Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



US rock group fronted by sisters Ann (b 19 June 1951, San Diego CA) and Nancy Wilson (b 16 March 1954, San Francisco), lead vocalist and guitarist respectively. The service family settled in Seattle and the girls worked in the local music scene, Nancy solo as a folksinger and Ann as a member of hard rockers White Heart (Steve Fossen, bass; Roger Fisher, guitar; Mike Fisher; group previously known as Army, played Led Zep covers). Ann Wilson joined her sister and the band (including Michael Derosier, drums; Howard Leese, keyboards) relocated to British Columbia (Roger Fisher had draft problems). They released Dreamboat Annie '76 on the local Mushroom label, and sold out the initial pressing on the West Coast concert circuit alone: it contained a mixture of heavy metal-ish rock and ballads, on each of which Ann excelled, including singles 'Crazy On You' (top 40) and 'Magic Man' (top ten). The album sold 2.5m and made no. 7 on Billboard album chart, but they felt the small label held them back and made a mid-contract switch to CBS/Portrait which caused problems: the sub-demo quality Magazine (recorded '76, released '78) competed with Little Queen '78 and a courtroom battle gave Mushroom the right to release Magazine, so remixing and new vocals were done to limit the damage.

Little Queen (with hit single 'Barracuda') was no. 9, Magazine 17 despite the confusion; Dog And Butterfly (also '78, on Portrait, including single 'Straight On') also made 17. The Wilson sisters had relationships with the Fisher brothers (Mike was now the soundman); Ann's split with Roger led to his departure and Bebe Le Strange '80 was their best-seller so far at no. 5, despite Leese having to double on instruments. Greatest Hits Live was another confusing issue: the two-disc set had six of 18 tracks live and made no. 13 in USA, but was slimmed to one LP for UK release '81, where it made little impact.

The long-serving rhythm section of Fossen/DeRosier was replaced by seasoned Mark Andes (bass; ex-Spirit, Jo Jo Gunne, Firefall) and drummer Denny Carmassi (ex-Montrose, Sammy Hagar). Private Audition '82, Passionworks '83 (collaboration with lyricist Holly Knight), Heart '85 (no. 1 LP USA) confirmed their continuing ability to turn out accomplished, glossy AOR; the hit singles continued but the excitement of yore was perhaps missing. Bad Animals '87 and Brigade '90 were top five albums, but Rock The House Live! '91 didn't make the top 100.

Nancy had bit parts in films Fast Times At Ridgemount High and The Wild Life, married director Cameron Crowe, started a family and scored some of his films. The sisters formed an acoustic quartet called the Lovemongers and played around Seattle; Ann toured as Heart without Nancy, who released a solo album Live At McCabe's Guitar Shop '99. They re-formed in 2002, the fans still out there.

ADDENDA: The annual Bethlehem Musicfest in Pennsylvania is criticized for booking acts for baby boomers on its main stage. In August 2010 Heart attracted 4,606, who were too respectful at first, so Ann said, 'Okay, we're going to have to work on you then.' According to Morning Call critic John J. Moser, the sisters and their four-piece band dug in and rocked the place, 'playing their hits fresh and vital, and without a hint of nostalgia or diminished enthusiasm.' They had altered some of their tunes, but 'They didn't change them to make them weaker or easier, but to challenge them.' With the crowd loosened, everybody had a good time, and it was nice to hear about a nostalgia act still kicking butt. An EP was released for download in July including 'WTF', which they played in Bethlehem, and their first album in several years was to be Red Velvet Car at the end of August.