Ann Wilson has been pushing boundaries since the release of Heart’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie, in 1976. Wilson joined the band in the early ’70s at the age of 22, and her younger sister, Nancy, soon followed suit. Between Nancy’s guitar virtuosity and Wilson’s killer vocals, the two changed the face of music, reframing preconceived notions of who and what rock stars could be. Songs like the opening track on Dreamboat Annie, “Magic Man”—which peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—marked a significant shift in rock lyricism to the female perspective. By channeling her lived experience through songwriting, Wilson echoed the feelings and experiences of a wider array of female listeners, solidifying her place as a pioneer in a male-dominated industry.
“When I first started out in music, I was answering a call to be a musician,“ says Wilson. “I was raised by a mother who just said, ‘Well, you can do whatever you want, why not?’ So I really took that to heart. I never once stood away and looked in at myself and said, ‘Oh, you’re a pioneer.’ I was just looking from the inside out and went, ‘I’m doing this!’ But the net effect is that younger people or women or whoever have watched me and others and gone, ‘Well, yeah, if she can do it, I can do it.”
The 2017 edition of LOCKN’ at Infinity Downs Farm in Arrington, Virginia was in full swing yesterday, with its first full day of music featuring sets from The Marcus King Band, Anitbalas, Blackberry Smoke and more. Gov’t Mule was featured as one of last night’s headlining acts, sandwiched in between two sets of Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band. Unexpected pairings have become the tradition at LOCKN’ as it was announced prior to the fest that Mule would be joined by Ann Wilson of Heart during their scheduled slot.
The Southern-jam titans kicked things a cover of The Staples Singers’ “Hammer & Nails.” From their the old-school “Thorazine Shuffle” came ahead of a strings of tunes from their latest studio album – “Stone Cold Rage,” “Traveling Tune,” “Revolution Come…Revolution Go” and “The Man I Want To Be.” The four-piece act than reached back for “Game Face,” which segued into a section of the Allman Brothers Band classic “Mountain Jam” before returning back to “Game Face,” with a crowd-pleasing “Soulshine” following.
Warren Haynes & Co. next welcomed Ann Wilson of Heart to the stage. The augmented act kicked things off with a pair of Led Zeppelin covers, with Wilson handling lead vocals on “Immigrant Song” and “Black Dog,” from Zep III and IV. Next up came a take on Memphis Slim’s “Mother Earth,” a track that Mule included on their 1995 self-title debut album. From there Wilson did her best Janis Joplin impression with a take on “Cry Baby,” a song that was originally recorded by Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters, but one that Joplin put her signature stamp on. Wilson closed things out with Mule with a take on one of her own tunes, leading the band through “Magic Man,” from Heart’s debut album Dreamboat Annie.
ROCHESTER — There have been some big changes for Ann Wilson, the voice of most of the Heart catalogue.
Ann and her Heart bandmate and sister, Nancy, will both be in Rochester this year, but they will not be sharing the same stage. Ann will headline a solo performance on Sunday at The Kodak Center Main Stage on Ridge Road, Nancy will be in town in September opening for Bob Seger.
Ann and Heart are one of the most popular bands to come out of Seattle, and pre-dated the grunge bands that dominated the charts in the 1990s. Ann has not only left Heart, she has moved away from the city she called home for many years.
“My husband I are both from Seattle, but as the years have gone by, we found the weather more challenging, and we found a place in Florida that was really nice and we could enjoy the weather and the scenery,” Wilson said during a recent phone interview. “We don’t necessarily agree with some of the political philosophies espoused here (laughs), but we live in place we don’t encounter it much.”
Leaving Seattle is one thing, stepping away from Heart, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and huge concert draw, is another. Tensions between Ann and Nancy have been well chronicled, but Ann hardly seems to feign sincerity when she discusses the real reason she is out on the road as a solo artist.
“I knew I just needed to take a break from it because I felt like I was wasting my time, so I decided to do a solo thing and see where it takes me.
“It was numbing for me. At my age, I don’t want to be wasting time on a treadmill, I just really want to be doing stuff and live life the way I want to. It got to the point where every night was one classic rock tour package after another where, if you tried to change the meat and potatoes hit set list, people would get upset, promoters and fans.”
Wilson’s solo set opens with a cover of The Who’s “The Real Me,” which Ann states is “not an anti-Heart thing, it’s a pro-me thing.”
With the release of “Dreamboat Annie” in 1975, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson proved that not only could women rock, they could rock hard.
“With ‘Dreamboat Annie,’ the sisters Wilson launched themselves into a stardom that would not be without sexist backlash,” Marissa Lorusso wrote this summer for NPR Music’s list of “The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.” “But in the process, they provided a model for a generation of unapologetic rock and roll women.”
Heart, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 and continued to tour until recently, remains a rock music staple thanks to the staying power of timeless hits such as “Barracuda” and “Alone.”
And behind each of those songs is the rip-roaring, sultry vocals of Ann Wilson, who will make a special appearance at Lockn’ 2017, performing Friday night with Gov’t Mule.
“Did you see Ann Wilson on the Lincoln Center Awards [in 2012] when she did ‘Stairway to Heaven?’ You gotta Google that,” said Lockn’ co-founder Dave Frey. “It’s really unbelievable. She can sing the phone book.”
Wilson’s stop at Lockn’ comes between two legs of her current solo tour, which she has been on since March and will wrap up in November. During these shows, she has entertained audiences not just with Heart classics, but with covers from artists as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Peter Gabriel and Aretha Franklin.
“I’m really excited about Warren Haynes [of Gov’t Mule] with Ann Wilson from Heart because both of them historically have played Led Zeppelin covers really well,” Frey said. “...Whether you’re a Heart fan or not, it’s not necessarily about Heart when she shows up. It’s going to be about her singing.”
Before she hits the stage at Lockn’, Wilson talked about cover songs, women rockers and the legacy of Heart.
How would you say rock has changed from when you entered the genre to where it is now?
“It’s just unrecognizable. It’s completely different. I don’t want to sing the glories of the past over the present, but it’s so different. There used to be a lot more emphasis put on authenticity. ... I don’t see it actually being practiced as much in record productions or presentations of new artists. It’s all art by committee and lots of different, a million different, beat-getters and producers and lyricists. You don’t really know who the artist is.
“Just Auto-tune itself makes singers sound pretty anonymous. I think that would be the biggest change. If people used to sing off-key, you knew about it. You knew that they weren’t very good singers. Now, you can hear somebody that sounds perfected and you can’t tell who they are, and they sound perfect in this robotic way.”
[POP] It’s been a rough year for Heart’s Ann Wilson, but she’s all the stronger for it. Last August, while headlining the Rock Hall Three For All Tour alongside Cheap Trick and Joan Jett, things took a turn for the strange when a scuffle broke out between Wilson’s husband Dean Witter and her sister Nancy’s kids at a homecoming gig in Washington state. The details are well documented in an April Rolling Stone article, but for the gal with the pipes behind indelible classics like “Crazy on You,” “Straight On,” and “Magic Man,” the resulting hiatus is a much needed liberation.
“About three years ago now I found myself in a real suffocated place,” Wilson said over the phone from her new Florida digs. “When you’re listed as a classic rock band, booking agents put you in the same type of packages every year. I’d begun to wonder, ‘wow, is this all there is for me?’ The buyers in those package scenarios expect you to do certain songs, and if you don’t do them, you’re potentially in breach of contract. I don’t blame [audiences] for expecting to hear their favorites after they’ve paid $100 to just sit on the lawn, but it’d begun to feel way too tight around the neck. I was getting more and more dissatisfied, dreaming of a parallel universe where I could just sing whatever songs I wanted. And then, this time last year, I found myself in a difficult situation which, in hindsight, provided the perfect window for me to fly out of.”