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Ann Wilson 'Thing' Keeping Heart's Voice Under Covers

Published: March 11, 2016 at 12:00 am

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inducted remarkably few women - and fewer bands fronted by or featuring women. But the powerful and melodic Ann Wilson and her power chord pounding sister Nancy of Heart are among those revered Hall of Fame members.

Heart, and the Wilson sisters, were early trendsetters along with fellow Hall of Fame artists like Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, Joan Jett, Madonna and Patti Smith, Debra Harry of Blondie, Bonnie Raitt, and Connecticut's own Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, proving to three generations of aspiring young female musicians that girls DO rock.

In 2015, Ann Wilson continued her trendsetting ways by not only fashioning a musical project that distinctly separates her from her sister in concert, but from all that Heart music that made the the Wilson sisters famous.

The new year continues to find Ann Wilson out on the road supporting her solo project, while bouncing back and forth to various Heart gigs before heading back to her "old" band for a summer tour coincidentally sharing the bill with Joan Jett along with Cheap Trick.

But before Heart goes into overdrive, fans and curious classic rock lovers can check out The Ann Wilson Thing (TAWT) in the intimate confines of the Ridgefield Playhouse Saturday, March 26. Her new project gives Wilson a chance to put all those Heart hits on the shelf in favor of breaking out a set of her favorite cover tunes in front of a fresh new quartet of musicians - Craig Bartock, Chris Joyner, Andy Stoller, and Ben Smith.

In a recent chat with The Newtown Bee, Wilson talked about her new band, dispensed some advice for aspiring female musicians, and plans to take TAWT to its next stage with a follow-up EP to her solo debut called Thing 1. We proposed it could very well be entitled Thing 2.

Newtown Bee: So have you been in touch with the Dr Seuss people about licensing Thing 1 and Thing 2 - which I guess would be the logical followup album title for your next project, right?

Ann Wilson: (laughing) That's good - I'm going to pass that idea along. Yes, "Thing 2" is coming up this year. We've already got a good part of that worked out. We're still adding a few more ideas we're going to work out the first couple of days on the road. You know, we don't do a lot of overrehearsing. I mean, we learn something well enough to play it, take it out on stage and just go dangerous with it.

Newtown Bee: Weren't you and your sister playing pretty much all covers when you were first starting out?

Ann Wilson: We did a lot of covers at first when we were learning how to play before we started Heart - which for the first couple of years was pretty much all covers. So, for me to play just covers is - there's no shame to it. If they can be made my own and if they can be mixed with new originals, it's a really great show. There are people who really like covers if you're careful about picking the right ones. For example, we're doing the Peter Gabriel song "Don't Give Up." We're not doing "Johnny B. Goode"; we're doing songs that have some meaning to us.

Newtown Bee: Of all the labels in the world, you seem to have found some great support through the Roots and Americana label Rounder between your first solo album a few years back and now this project. Did you find Rounder or did Rounder find you?

Ann Wilson: They found us. They are a little subsidiary that's done well with that Alison Krauss/Robert Plant project Raising Sand, and from then on they've been having good experience promoting Americana albums and folks who are doing something different.

Newtown Bee: Do you have a special song that really makes you feel good singing it - that you would probably never cover - except maybe in the shower?

Ann Wilson: Maybe something like [Queen's] "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's so complex and iconic. We did do "Stairway to Heaven" [with Heart], which is fairly iconic, but it doesn't have all those different levels that "Bohemian Rhapsody" does - so I guess that would be the one song I wouldn't try to cover (laughing).

Newtown Bee: Tell me about your Ann Wilson Thing backing band.

Ann Wilson: We've got some members from Heart and a couple of others. We've got Andy Stoller playing the bass, Ben Smith playing drums, Chris Joyner on keyboards, Craig Bartock on guitar and slide, and me on acoustic - that's it.

Newtown Bee: Do you still play flute at all?

Ann Wilson: Not in The Ann Wilson Thing, I don't play flute.

Newtown Bee: There's got to be a Jethro Tull cover you've been dying to play on flute.

Ann Wilson: Oh yeah, how about "Locomotive Breath"?

Newtown Bee: Ann, you would positively rock "Locomotive Breath."

Ann Wilson: Sure, why not?

Newtown Bee: Do you think you're more healthy mentally and physically now that you're keeping so busy between Heart shows and your solo project?

Ann Wilson: That's assuming I was mentally healthy in the first place (laughing). It's all relative. I think for me, one of the worst things would be to sit around. I think being this busy and having so much opportunity to express myself creatively is really healthy for me. Plus I got married last year!

Newtown Bee: Yes, congratulations - and you've got your first anniversary coming up in April. So how is your new husband acclimating to life on the road - you were planning the launch of this solo tour around the same time you were planning your wedding, right?

Ann Wilson: I know - it was pretty crazy. So far we just hang out really well together. It's not a situation where we need to give each other our own space, or else. It seems we have the ability to get along nearly 24/7, even in tour buses - just hanging. I think we're really made for each other. With our anniversary coming up everything is perfect - everything is beautiful. I just love him to death and it's the coolest relationship I ever had.

Newtown Bee: Your Thing 1 solo EP has an original tune, "Fool No More." Was this a song you had in the works for Heart, that your bandmate Craig sort of lit the fuse on with a great instrumental arrangement?

Ann Wilson: Craig did light the creative fire with his arrangement, and then I wrote the lyrics. And on our EP #2 we'll be doing two originals.

Newtown Bee: Was the EP #1 recording process relatively quick, or did you spend time tweaking it to get it just right?

Ann Wilson: We didn't want to go into a big traditional studio situation. We did stuff in Craig's home studio, and we included as much live stuff as we could. We really wanted it to be the same as how people are experiencing The Ann Wilson Thing in concert as much as possible.

Newtown Bee: Has your recent induction along with Heart into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had a major impact?

Ann Wilson: I think it helps when booking a band that's been inducted into the Rock Hall - in that they think about the band slightly differently. I guess in a rock and roll way it's like having a master's degree when you're looking for a teaching post - you have those letters after your name. So for a band, there's a certain amount of respect that's there in the minds of booking agents. That means better gigs.

Newtown Bee: You and your sister have been an inspiration to a lot of guitar playing, rock singing girls and young women out there. What do you tell those girls and musicians when they come looking to you for advice?

Ann Wilson: It never gets old. If there's anything I can do from the perspective of a senior musician, anything I could say that would help somebody starting out, then I think that's worthwhile. I'm no expert, but the longer I stay in this business, the more I'm seeing things that don't change. What I could say is: if you're really dead set on being in this business, you have to be prepared to sacrifice on an extremely high level, and you're going to need to be willing to fight every step of the way staying awake and alive - and keeping people from thinking they know what's best for you. You have to be your own person, and it's not easy.

For tickets, information on all shows and events, or directions, call: 203-438-5795 or visit: ridgefieldplayhouse.org.

Check out a couple of videos featuring The Ann Wilson Thing. In this September 2015 set, Wilson performs her new original hit "Fool No More":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrSFx912vqQ

This clip features The Ann Wilson Thing ripping through a cover of "For What It's Worth"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6ERqYLmOUc

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