Classic Rock Corner

Heart's Ann Wilson Going It "Alone" This Summer

Photo courtesy of MSO PR
Ann Wilson breaks out on her own after 40+ years with sister Nancy in Heart
More than four decades into her career as one of rock’s premier and most distinctive vocalists, Ann Wilson is in the middle of something she’s never attempted before: an extended solo tour.

“We have a very lean, mean band, nothing extra. Great musicians that can go big or gentle, and a full video program for the whole two-hour show,” she says enthusiastically just prior to the start of the second leg that will bring her to the Arena Theatre in Houston (though, according to the venue’s website, its trademark rotating stage will remain stationary).

Of course, her main gig since the mid-’70s has been co-leading the band Heart with sister/guitarist/co-writer Nancy, side trips with the Lovemongers and The Ann Wilson Thing! Notwithstanding. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, Heart racked up an instantly recognizable string of hard-rock hits in the ’70s (“Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” “Straight On”) and enjoyed even greater success in the ’80s with anthemic power ballads (“What About Love?” “Never” “These Dreams,” “Alone”).

Photo by Jess Griffin/Courtesy of MSO PR
But – as even non-Heart fans know by now – plans for both Ann’s solo tour and Nancy’s new group, Roadcase Royale, weren’t exactly percolating a year ago, or even thought about. That’s because in one of the most jarring recent music stories, at the moment the Wilson sisters are estranged – very estranged.

In a nutshell, there was an incident last year at a show involving a tour bus, a dog and an intense physical altercation between Ann’s new husband and Nancy’s twin 16-year-old boys. It opened a gaping rift between the siblings usually thought of as perhaps the closest personally and professionally in all of music.

Rolling Stone did a comprehensive piece on the incident and its aftermath, reporting that the group was no longer on a “temporary hiatus,” but an all-out “hiatus.” Still, there is one positive outcome, in that Ann agrees it has forced both sisters to step outside of their boxes with their current projects

“We are definitely out of our comfort zone, and for me, it’s fantastic, fresh and liberating. I can’t say anything negative about it – except for the money!” Wilson says. “But it’s really good for me, and I’m sure for Nancy.”

The show is being billed as "Ann Wilson of Heart" (just in case someone might not know her name). Another upcoming Houston show featuring the band's music, bizarrely, called "Heart by Heart," will take place June 16 at Miller Outdoor Theatre. This lineup features original/classic Heart members Steve Fossen (bass) and Micheal Derosier (drums). Along with Somar Macek on vocals...who sounds and looks an awful lot like Ann Wilson (and, for good measure, a blond female guitarist).

But a gander at Ann Wilson’s current set lists shows that less than 25 percent are Heart songs – and they are “reimagined.” The rest includes new original tunes written within the past year and covers...a lot of covers. Mainly, these are Ann's own personal music faves, like the Who (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”), Jimi Hendrix (“Manic Depression”), the Animals (“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”), Yes (“I’ve Seen All Good People”), Elvis Presley (“One Night”), Aretha Franklin (“Ain’t No Way”) and even the Black Crowes — Ann says she "really identifies" with the lyrics of “She Talks to Angels."

But there’s nothing, it seems, from her biggest rock heroes – Led Zeppelin – a group for which she has been known to cover a song or two (or three) over the years.

“What I liked about them at first was Robert Plant,” she offers. “I had never seen a singer before who could be just as much female as male. It was a beautiful thing, very poetic. I thought I could sing that stuff, and I could.”

Perhaps the ultimate fangirl moment was when Ann and Nancy were chosen to perform ultimate Zep tune “Stairway to Heaven” in front of the surviving members themselves and a star-studded audience in 2013 when the band received their Kennedy Center Honors.

Beginning with just Ann’s voice and Nancy’s acoustic guitar, as the tune progresses, they are eventually joined by a full band (including Zep progeny Jason Bonham on drums), an orchestra, a vocal ensemble and then a full gospel choir.

“We couldn’t really see them from the stage, but it was pretty nerve-wracking. I mean, in addition to Led Zeppelin, you had President Obama and the first lady, Dustin Hoffman, and Stephen Colbert!” she says. “It was a very intense, famous audience.”

As for Texas, Ann Wilson says she has nothing but fond memories of playing the state, including Heart’s appearances at the Texxas Jam megaconcerts in 1978 and 1979 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and in 1981 in the Astrodome here. More recently, she notes the band has loved playing the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands.

But will Houston – or any other city – ever get to see another Heart show again? That depends on whether the two chambers of this musical and familial organ can be mended and beat as one again. But for now, at least the Vocal Chords are making a visit.

Ann Wilson performs 8 p.m. Sunday, June 4 at the Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. Tickets are $29.50 to $65.