fledgling operation called Mushroom Records, which hails out of Vancouver – began to wander from what the band considered to be its best interests. The only alternative, they say, was a complete break, which happened last January. The details of that fracture are expected to keep lawyers on both sides in gainful employment for several years to come.

"It all started to happen," says Nancy, "with the advent of money on the scene."

Ann says, "We left Mushroom because we had to. We really resented the fact that we spent ten months on the road last year with very few breaks, and every time some big laud was heaped on us Mushroom would say, 'Yeah, we did this and this.' Two hundred concerts, a million and a half people we played to. . . ."

"We felt there was a trend beginning in some of the publicity they were putting out about us," Ann continues, "that was a bit vulgarizing, especially of Nancy and me. There was a full-page ad in the format of the National Enquirer called the National Informer . . . vulgar! [Under a bare-shouldered photo of Ann and Nancy was a headline reading, Heart's Wilson Sisters Confess: 'It Was Only Our First Time!'] We don't wish Mushroom any ill will, we just had to leave to keep our art intact." 

Heart's roots go way back to 1963 when Steve Fossen joined up with Roger Fisher and his brother Mike (currently the band's soundman) to form a Seattle bar band called the Army, which transmuted into White Heart and then, around 1967, into Heart. It was an all-male rock band, playing the Seattle/Vancouver bar scene until 1970, when Ann took up with Mike Fisher and cast her fortunes with the band. Sister Nancy joined in 1974, almost a year before Heart signed with Mushroom. (Ann still lives with Mike while Nancy lives with Roger, eight minutes away by boat, on Seattle's Lake Washington.)

The Wilson sisters grew up in a military family – their father was a Marine Corps officer for 25 years – and spent their Wonder Bread years moving from one military base to another – Ann was born in San Diego and Nancy in San Francisco. "I think," says Ann, "that that's how we survive on these tours." And early on, they developed a reputation as singing sisters:

"Nancy and I just started singing together as children," says Ann. "And we started playing guitar together when I was 13 and she was eight [during a three-month joint hospitalization for mononucleosis]. I remember a talent show in the seventh grade – I sang the 'Swinging Shepherd Blues' dressed up as a clown, but that was a little too heavy for my vanity. We picked up Paul Simon and Peter, Paul and Mary songs from albums, and soon Beatles songs. We decided to have a protest rock group which is pretty close to impossible when you're 14 and you have nothing to protest – we grew up in a relatively sheltered existence. We tried to write songs about how we weren't getting enough to eat and we didn't have any roof over our heads . . . but we really did."

For the singing Wilson sisters, the change from an acoustic act to electric was much more painful than the switch from club act to concert act. "The electric guitar was a big step for me," says Nancy, "but I didn't spend a lot of time trying to adjust. It wasn't like, 'Hey, little lady, come strap on this here big guitar.' We took it in steps as much as possible."

Later in KSAN's studio A, the DJ, who happens to be Chinese, introduces Ann as Nancy. "No," she says, "I'm Ann, but it's all right, our father does it all the time."

"Yeah," says the DJ, "well, you white folks all look alike."

A listener calls to ask whatever became of Magazine, the album Heart was working on when it left Mushroom.

"It's still going to happen," Ann says. "As one result of our legal difficulties, four of our songs were put on ice by the courts, including the title song."

Another listener asks if the Wilsons can sing "Don't Touch Me There." After a long silence – the Wilsons have never sung "Don't Touch Me There," after all, and bear no resemblance to the Tubes – Ann chirps, "Yeah, we did that for a while but, y'know, Nancy didn't want to sing it anymore."

Finishing up the interview, the DJ asks the Wilsons if they've received any TV offers. "We were offered one serial-type thing," Ann says, laughing. "The Heart Show! I think that would make us too accessible to the public, it would dispel any hipness the band might have – after all, it's really hard to do anything artistic on a weekly TV show. Anyway, I couldn't be doing a series just because they needed a group with women in it."

Being in a band, traveling all over the country, living in hotels I just couldn't give a child any kind of meaningful existence. Rather than thinking about me Oh, I'd like to have a cute little bundle I try to think about the kid.
—Ann Wilson

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