By Keith Sharp
The legacy of Heart may be well documented since the release of their classic debut album Dreamboat Annie in 1975, but lead vocalist Ann Wilson is now determined to establish her own legacy.
With the album release of `Fierce Bliss’ earlier this year, Wilson has assembled a band of top-notch Muscle Shoals Studio musicians and has launched an extensive U.S. tour to promote the 11-track album, which features original songs; “Greed,” “Black Wing,” and “A Moment In Heaven,” a rework of Government Mule’s “Angel’s Blues” plus some iconic covers of Queen’s “Love Of My Life” (featuring a duet with Vince Gill), Jeff Buckley’s “Forget Her,” the Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man” and even a cover of Robin Trower’s “Bridge Of Sighs” the latter two tracks featuring some classic guitar work from Kenny Wayne Sheppard.
Calling from Florida, where she was taking a six-day break from her tour, Wilson explained that the project took on a life of its own after she met up with famed Nashville session guitarist Tom Bukovac and bassist Tony Lucido.
“I had originally intended to go in, record a few songs and see what I had, but those sessions just took on a life of their own,” enthused Wilson. “I had hired Bukovac to be my musical director, he brought in Lucido, drummer Sean T Lane, and dual keyboardists Tim Lauer and Gordon Mote and the musicians he picked absolutely jelled with me, and we all jelled together.”
Those initial demos rapidly turned into 11 complete songs, encouraging Wilson to take this new group on the road for an extensive U.S. tour. “We did some shows together and quickly realized that `hey,’ this is a good thing let’s keep it going, now we are writing together and planning to do more shows this year and even next year.”
Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, Wilson’s itinerary has so far only allowed for one Canadian date, a festival in Churchill Falls Newfoundland, but she plans on future dates early in 2023.
Wilson explains that ‘Fierce Bliss’ is a collection of universal folk tales through a rocking lens from all walks of life. “For me, a good song starts out with the story,” she states in her bio. “It’s always the story, and then it’s the singer, how the person puts it across, the melody if these songs are in line, then all the rest happens.”
Wilson’s latest single: “A Moment In Heaven,” reflects on the Hollywood star-making machinery and how the industry reacts when an artist has a No. 1 record, they are the greatest thing going, but how quickly that adulation fades when they need to match or top their previous success, a feeling Wilson is well acquainted with.
“It is a poke at that West-Coast music mentality,” Wilson agrees. “It’s like that star-making machinery is making people obsolete. To me, it’s amusing, but it’s also tragic. I have experienced this, and I felt I needed to take a poke at this mentality.”
Another new song, “Greed,” follows a similar theme; Wilson noted that the song is about people always wanting more. “Whether it be money, sex, power, or ecstasy, it fires our craving. It happens with all of us,” she notes in her bio. “When you turn around and catch yourself making decisions because you want the money or because you are caught in the headlights of glory, well, those are greedy moments. I think people who claim to have made every decision from a root of pure idealism and never done anything dark or greedy are lying. I think everybody who ventures into especially the music industry, hoping for a career with big success, ends up making these Faustian bargains at some point, even briefly, it’s an aggressive song, and I think I write best when I’m angry.”
In selecting her cover choices, Wilson declares they have to be songs that she cannot live without doing. “I have to see little bits of myself in that I feel I can add something when translating that song,” she allows. “When I put a cover across, I try to improve on it rather than stomp all over the original.”
In choosing to cover Queen’s epic “Love Of My Life,” Wilson elected to strip down the campy, baroque arrangement of the original and turn it into a duet with Country Music ace (and current Eagles member) Vince Gill.
“I wanted to do it as a duet with a man. Traditionally, the man is more rock, and the woman in the duet is the angel, but my voice is more edgy, more rock, so I wanted to flip this around and have the man’s voice be more of a pure angel. Vince was the only choice I could think of whose voice seemed to fit. I was so thankful that he agreed to be involved.”
Wilson will raise some eyebrows with her choice of Robin Trower’s “Bridge Of Sighs” “That song speaks for itself. I love ‘Bridge Of Sighs’; I’ve always wanted to sing it, but I could never get people in Heart to agree to cover it. But, now with my own project, I have the freedom to finally cover it.”
As a distinctive touch, Wilson lured Kenny Wayne Sheppard in to add his own distinctive style (he also performs on her cover of The Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man”) “And he helped us make those songs our own,” Wilson added.
Wilson gives full credit to her band for making ‘Fierce Bliss’ the most successful of her three solo albums and two EPs. “I have to give credit to these musicians,” she noted. “They are top-of-the-line studio guys who are taking a chance being regular full-time musicians in a band which they’ve never done before. We are very much a team, I listen to their ideas, but being that it’s my name up there, I make the final decisions.”
So, what can fans expect to experience when they attend one of Wilson’s solo performances? A random examination of her set lists shows the performance of classic Heart songs like “Even It Up,” “Magic Man,” “Barracuda,” and “Crazy On You” with her originals “Greed,” “Black Wing,” and “A Moment In Heaven” and a selection of covers which often include “Love Of My Life,” “Bridge Of Sighs,” “Missionary Man,” Jeff Buckley’s “Forget Her” and even The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me,” and Steve Earle’s “The Revolution Starts Here,” with Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” and “Goin To California” often used as encore numbers.
“It’s always a challenge performing new songs,” acknowledged Wilson. “Being a fan myself, I would be disappointed if I didn’t hear certain songs. So, I have chosen Heart songs I believe have the most substance and have stood the test of time, but I don’t find it hard to play new stuff at all. You just have to be really wise about which ones you choose. You can’t just drag them through every new song, or you will lose your audience.”
Certainly, Heart’s legacy speaks for itself. Since hitting the charts with that amazingly successful debut album in 1975, Heart has released 16 studio albums, Wilson and sister Nancy have sold more than 35 million albums and had numerous Top 10 Billboard chart listings en route to their 2013 Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction. And then there was that memorable Kennedy Center Honours tribute to Led Zeppelin on December 26th, 2012, when Heart’s rendition of Stairway To Heaven produced a standing ovation (including the Obama’s) and reduced Messers Plant and Page to tears.
Heart has rightly been acknowledged as being pioneers in promoting women in rock, to which Wilson responds, “I suppose I do think we were amongst the first women to kick down the door. There were others like Suzi Quatro, Christine McVie, and Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac, but we continue to hear that we were influential, and that is a positive. These days, I think everyone gets treated like commodities.”
Whether it was arena rock, disco, punk, grunge, rap or whatever, this little bar band from Seattle which initially found life in Vancouver has successfully surfed all of these waves, and now it’s Wilson’s turn to forge her own legacy.
Wilson says she is revelling in her new-found freedom and enjoying the challenge of being in charge of her own project. “I try to always keep myself challenged and work with people who challenge me. The reason I am not in Heart right now is because I didn’t feel challenged by that group, but who knows? If we get the right material, I might feel challenged again. But right now, it’s important to keep pulling a different side of the envelope.”