Ann Wilson goes it alone, picking up the pieces of a broken Heart
One day this week, just before I was to interview Ann Wilson, the hall of fame rock singer from Heart who opens the Marin County Fair next week, I noticed that it just happened to be her 67th birthday.
When she came on the phone, she seemed pleasantly surprised when I wished her a happy birthday, not that she was making a big deal of it.
“When you’ve been alive for as long as I have, after a while it doesn’t make that much difference anymore,” she sighed. “Birthdays are just a mark that you’re still here. Imagine the alternative.”
She was speaking from her customized tour bus, nicknamed Sylvia, as it rolled through the Midwest, heading for a gig at Kansas City’s Uptown Theater that night on her recently extended “Ann Wilson of Heart Tour.” It arrives in Marin on June 30.
I asked her if she’d be doing anything special for her birthday.
“We’re just going to drive into Kansas City and do the gig tonight,” she said matter-of-factly. “There isn’t really time for anything else.”
Oh, the glamorous life of a rock star on the road.
In years past, she would be touring and celebrating birthdays with her singer-songwriter-guitarist sister, Nancy. (An aside about glamorous Nancy: she married music executive Geoff Bywater in 2012 at El Paseo, Sammy Hagar’s restaurant in Mill Valley. She had previously been married for 24 years to filmmaker and former Rolling Stone editor Cameron Crowe.)
As the front women of Heart, the Wilson sisters have sold something like 35 million records with hits like “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” “Dog & Butterfly,” “Straight On,” “Even It Up” and “Mistral Wind,” among other great songs.
But Heart is broken, and Wilson says it will never be put back together again the way it was when the band rose to fame in the mid-’70s with its unlikely combination of folk influences and hard rock powered by Wilson’s stunning lead vocals. In 2006, Hit Parader magazine called her one of the top heavy metal vocalists of all time.
To make a long story short, the split with Nancy came last August during a Heart gig at an amphitheater in Washington, not far from where the sisters grew up in Seattle. Wilson’s husband, Dean Wetter, whom she married in 2015, lost his temper and assaulted Nancy’s 16-year-old twin sons after they left the door open to Wilson’s new tour bus. Wetter pleaded guilty to two non-felony assault charges and was placed on two years unsupervised probation, but the damage had been done. Since then, the sisters have gone their separate ways.
“I know that Nancy and I will get back together,” she said. “Our lives will cross. But I also know for sure that Heart will never be that old way again. We’re in our second skin now.”
What she means is that after 40-plus years as a band, Heart had been relegated to a nostalgia act, playing for longtime fans who want to hear the old songs over and over again. That didn’t sit well with Wilson, a creative, forward-thinking songwriter.
“I got really stone-cold tired of Heart being lumped into these classic rock, legacy package tours,” she said. “I think that what all of this brought on the most is the realization in me that I needed more. The only way was to get myself out of it was to walk away from it for a while.”
She not only walked away from her sister and the old band, she and her husband moved about as far away from Seattle as they could get without leaving the country. After falling in love with Key West, Florida, on their honeymoon, they bought a house and some property farther north, near Jacksonville.
“We were looking for someplace where a dollar is still close to a dollar, where we could buy a nice house that we’d be able to afford, get some land with it and live by water,” she said.