Heart does it their way

  • By Alan Sculley / Special to The Herald
  • Thursday, July 15, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

After going a dozen years without making a CD as Heart, guitarist-singer Nancy Wilson and her sister, lead singer Ann Wilson, approached their new studio album, “Jupiters Darling,” with an oddly fatalistic but understandable outlook.

“I figured, well if we’re going to do this it all, first we have to pretend this is our last chance to ever make an album. And then we’ll make a good one, like what if this never happens again?” said Nancy Wilson, who produced the new CD. “This one’s for the Heart fan out there that knows who we are and will appreciate the authenticity of who we were and who we are now.”

Considering the creative environment Heart existed in during the 1980s, that desire to take full creative control over “Jupiters Darling” makes sense.

Like many other rock bands of the ’80s, Heart made a significant artistic compromise in order to maintain its popularity during those years.

“All the rock bands were expected to do other songwriters’ hit songs, like the songwriters stable from L.A,” Nancy Wilson said. “That was just how it was being done then, and you couldn’t really say no.”

That was a major shift for the Seattle-based band, which up to then had featured the songwriting of the Wilson sisters.

Early albums such as “Dreamboat Annie,” “Little Queen,” “Magazine,” “Dog and Butterfly” and “Bebe Le Strange” all yielded hits and turned Heart into an arena-headlining act.

But things got rocky after the 1980 release of “Bebe Le Strange.” Romantic relationships between Ann Wilson and guitarist Roger Fisher and between Nancy Wilson and Fisher’s brother, the band’s sound engineer Michael Fisher, fell apart, leading to a lineup shakeup that included the departure of the Fishers and the arrival of a new bassist (Mark Andes taking over for Steve Fossen) and a new drummer (Denny Carmassi in place of Michael Derosier).

Heart

7 p.m. Thursday, Marymoor Amphitheatre, Redmond; $59.50, $39.50, 206-628-0888.

The upheaval was evident on the band’s 1982 album “Private Audition” and its 1983 release, “Passionworks,” two uneven efforts that left the group’s commercial fortunes sagging.

Beginning with a label switch from Epic to Capitol Records for the 1985 album “Heart,” the Wilson sisters were essentially forced to rely on outside songwriters to provide singles for their albums.

“A lot of heavy rock bands were just kind of threatened (with) ‘Well, we won’t push your product if you don’t do these songs,’” Nancy Wilson said. “That part of it just got a little ugly.”

For two songwriters like the Wilson sisters, this was a tough pill to swallow. But it brought about a stunning reversal of fortunes. Imported power ballads like “These Dreams,” “Alone,” “Nothin’ At All” and “What About Love?” reached the upper levels of the singles charts and somewhat reshaped Heart’s musical identity. Meanwhile, lavish videos accompanying the singles (featuring the strikingly pretty Wilson sisters) gave the group a whole new visual profile.

But by the time recording began on the 1993 CD, “Desire Walks On,” Heart’s lineup had shifted again, and the musical compromises of the ’80s had taken a toll on the Wilson sisters. They decided it was time to put Heart on the shelf.

The Wilsons spent the 1990s in other pursuits. They joined forces with Sue Ennis and Frank Cox to form the acoustic-based group the Lovemongers, releasing two CDs with that group.

Nancy Wilson, who is married to rock journalist-turned-screenwriter Cameron Crowe, wrote music for films written by her husband, such as “Jerry McGuire,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Almost Famous.” She also did a solo acoustic tour that resulted in a 1999 CD, “Live at McCabe’s Guitar Shop.”

Ann Wilson, meanwhile, did some stage acting and also was part of a Beatles tribute tour, “Return to Abbey Road.”

But Nancy Wilson said both sisters came to miss Heart, and in 2001, they formed a new touring lineup and returned to the concert trail.

“It just really was so refreshing to just get up on a stage and turn up your amp … ,” she said.

That tour triggered a round of songwriting for the Wilson sisters. And along the way, Nancy Wilson also got to know a Los-Angeles-based musician, Craig Bartock, and discovered she had an instant musical chemistry with him. The Wilson sisters began writing with Bartock, who signed on as Heart’s new lead guitarist. Three other musicians – bassist Mike Inez (formerly of Alice in Chains), drummer Ben Smith and keyboardist Darian Sahanaja – also joined.

The finished CD, which stands up to Heart’s strong early albums, marks an emphatic return to the group’s early sound, which evenly mixed searing melodic rockers with more gentle acoustic-based material.

A taste of the ’80s Heart is about all fans will hear on the current Heart tour. In fact only three songs from that era – “Alone,” “These Dreams” and “Wild Child” – are in the current set list. Instead, fans can expect a healthy sampling of “Jupiters Darling” and early Heart classics.

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