Ann Wilson Fights Back Family Heartache to Press On with Her Solo Career
By Jaime Lees
8 p.m. Sunday, May 28. River City Casino & Hotel, 777 River City Casino Boulevard. $49.50 to $89.50.
Ann Wilson is wrong. There is no way around it. Just minutes into a recent conversation over the phone in advance of her performance in St. Louis, the long-time lead singer of Heart makes a statement that is just totally and completely inaccurate.
In response to a compliment of her singing abilities, she modestly demurs and says, “You know, I think that sometimes I’m better than others. But I really don’t feel comfortable going around saying ‘I am the greatest!’ when I’m not the Muhammad Ali of singers, for sure.”
The thing is, Wilson is the Muhammad Ali of singers. She’s the Serena Williams of singers. She’s the Wayne Gretzky of singers. In fact, her voice is so universally revered, so deeply treasured and historically important, that it would be fully appropriate to say that Muhammad Ali was the Ann Wilson of boxing.
Wilson carries within her the standard to which all strong female singers are held. She is it; her voice is the ultimate. It’s the kind of voice that can’t be taught or even imitated without great effort. But for her, it seems at once powerful and effortless. A gift.
After much prodding, the voice behind legendary mega-hits such as “Barracuda,” “Alone” and “What About Love” finally concedes some innate skill. After all, she must be aware that her voice is irrefutably the greatest, because she has heard others sing and she is objectively better.
At the suggestion, Wilson laughs.
“Yeah, when I hear a lot of people sing, the complaint I have — and something that I take really seriously for my own self — is just not trying to be any way,” she explains. “Not trying to copy anything. Just being authentic, you know? Whatever it is that I sound like that day, hopefully it’s great and I can light it up with my spirit.”
Her spirit is something that she has had to rely on lately. Wilson is currently in a time of turmoil and adjustment. Heart, the groundbreaking band she has co-piloted with her sister Nancy Wilson since 1974, is on indefinite hiatus after a family dust-up. The story goes that Ann’s husband of two years, Dean Wetter, physically assaulted Nancy’s then-sixteen-year-old sons while Heart was on stage last August. Wetter was charged and pled guilty to two counts of assault.
His plea deal was strict: 364 days in jail suspended in favor of probation, with restitution to be paid, no contact with drugs or alcohol, zero contact with his nephews and required counseling.While the accusations were serious, Wilson has downplayed the assault in the press, insisting that the incident was “overblown” and something that could’ve been worked through in a family meeting without getting the police involved. (The tour did continue for twenty more gigs after the incident, with the sisters keeping separate dressing rooms and interaction at a minimum.)
Wilson’s public defensiveness on behalf of her husband, though, set off alarm bells amongst long-time Heart fans. Wilson said that her husband was “complex” and a misunderstood “zen warrior” who was “provoked” into violence against the children. Many Heart followers thought that she seemed to apologize for Wetter just a bit too much, and were dismayed that she appeared to side with her husband over her sister and nephews.
We didn’t ask Wilson about her husband during our interview, but she brought him up multiple times. She spoke of their relationship frequently, describing their time together as an innocently blissful and fruitful adventure. Wetter has been touring with Wilson, and when they’re on the road they live together on her bus. The pair stays at campgrounds instead of sleeping in hotels.
‘”The pressures of traveling are really offset by being out under the trees at night, and sitting outside and looking at the stars and the moon and everything after a show out in the woods,” Wilson says. “We can have ultimate freedom and we can look in each other’s eyes and just be all lovey-dovey and look at the moon. It’s blessed, you know, terribly.”And when they’re at home, home is now in Florida. They’ve moved away from Seattle, the physical and spiritual home of Heart.
“My husband is from Seattle, too, and he convinced me that it’s cold and wet and lonely up there, and it really is!” she says. “We wanted to go someplace warm with great weather, big water and, you know, make it happen. I don’t think people in Seattle think it’s true yet. I think they’re still thinking that I’ve taken leave of my senses and I’ll be back. But…”
She trails off, implying that her near future is not to be based in the soggy Pacific northwest.This, more than anything, makes fans think that Heart is well and truly over. For her part, Wilson is moving full steam ahead and has given no indication that she’s counting on a business reconciliation with her sister. Wilson is touring on her own, finishing songs for an upcoming EP, and has booked a series of show dates where she sings not only Heart songs but also cover songs (which are all greatly improved by her voice, no doubt).
And though it appears as though Wilson is in the middle of a struggle between her marriage unit and her family unit, she is still driven and productive. Sometime soon she might have to do the unthinkable: choose between Heart and her heart. But for now, she is resilient and always eager to perform, even under stress.
“When you have hard things happen in your personal life and then you go up on stage, you know, you get through it,” she says. “Sometimes that can bring really amazing, soulful things, and sometimes it’s just living hell. Because you really want to be in the moment on stage, and you don’t want to be fretting about something else — you have to be present. So thank goodness those times don’t happen often, but when they do, there’s almost nothing harder.”
And maybe these hard times will serve to inspire something even bigger for Wilson. As she said in her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech in 2013, “Aren’t the sweetest parts of music sometimes about what’s wrong?”
Ten Reasons Why Heart is Badass
By Jaime Lees
Tue., Jul. 3 2012
Heart is playing at 8 p.m. on July 4 at Fair St. Louis. In celebration of this free event, we’ve made you a short list of reasons why Heart is badass. Enjoy.
01. Heart is run by badass bitches.
At the core of Heart is two sisters: Ann and Nancy Wilson. So let’s just get this out of the way: They are women. No, that shouldn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter as much now as it did in the ’70s when Heart was pretty much the only major band run by women with all of the decisions being made by women, but let’s acknowledge it. They are each the H.B.I.C. And they are talented as fuck. But please don’t call them women who rock. Barf. They just rock, okay? And they’ve been doing it for almost 40 years, so fuck you if you don’t think that broads are badass.
03. Heart is badass, even when it’s bad.
Let’s talk about “These Dreams” for a minute. Great tune, right? But the lyrics… yikes.
“Is it cloak n dagger / could it be spring or fall
I walk without a cut / through a stained glass wall
Weaker in my eyesight / the candle in my grip
And words that have no form / are falling from my lips”
I mean, what kind of fairy wonderland Renaissance Faire shit is that? But still, here we are singing along. Ah, fuck it. Don’t fight it. That songs rules. I’ll search for the time on a watch with no hands all damn night.
04. Heart has produced badass shit by overcoming some actual shit.
There were always problems about in Heart Land. Ann had a well-publicized weight problem and she was a stutterer. (This was cured by her singing, apparently.) And those in the know say that Nancy was a turbo slut who seemed to love the drama. (She once dumped her guitarist and then started banging her drummer, just like Fleetwood Mac’s resident ho, Stevie Nicks.) And both Wilsons endured painful rumors of incest and lesbianism. Still, all of these trials only made them stronger. These problems worked their way into their songs and then those songs made the ladies rich and famous. Booya.
05. Heart tells it like it is, and that’s badass.
Basically, if you fucked with the ladies, they were gonna call you out. In public. So you broke a Wilson girl’s heart? Yeah, they are going to to make sure that everybody knows. They’re gonna put your shit on Front Street. Hard. Every single person with a radio is going to know exactly what a dirty cheater / liar / dickhead you are. And this legacy lives on: Ann Wilson singing “If Looks Could Kill” is just a precursor to Taylor Swift writing “Dear John” about John Mayer. Date any one of these ladies and eventually you will hear about your mistakes in song form. Your grandchildren will hear it, too. So tread lightly, shady bastards.
06. Heart is a badass product.
Heart has had shit tons of success. It just released a box set and its 14th studio album, Fanatic, is coming out this October. They’ve been in the Top 40 twenty times and their shows are always selling out. All together, they’ve sold more than 30 million albums. What have you done lately?
07. Heart has mastered badass trick endings.
This is a songwriting skill rarely done well, and even then it’s usually only implemented in country songs. If you’ve ever really listened to the lyrics of “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” then you know what I’m talking about. It’s not a song just about bumpin’ uglies, it’s a deeper story filled with a predicable story line and then – bam! – everything changes. Heart didn’t compose this song, but Ann’s delivery is what makes it believable. That shit will give you the chills like whoa.
08. Heart is a badass family business.
In this band it is always family first. And honey, there is nothing more important than your sister. The Wilson girls grew up as military kids and they apply that same brand of strength and adaptability to their careers. They share the title of co-songwriter and they always seem to look out for each other. Family businesses are hard as fuck, but the Wilsons make it look easy, even after all of these years.
09. Heart still puts on a badass live show.
Straight up: Ann can still sing and Nancy can still play the shit outta that guitar. Decades of hard work has only served to make them even better. Their band is populated with world-class musicians and it is absolutely dumbfounding to witness a full concert where you get to experience just how many hits they’ve produced. And the cover songs they do are executed with great mastery. Ann’s version of “Unchained Melody” will ruin all other versions of the song for you forever, it’s that freakin’ good.
10. Heart wrote some of the most badass songs ever.
I mean, can I get a witness?
- link: Riverfront Times