Interview: Heart’s Ann Wilson

Frontwoman Talks Elton John, The Rolling Stones, and Her Anti-Bucket List

<b>SISTERLY LOVE:</b> Ann (left) and Nancy Wilson bring Heart to the Santa Barbara Bowl on August 27.

This Tuesday, Heart plays the Santa Barbara Bowl, a first for a band whose career spans nearly four decades. During the course of its legacy-making run, the band (currently consisting of sisters and founding members Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson, Ben Smith, Craig Bartock, Debbie Shair, and Dan Rothchild) helped usher hard rock into the mainstream. Influenced by everyone from Robert Plant to Neil Young, the Wilsons penned slicing, guitar-driven hard hitters like “Barracuda” and “Heartless” throughout the 1970s. The ’80s found the sisters delving into more ballad-driven songwriting, spawning hits like 1980’s “Tell It Like It Is.” But even in recent years, Heart has hit a sweet stride of success and accolades. The group has released two successful albums (2010’s Red Velvet Car, 2012’s Fanatic), along with a box set (2012’s Euphoria) and a best-selling rock biography (Kicking and Dreaming); Heart received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has been granted a long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I recently interviewed Heart’s leader, Ann Wilson. During the course of our talk, we touched on everything from style icons to music legends to the debauched rock ’n’ roll scene of the 1970s and ’80s. Some fun facts I learned: If Wilson was not a rock goddess, she would be a fashion designer. She admires the work of Ann Demeulemeester and Rick Owen for their draping, edgy creations. She would have liked to have met JFK and John Lennon.

Since Heart spends so much time on the road, Wilson does not travel much in her free time. When she does, anything tropical works for her. She is partial to Kona, Hawai‘i, and has yet to try surfing. Wilson’s favorite comedian is Eddie Izzard. She feels like any fan (with really great seats) when she can catch Elton John on tour. “There are always those songs that reach in and grab me and tears start rolling down my face,” she says of the Rocket Man. As far as artists she looks to for guidance, producer Ben Mink and Robert Plant top the list. “Ben can break the mood and spill sunshine all over everyone. He really is an angel,” she says. “And [Robert] is always on the move musically; he’s not stuck on just being a rock or Americana singer.”

She’s also lived a life that many of us would sell our souls for. Hence, there is no bucket list. The Rolling Stones top the list as the band she enjoyed touring with the most, and she laughs when asked about the acts that were not so great. Looking back, Wilson admits to witnessing all the debauchery that one would imagine to come with the excesses of fame. As far as regrets, she says, she “would have been more respectful to my body in the ’80s. I would not have gone to so many parties, drank so much, and ingested so many drugs.” She makes up for it these days with quiet meditation, light stretching, and vitamin C before each performance. She sees no real down side to being a successful rock artist. Her “soul” hobby is her children, Marie and Dustin, and she calls them her “most beautiful and poignant song.”Wilson agrees that her sense of humor and parenting style are a direct result of her parents, John and Lou Wilson, who, she says, were extremely witty and progressive growing up. “Nancy and I are a bunch of cookie cut-ups,” she says.

Following my interview with Wilson, I was introduced to Catherine Abarca, a Santa Barbara resident who will attend her 90th Heart show this week at the S.B. Bowl. Abarca made it crystal clear as to why hearing “Barracuda,” “Crazy on You,” “Magic Man,” “These Dreams,” and the rest of the Heart catalog is a pastime that never gets stale. Abarca says Heart always throws in something fresh to their now iconic guitar riffs and harmonies. “The Wilsons are always able to maintain an intimacy with the audience,” says Abarca. She feels Heart truly reciprocates their gratitude to the audience and went on to say that the band attacks each show with “poetic power and poise.”

Jason Bonham and his band will open and set the tone with a set of Zeppelin classics. Then Heart takes the stage to play several of its mega-hits, along with more top-grade new material. Round three will feature both bands sharing the stage and shredding through an amalgamation of Heart tunes and Zeppelin tracks. Add to that that Robert Plant himself has publicly stated that Ann Wilson is the only one who can do justice to any Zeppelin song, and you’ve got yourself a night of classic rock with a proverbial money-back guarantee. “It’s rock and roll, man,” says Wilson. “It’s big, deep, and it’s what Heart does best.”


Heart plays the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) on Tuesday, August 27, with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. Call (805) 962-7411 or visit for tickets and info.


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