Over the last four decades, Seattle rock band Heart has released 13 studio albums selling more than 30,000,000 copies, and earned spots on the Top 40 charts more than 20 different times. The span of their career and consistent success has made them among the most commercially enduring hard rock acts of all time. Heart first emerged in the center of the feminist movement of the ‘70s mainstream alongside Joan Jett and the Runaways, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac and Donna Summer. The gains of the movement through the decade enabled women working in all areas of the music industry to assume more control over their careers. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will highlight Heart as a significant group during this point in music history in the upcoming exhibit Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power opening May 13, 2011. Ann Wilson, lead singer and co-songwriter for Heart, shares some of her influences and what it means to be a woman who rocks -exclusively here on our blog!
Rock Hall: Who are some of the artists that have influenced you the most and why?
Ann Wilson: My influences have always been artists who have great lyrics. Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, McCartney/Lennon, the Glimmer Twins, Elton and Bernie, Robert Plant, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams. All those people taught me , and are still teaching me how to write and how to sing. How to pronounce words inside a groove. How to bring passion to the mind of a song's body. Lyrics are incredibly important to me, and it's always a bit of a head scratcher when I hear people say they don't really listen to them. Sh*tty words can turn a great groove into a throwaway. Great words can turn a mediocre song into something really special. They are the singer's axe. When both elements are there and they truly marry...then there is magic. When I'm singing lyrics I love, whether they're ours or someone else's, that's when I get that glow of musical ecstasy that makes it pure bliss.
Rock Hall: When you began your career, what did the words “Women who rock” mean? How has that meaning changed over the years? How do you think your career has changed that meaning?
Ann Wilson: When I first started my career the words "women who rock" were nonexistent. There were women who did R&B, disco, country, folk, jazz, classical, pop hits, opera. There were "singer/songwriters"...but there was no "women who rock" category. it was entirely a boy's club then, and to be fair, rightly so. Rock was really a male invention; descriptive of the male psyche and charged with male sexuality. Women had yet to seize part of it for themselves by redefining Rock in their own image. Such change takes time, authenticity and huge determination in a genre where credibility had always been the domain of dudes.
When Nancy and I came on the scene in 1976 we encountered constant sexism. People didn't know what to make of us. In those days, it was just a given that chicks' place wasn't in the kitchen of rock. Nancy especially would often get insulting backhanded compliments on her looks, "You're hot! So hot! is that guitar really plugged in?" in the same breath. We were expected to follow the age-old understanding that girls remain ornamental and don't rock the boat. If my onstage persona was aggressive, it automatically fell under the heading of dominatrix or p*@&#-whipper. In fact, we always spoke just as straight to men as to women...with power, with love, with anger, with gentleness, with honesty.
Rock Hall: What words of advice might you offer to young aspiring female musicians?
Ann Wilson: These days women can do whatever they want, of course, but they run the risk of not looking cute if they get too real with it. That part of the hypocrisy remains intact, but only because some girls still agree to wear that collar (to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt). Many have told Nancy and I they think of us as pioneers, and I guess that's true. We have had our thicks and thins, ups and downs, and dodged obsolescence in the world of music for longer than the average band's expected life span. It's been a struggle all the way, and I don't foresee it ever NOT being one for women like us, who don't agree to squeeze through such a tiny window of acceptance to stand golden and cute, heads and mouths full of the ideas and expectations of others...like little pets.
I would advise young, aspiring female musicians to be ready to make astounding sacrifices to get where they want to go. And I would look them straight in the eye and say (like Janis did), "You keep ahold of yourself, sis. You are all you got."
Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power will showcase several collection items from Heart, including Ann Wilson’s purple suede dress from “Dreamboat Annie,” Nancy Wilson’s Kramer Series Guitar from “Bad Animals” and more.