If being in a band is similar to being married, imagine what it's like for bandmates who actually are married — or related as siblings, parents and children, or other kin. When bands share more than just the same stage every night, it gives new meaning to the adage, "The family that plays together, stays together."
Intergenerational groups have long been common in gospel, bluegrass, Cajun, and other traditional genres, where family acts such as the Staple Singers and Savoys treated music as part of their heritage. R&B quartet Sister Sledge even put their heritage into song in 1979 with their GRAMMY-nominated hit "We Are Family."
While sibling rivalries aren't a thing of the past, many artists have proven that the family that plays together does stay together.
"Nancy Wilson is my oldest friend," says elder sister Ann Wilson of GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. "And the experiences we had inside of our family, and our sense of humor that we developed over the years from our travels and from supporting each other in various ups and downs, there's that. Also, there's the little fact that she's an incredible musician that I am drawn to as a musician. She's somebody that I feel called to be a partner with musically. We just seem to fit."
While the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees have worked separately in the past, Ann Wilson notes, "The response that we get when we're up there together is so much more gargantuan than when we're not together."
When the Wilson sisters began sharing the spotlight in Heart in the early '70s, they were among the first two women to front a hard rock band.
"It's a man's world," says Nancy Wilson. "Having each other to lean on, it was huge. I don't think I could have done it [alone]."
Nancy Wilson, who was 9 when she and her 13-year-old sister started playing together, adds, "I couldn't picture having another life outside of a musical life with Ann. We're really well suited … we don't have fights. Maybe we're weird, but we don't."
Drummer Arejay Hale of the GRAMMY-winning metal band Halestorm grew close to his sister, singer/guitarist Lzzy Hale, because their rural Pennsylvania upbringing "forced" them to become friends — and because they once played together in a small walk-in closet. Despite their close relationship, he admits fights happen occasionally.
"But the good thing about being family is, it's always resolved," he says. "You're not going to break up your family, so therefore, you're not going to break up the band. That kind of vibe rubs off on everybody. Our other two bandmates, our crew, we're all like this big rolling family."
Lzzy Hale adds, "Arejay knows if I ever get mad at him, whether it's the sister being mad or the bandmate being mad. We have a great balance."
"That dynamic also really helps with creating music. Because you're so close to somebody, there's no handshake involved, there's no, 'Hey, hi, how you doin'? Let's write a song.' We're bouncing ideas off each other all the time."
Husband and wife Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, who tour together as indie Americana/folk duo Shovels & Rope, drive and compose simultaneously — one steers while the other writes. Though they became musical partners to help promote their individual albums, in 2012 they released their debut album O' Be Joyful, which peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart.
"There's definitely an element that feels like we're out here surviving together, like, if you mess with me, you mess with Michael," Hearst says.
Arejay and Lzzy Hale were looking out for each other even before they started performing, when he was 10 and she was 13. But when they began playing bars as teens, they became more protective.
"We played in Detroit and this drunk guy just [ended] up walking onstage," Arejay Hale recalls. "I jumped over the drums [and] I was like, 'Hey, no, no, no. You go that way!'"
GRAMMY winners Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, who merged musically as the Tedeschi Trucks Band years after they'd married and started a family, will release their third Tedeschi Trucks Band studio album, Made Up Mind, on Aug. 20. The couple contend their joint arrangement works better personally and professionally.
"The only time I really saw him is if I was opening for the Allman Brothers [Band] or out visiting him when he was on tour," Tedeschi says. "Now that we're in a band together, it's really great because we're not in different cities and on the phone all the time."
Trucks says they weighed the potential pitfalls carefully before joining forces.
"We knew it could be difficult," he admits. "But it's been a pretty amazing ride. … And really, when you're in a band, you're essentially married to people anyway. You're just not sleeping with them."
Playing with the Allman Brothers Band since his early teens, Trucks learned how to — and how not to — navigate band issues.
"If there's a problem, you've [got to] make time to deal with it head-on," he says. "There [are] too many moving parts; you're too close to each other all the time to not deal with things.
"Being together more has helped us, too," he adds. "When we were in separate tour buses on other sides of the country, and trying to balance where the kids are going to be and when [we're] going to see each other, that's a different type of stress.
"I'd much rather be stressed out that we're all together," he adds with a laugh. "People [ask], 'How can you be on the road with your wife?' I'm like, 'Well, it helps to like [her].'"
For Tedeschi and Trucks, the hardest part is being away from their son and daughter. But the children come on tour when they can, accompanied by Trucks' mother, whom Tedeschi calls "a saint."
Whether they're siblings or soul mates, all of these artists suggest sharing the stage with someone they not only respect and admire professionally, but are connected with personally, provides a deeper emotional experience. Ann Wilson says Heart's current tour includes a nightly acoustic solo performance by Nancy Wilson, which gives her a chance to rest her voice while her sister takes the spotlight.
"When she does it, I sit in the shadows and I watch her," Ann Wilson says. "It doesn't get any better than that."
(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis has contributed regularly to American Songwriter, the Christian Science Monitor, Paste, Rollingstone.com, public radio, newspapers nationwide, and many regional and local magazines. A contributing editor to The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen From A To E To Z, she also writes bios for new and established artists.)