Ann Wilson on making the Heart album: “Lookout! Three gals and a bottle of Dubonnet!”


By Steve Newton

It’s been ten years since Heart recorded their debut album Dreamboat Annie at Vancouver’s Mushroom Studios. At a time when Saturday Night Fever was running rampant that LP–with songs like “Magic Man” and “Crazy On You”–struck an important blow for guitar-driven rock and roll. 

With raven-haired singer Ann Wilson at the helm, and sister Nancy on guitar, Heart were something different in the male-dominated world of rock. Their skillfully crafted original tunes and their ability to switch from dreamy ballads (“Dreamboat Annie”) to straight-ahead scorchers (Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”) made Heart a killer live act.

To date Dreamboat Annie has sold over six million copies. And it’s still a steady mover.

1985 sees Heart with a new record label–they’ve moved from CBS to Capitol–and their ninth LP, simply titled Heart. The Wilson sisters and longtime guitarist Howard Leese remain; the band includes former Montrose and Gamma drummer Denny Carmassi, and bassist Mark Andes, previously with Spirit, Jo Jo Gunne, and Firefall.

Ann Wilson called me while on vacation in Oregon recently, where she’s resting up for yet another North American tour. She talked about the new album, its guest musicians and writers, and her personal ambitions.

Your new album has quite a few hard rockers on it, tunes like “If Looks Could Kill”. Is it a heavier album than you’ve made in a while?

Yeah, I think so. It’s got a lot more spirit in it I think. We just took a little bit more time to assemble the songs.

Is there any one particular member in the group that provides maybe a little more of the “hardness” in the group these days?

No, it’s the group as a unit. We’ve done more writing as a band, which is where we got “Shell Shock” and “The Wolf”. So if there’s something that’s responsible, it’s probably just the fact that we’ve written with the guys more.

There’s a Bernie Taupin song on the new record, “These Dreams”. Are you a fan of Elton John’s lyricist?

Well actually, we’ve been friends with Elton for a long time. We were looking for songs for the album, and said, “Let’s collaborate”. And he said, “Yeah.” So he sent us a bunch of lyrics, and we sent him some music. We didn’t come up with anything at first, but then he said, “I’ve got this song lying around that might be right.” And he sent that. And it was.

That song is dedicated to Sharon Hess. Who is she?

She’s a girl who was really ill with cancer. She was actually on her deathbed. Sharon had met Nancy a couple of years ago at a concert, and Nancy had given her this sketch of her dream guitar at that time, just as a joke. And a so a couple of years later, here’s Sharon dying, and she brings Nancy this guitar that she had made.

So we said that she could hang around the studio for a a while, and then one day she….didn’t come, because she was too ill. And she died. And so Nancy dedicated the song to her.

There’s a couple of tunes by Holly Knight on the new album. She’s also written songs for people like Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, and Scandal.

Yeah, we’ve gotten to be pretty good friends with her too. When we were down in L.A. recording, she came round to my flat, or I went to her place, or we went to Nancy’s. And it was really fun! [laughs]. It was like “Lookout!,” you know, Three gals and a bottle of Dubonnet!

You’ve got a lot of “friends” on the album.

Yeah, that was one of the best parts about having people like Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas and all of them, you know. It wasn’t so much like we hired people to come in it was more like a collaboration. There was a real good feeling about it.

And Peter Wolf, is he a friend of yours too?

Well, that’s not Peter Wolf from the J. Geils Band. He’s a German guy, and he plays keyboards. He’s on that Commodores album Night Shift. He plays that really cool keyboard sound. So it isn’t the same guy that makes a balloon out of his hand [laughs].

I understand that Nancy had bit parts in a couple of films: Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Wild Life. Have you ever aspired to be an actress at all?

Yeah, boy I sure have. I’ve gotten a bunch of scripts sent to me and stuff, but never the right ones. They’re always like these old kind of Janis Joplin, hard-drinkin’, hard-livin’ gal type roles. But, you know, my ship will come in.

Is that the image that people have of you, do you think?

I guess, you know. Maybe I have perpetuated it [laughs]. I must have, to get all these roles sent to me where I swear and have to guzzle out of a bottle and smash it against the wall.

Nancy plays lead guitar on a couple of your new songs. Do she and Howard Leese sit down and trade licks much?

Yeah, they’re playing more and more together, and she’s really benefiting a lot from playing with him because he’s really good for rock. Her base being acoustic guitar, she’s really anxious right now to learn as much as she can about playing electric. So Howard’s helping her a lot, and also she has a new guitar roadie and friend named Scotty Olson who’s a really good guitarist in his own right, and he’s spent a lot of time working with her.

Do you ever play guitar?

Yeah, I play guitar, but not well enough to play in the band. With people like Howard and Nancy around it would be kinda silly if I played [laughs]. It’s more a songwriting tool for me, you know.

When was the last time you were in Vancouver?

I went up there just recently, to go shopping, frankly [laughs]. It’s so great up there, for clothes and everything. And I stayed downtown, ’cause I don’t have a house anymore.

Are you living in Seattle right now?


Do all the band members live there?

No, just Nancy and Howard and I. Denny Carmassi lives in San Francisco and Mark Andes lives in L.A. So we’re spread all up and down the whole west coast now.

Are Nancy and Howard boyfriend and girlfriend?

No, she has another boyfriend who’s been with her for four years now. He’s a screenwriter.

And how about you?

Well I don’t have any one steady boyfriend, but I’m seeing a couple of different guys [laughs]. I don’t know, I just don’t really feel like settling down yet, you know. I suppose when he–the big “he”–comes along I’ll do it without a backward glance.

You haven’t played Vancouver for several years now, have you?

I know! It’s really a drag! We just spend so much time playing the States. It’s such a huge country with so many places to play. And I’m not proud of the fact that we haven’t played Vancouver; I think that the people up there deserve to hear us. So this time, on the second leg of the tour, we’re gonna come back and play Canada. Or bust!


To hear the full audio of my 1985 interview with Ann Wilson subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joe Satriani, 1990
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001
…with hundreds more to come

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