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Ann Wilson Speaks Fiercely From The Heart
Ann Wilson performs at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage

interview

Ann Wilson Speaks Fiercely From The Heart

In a career spanning interview, Heart’s lead singer reflects on her new solo album 'Fierce Bliss,' all that’s come before and what’s in store for the band’s 50th anniversary.

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2022 - 06:39 pm

Months after the pandemic started, singer Ann Wilson felt the need to be inspired and energized. So she and her husband rented a tour bus and traveled from her Florida home (where she moved from Seattle in 2016) across the U.S. They visited several national parks before driving up to Seattle and down to Los Angeles — a route Wilson has known well over the course of her career as the frontwoman of Heart.

Wilson’s intense wanderlust most likely has its roots in the numerous moves she made with her parents when she was a child. Her father, affectionately nicknamed "Dotes" (as detailed in the Ann and Nancy Wilson autobiography Kicking And Dreaming, co-authored with Charles R. Cross), was a World War II veteran and officer in the Marines, which required numerous moves around the world. While growing up, the Wilson family lived on both the east and west coasts of the U.S., as well as in Taiwan. "There was one English speaking radio station out of the Philippines and that’s where I first heard Little Richard and Elvis and everything that was on the radio," she recalls of that time.

As it turned out, moving around during the pandemic was creatively fruitful for Wilson, who recently turned 72 years old. She recorded several singles in 2021 (including a blistering version of "Rooster" by Alice In Chains) and has followed this up with her just released third solo album Fierce Bliss, which includes original material and covers that include songs by Queen (recorded with Vince Gill), Eurythmics, Robin Trower and Jeff Buckley. 

Around the time she recorded Fierce Bliss, a studio session with Kenny Wayne Shepherd proved so successful that Wilson ended up collaborating with several Nashville studio musicians at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, among them Tom Bukovac and Tony Lucido. The musicians — now known as "The Amazing Dawgs" — are currently on a national tour with Wilson that runs through September.

During a recent Zoom chat with GRAMMY.com, Wilson talked about a wide range of topics — from Fierce to maintaining her vocal range and her songwriting process, to some notable live appearances and reflections on musicians she’s met along the way. Wilson also discussed whether she and sister Nancy will reform Heart for their 50th anniversary in 2023.

There’s so much to take in with Fierce Bliss. The single "Greed" is almost like an instant classic and then it’s surprising to see you cover both Queen and Eurythmics. What was your thinking behind some of these?

Well, those four covers are songs that I just loved so much and spoke to me and I wasn't satisfied until I got inside them. I had to sing them. I had to meld with them, you know, and I was lucky enough to get [guitarist] Kenny Wayne Shepherd to come and play on "Bridge Of Sighs"  and "Missionary Man"  and Vince Gill to sing on "Love Of My Life." 

Was there a reason why you chose those songs to cover?

Yeah, the reason is that I just loved those songs so much and I  couldn't be satisfied until I got to sing them myself. The musicians I'm working with right now have great ideas and they're just great players and fiery and all that. So a song like the Jeff Buckley song "Forget Her" just blossomed into something that was mine, you know? And it was a great experience all around with those four.

It appears that you met the band in Nashville, jammed and just really hit it off. Then you went down to Muscle Shoals Studios.

We actually met in Muscle Shoals at Fame Studios. I had asked Tom Bukovac to be my main guitarist and he  brought with him [bassist] Tony Lucido. [Drummer] Sean Lane is from Seattle, and [guitar and keyboardist] Paul Moak is from Nashville, and we just gelled in this way that rarely happens during a first meeting. It was almost like magic.

How do you define that? When you say "gel" is it because the ideas are flowing and there’s a good feeling amongst all of you? What is it?

That's part of it. The other big part of it is, can you hang out? Is it a great hang? Do you have a sense of humor that meshes? Can you do some shots together and everybody can hang in and be cool and have fun? 

It was almost like meeting old friends. And the songs kept coming and now we’re writing for another album. So yeah, it’s working and we’ve got something really good going on.

Jennifer Hudson recorded at Muscle Shoals recently as well and also recognized the vibe. Did you feel a sense of recorded history there?

You do, you do. And it's a very unassuming place. It’s in the middle of this little kind of nowheresville town, so there's not a bunch of distractions and you just go in there and it's small, funky and vibey. It's just got this sort of welcoming, warm, relaxing, feel about it. It does have the magic that people talk about. There's just an energy there that just makes you wanna open up.  You don't feel inhibited and the ideas just start coming and everyone feels safe. 

The people who run the place are still very down to earth and real. It does give me fresh energy, especially to be out of a corporate type situation. You’re not always looking at yourself in the mirror because your attorney is going to show up or the manager. It’s just you and the musicians. 

With Fierce Bliss, was there a lyrical theme?

Well, during the quarantine lockdown period in ‘20 and ‘21,  there was enough peace and quiet around here in the house — just me and my husband. I got to the point where my thoughts got really super loud and I just started writing things down. So the lyrics that I wrote for this record are products of different things that had been inside me for a while. Like the song "Black Wing," I was looking out the window — I live on a river — and all the sea birds are out there free and we're locked in the house.

So I started talking to the birds and that became "Black Wing."  "Greed," I just thought about from checking out the national and world situation. It’s just everywhere. You know, it's just at this high point that I've never seen before in my life. So I just thought, ‘Yeah, there’s a topic’ [Laughs] The words I wrote just all came from my own thoughts.

How is it going on tour now? We’re just leaving COVID and some places are still in it. What precautions do you have to take?

It’s not over, you know, it's just shifting, but to be out on the road, you have to be super careful and I'm guilty of not being careful. We were out on the road last time and I  got too relaxed and  did a meet and greet after a show without a mask. A couple of days later I tested positive.

I'm back — I'm negative now — and I'm feeling good. But just that one little momentary slip and there it was, you know? [Laughs] So we have to be super careful. We have all kinds of protocols. Everyone wears a mask when they’re out amongst the people and are vaccinated and boosted. That’s about the most you can do, really.

With regards to your vocals, how do you keep your voice in such good shape? 

There's no real easy answer to that. I just think that I’m  basically a healthy person and have never smoked or screamed or anything like that. I don't ever mistake  screaming for singing. They're smoking and making their voice do all kinds of really dramatic things and their voice won't be able to take it forever.  

My feeling really is that it's not so much about the skin of the throat. It's about the opening of the soul. If the soul is open, the rest seems to follow because of the mind body connection. I just drink lots of water, try to get sleep, warm up properly before, and then that's it. What I like to do is choose a CD of someone I really like and sing along with before I go on stage. That's a good 40 minutes to warm up right there. Last time out it was Lucinda WilliamsCar Wheels On A Gravel Road record. I’ve been known to do Emmylou Harris and U2 – just various things that depend on whatever mood I’m in at the time.

Going back in your career, there’s a reported story that you and Nancy attended the GRAMMYs (Heart was nominated for four GRAMMY Awards, beginning in 1986), but were scared to be there. What happened?

We were, yeah. And it was for the silliest of girly reasons. It was because that particular show you got up from your seat and you had to climb this flight of steps up to the stage if you won the award. And we didn't want people looking at our butts when we climbed the stairs. But of course, if we would've won, we would've been just fine with it. But we were sitting there going, "Oh my God, does this dress make me look fat?" You know, wow [laughs]. And, we didn’t win, so no worries. But, uh…

Are those types of awards and honors important to you?

Oh, to me, they're flattering. It feels good to be recognized and acknowledged for sure, but it would never be the reason why I'd be doing this. The reason that I do this is for the joy of music.

How do you perceive yourself as an artist?

Well, I perceive myself as never being that comfortable with any kind of formula. The minute somebody says, "You should be doing this,"  that's the minute I start to rebel . So I'm probably never going to be very pliable in people's hands when it comes to creativity. 

But there's something in me that just wants to write and wants to do it. That’s an unnameable thing. It’s kind of like a calling. When I have a good period of writing, when everything seems to be clicking, that is just the most satisfying thing for me. And I don't have any concept of what retirement would be like. I just don't. I think that  my great-grandchildren will probably have to come and drag me off stage.

In your autobiography, there are many well known artists who you have encountered. Some are real historical figures in the musical realm. Do you reflect on your time with Queen, The Rolling Stones and others, or is it just another day?

No, it's never another day. I mean, sometimes I look back on some of those experiences and can’t believe that they really happened. Because at the time that you meet someone like Mick Jagger or Bono it’s always a surprise at how human they are. It’s just like you’re talking to another fellow musician. So, at the time I never really got starstruck, but then later I would go "Wow, that was Bono!" [Laughs]

Your vocal performance of  “Stairway To Heaven” in front of members of Led Zeppelin (at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2016) now has 80 million views on YouTube. What were your memories of that day and what pressure did you feel?

That was a dream day. You wake up and go to a breakfast and then they take you to the White House where you meet the President and First Lady and, and it's like a cocktail hour type thing. You see all kinds of luminaries just hanging about in the White House. Then, you go back to the Kennedy Center and you do your set or your song. And then you go to a big dinner afterward with all the luminaries again,. It's a day where you don't have time to sit and freak out. It's one thing after another, all timed and planned for you. So you just let yourself be a sack of potatoes and get carried through this day.

When your moment comes on the stage, I felt that it was extremely important for me not to get nervous, but to be completely serene while singing that song. At that point I was learning entry level meditation techniques. So I made myself calm before I went on and just did it.  Later I got nervous after it was over like, Wow, did we just do that? From where we were on the stage, we could not see the Led Zeppelin guys up in the boxes or the President that well. So I didn't know that they had an emotional reaction to it until I saw it on YouTube later, like everyone else.

I thought it was very sweet and our mission that day was to please and honor them. And I think that we did please them. So mission accomplished, you know!

You’ve always done many Led Zeppelin covers but your love of the Beatles has been made clear over the years. Are they neck and neck for you?

Yeah, I guess that the difference would be, I feel really uncomfortable ever doing Beatles covers. You know, this is holy stuff. But I think Led Zeppelin is different. I mean, I think that it's holy — especially "Stairway To Heaven" is just a piece of cultural iconography at this point — but  their songs begged to be covered.

You’ve been asked about being a woman in the music industry many times, so let’s not go down that path. But do you feel that what you’re able to do with music is better today, or do you prefer the expansiveness and how rough it was when you were first starting out?

It's not binary for me.I think that  a lot of the ways we used to do things are good and have carried over into the future and the present. For instance, analog recording where you're all in the same room, looking at each other's eyes is something that I think is timeless. 

Social media is the best outreach you can get at a time when touring is difficult. There's Spotify and all that kind of stuff, but there's no big voice over the land that does your advertising for you. You have to do it yourself. So, that's something that I really prefer. But I think it's also very dangerous because of how it can spread bulls<em></em>* and people believe it because they read it, you know?

Do you watch any artists today and think they could use some mentoring? After all, you dealt with so many artists in Seattle, particularly during the city's grunge era. Did you ever pull them aside and say ‘You don’t want to go down this path’?

No. I don't think anybody would have dared say that kind of stuff to them because they had a full head of steam on all those guys. They  wanted to say, "F— you" to everything. 

But what I did do, was at that point in Seattle, I had a house that was centrally located on Capitol Hill, which is where most everything was going on. I opened it up to them many times and there were lots of nights where Soundgarden and Mudhoney and Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains would come and hang out and just intermingle with each other. And guitars would come out and people would go swimming in the pool and sit around on my carpets and drink beer (laughs). 

That was a good thing for them because it was a safe house and  lots of people — quite a few people — from that era didn't make it out alive. So there was a lot of tragedy. The loss of [Alice In Chains lead singer] Layne Staley, for instance, and just the different ones. So there was a lot of grief that went on as a group, as a music community and that’s where we got close.

It sounds like you really love these creative communities where people let the music ideas flow.

Yeah. I think that where the magic happens is when people get together and exchange ideas and bounce off each other.

You’re so prolific right now. You’ve mentioned the possibility of another album already. Do you see this carrying on?

Yeah, I do see it carrying on.  I never make predictions about success. I gave that up a long time ago, trying to predict what song's gonna be the next hit single or whatever. That is just unknowable to me. But what I can do now with these ideas I have is just get 'em down and go in with this group of excellent musicians. I have the “Amazing Dawgs” and shape 'em and what we have is really energized, fiery and sharp. I think it’s working for us right now. It’s real.

Obviously, you have a big anniversary coming up. Do you have plans for that?

Yes we do. I’m not at liberty to say exactly what they are yet because it’s such early days, but sure. It will be next year. And we’re doing a thing. Definitely. We’re still formulating it now.

Nancy Wilson On Her New Album, 'You & Me,' Missing The "Angels" Of Rock & The Future Of Heart

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8th Annual MusiCares MAP Fund Benefit

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Jamie Harvey
Los Angeles

I love a genre in which some of its most celebrated music was created in drug-addled states. How do we persevere in such a toxic environment? The answer for many is MusiCares [www.musicares.org]. On May 31 the 8th Annual MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert was held at Club Nokia in Los Angeles in an effort to raise money for a great cause: musicians helping musicians grasp a hold on sobriety, and save them from the dark depths of addiction.

The night's honorees — Alice In Chains vocalist/guitarist Jerry Cantrell and certified interventionist and Sony/ATV Music Publishing Senior Consultant Neil Lasher — were in the company of many saved musicians. On the red carpet prior to the event, I spoke with some of the attendees about their best piece of advice and music that comforts them.

Inside Club Nokia, the night began with Moby spinning beats as everyone settled in. Fittingly, the night also marked the launch of the DJ AM Memorial Fund in honor of the late Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein.

TV personality Steve-O of "Jackass" was the evening's host and, though now sober, he proved over and over again that he is still just as funny and crazy. "You know you have a problem when your interventionist is Johnny Knoxville," he said.

The music began with Duff McKagan, who served as musical director for the evening, and his band Loaded.  They kicked off their set by playing the music to Alice In Chains' "Heaven Beside You" while McKagan read a poem. So heartfelt that it gave us chills, it set a somber tone, but soon was followed by the celebration of the Johnny Thunders cover "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory," which bled into a portion of Guns N' Roses' "Patience." 

When Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson joined Loaded onstage, I watched as Cantrell sat at the edge of his chair, bobbing his head in rapt attention as they performed. "Dead Flowers" by the Rolling Stones and "Curtains" by Elton John.

During Lasher's acceptance speech after being presented with MusiCares' From the Heart Award, he finished with this offer: "If you're ever in the New York area … I'll even bring a [12-step] meeting to a soundcheck if you need me to."

Billy Idol performed next — a set I was really looking forward to since it had been a long time since I'd last seen the British pop/punk icon and his band. They brought some upbeat rockers to the night with "Dancing With Myself," "White Wedding" and the anthemic "Rebel Yell." I could hardly stay in my seat.

Singer/songwriter Mark Lanegan (Queens Of The Stone Age, Screaming Trees) performed a short but powerful two-song set and pierced the crowd with his gravely baritone voice as "Carry Home" and "Creeping Coastline Of Lights" reached deep into our souls.

After a video tribute to Cantrell from Metallica's James Hetfield, Alice In Chains drummer Sean Kinney presented Cantrell with the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award (or, as Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez jokingly referred to it, the "Junkie of the Year Award"). Kinney could have a second career in stand-up comedy — every time I hear him speak he's absolutely hilarious. Accepting his award, Cantrell spoke of being sober for nine years. "I try to do what I can to not get high today," he said.  "We really miss [deceased Alice In Chains members] Layne [Staley] and Mike [Starr]." 

As I listened to Cantrell's speech and the Alice In Chains set that followed, I found it surreal to be present at such an important and intimate event with so many of my generation's musicians. Alice In Chains are a huge part of my life's soundtrack. Their songs have been there through extreme highs and lows for me, and I've watched the band nearly die, only to be resurrected. 

The Alice In Chains acoustic living room set featured career-spanning favorites, including "Nutshell," "Your Decision," a surprise drum and bass interlude featuring the Commodores' "Brick House," and "Got Me Wrong" followed by "Would?" I've lost many of my favorite rock stars to drugs, but here were some of the survivors. And that's more rock and roll than anything. 

Set List

Duff McKagan's Loaded
"Heaven Beside You" (Alice In Chains cover)
"You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" (Johnny Thunders cover)
"Patience" (Guns N' Roses cover)

Duff McKagan's Loaded with Heart
"Dead Flowers" (the Rolling Stones cover)
"Curtains" (Elton John cover)

Billy Idol
"Dancing With Myself"
"White Wedding"
"Rebel Yell"

Mark Lanegan with Loaded
"Carry Home"
"Creeping Coastline Of Light"

Alice In Chains
"Nutshell"
"Your Decision"
"No Excuses"
"Got Me Wrong"
"Would?"

(Jamie Harvey splits her time between California and Texas, and is the rock community blogger for GRAMMY.com. She has been to more than 500 shows since 2007. You can follow her musical adventures and concert recaps at www.hardrockchick.com.)

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GRAMMY Insider: Madonna, Paul McCartney, Metallica, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake

All the GRAMMY winners news, including the nominees for the Songwriters Hall of Fame class of 2014

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(The GRAMMY Insider keeps you up to date about news on your favorite GRAMMY winners, including information about new album releases, tour updates, notable media appearances, interviews, and more.)

Awards
The nominees for the Songwriters Hall of Fame class of 2014 include GRAMMY winners Harry Wayne CaseyLuigi Creatore and Hugo PerettiVince GillMark JamesCyndi LauperMadonnaJohn MellencampJimmy Page and Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), and Sade, among others. Inductees will be honored at an awards gala on June 12, 2014, in New York. … Nominations for the 2013 American Music Awards were announced with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis leading with six nominations, followed by Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake with five each. The awards will air live from Los Angeles on Nov. 24.

Records
In more Taylor Swift news, the 23-year-old songstress will be honored as the Nashville Songwriters Association International's Songwriter/Artist of the Year for a record sixth time, surpassing previous records held by five-time winners Vince Gill and Alan Jackson. Swift, who remains the youngest artist to receive the award, will showcase her six trophies at the Taylor Swift Education Center, set to open Oct. 12 at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn.

Charts
Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience, 2 Of 2, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 350,000 copies sold, marking Timberlake's second No. 1 album of the year following The 20/20 Experience, which was released in March and earned the largest sales week of the year with 968,000 units sold. … Kanye West's "Gone" peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week after the song, from his 2005 GRAMMY-winning album Late Registration, appeared in the viral YouTube video of 25-year-old Marina Shifrin announcing her job resignation.  

New Music
TLC unveiled their first new song in 10 years, "Meant To Be," which was written by GRAMMY winner Ne-Yo, among others. The track will appear on their forthcoming greatest hits compilation album 20, due Oct. 15. … Eminem released the video for "Survival," the second single from his forthcoming new album The Marshall Mathers LP 2, due Nov. 5. The video, which also appears in the trailer for the "Call Of Duty: Ghosts" video game, features the rapper performing in a gloomy warehouse while clips of the video game flash in the background. … In a recent interview with The Oakland Press, Metallica frontman James Hetfield revealed the band will begin work on their next studio album in early 2014. "Hopefully it happens soon. I'm itchin'," said Hetfield. "We have tons of material to sift through. … I know we only need a few songs, but there's 800 riffs we're going through. It's kind of insane."

#theysaidit
The next time you start posing for your "Sunday selfie," think of Paul McCartney. In a recent interview on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," the former Beatle said, "Most people don't actually know that I invented the selfie," referring to a black-and-white solo shot of himself. When presented with a photo in which he's spontaneously posed in the background of an image of John Lennon, McCartney said, "That's actually me inventing the photobomb."

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Put It In Writing

Bestselling memoirs by Keith Richards, Belinda Carlisle, Steven Tyler, and Sammy Hagar have helped spur the latest boom of musical autobiographies

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

While the music memoir is certainly not a new literary form — performers from LL Cool J to Pat Boone and Johnny Rotten have already taken turns setting their lives down on the page — the publication of Keith Richards' million-selling Life in 2010 has helped renew focus and interest on the blossoming subgenre of the musical autobiography.

Richards probably would have had a bestseller no matter what kind of book he put his name to, but his insightful, deeply honest reflections on his career set a high standard for those who follow. And plenty more have followed. Memoirs by Steven Tyler, Sammy Hagar, Belinda Carlisle, and Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine have been released in 2011, and authors with books on the way include ex Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan, Jermaine Jackson, Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson (working together), and ex-Kiss members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley (working separately).

Why would famous musicians living a public life want to expose even more of themselves in written form? The old-school process of writing a book offers a unique opportunity to tell one's story the way one wants it told. A career can be set in the context of a life's journey, misinformation and misimpressions can be corrected, grievances can be aired, gratitude expressed, and colorful anecdotes shared. Above all, the mythic, larger-than-life realm of making music can be made even more remarkable when examined by way of a real, human-sized story.

"People would ask questions about my life, the most common being, 'How much did you drink and how much drugs did you do?'" says McKagan, whose memoir, It's So Easy (And Other Lies), will be released Oct. 4. "It made me curious to try to explain what that life is like. How do you get from a pretty normal kid excited about playing music to a drug-addled guy who has completely accepted that he could die in his sleep any night? And how do you come back from that? That's really my story and that's what I wrote about."

McKagan worked without a collaborator, having developed his writing chops over several years as a columnist for Seattle Weekly and Playboy magazine. Through the memoir-writing process, he says he tried to stay focused on revealing personal truths rather than making broader judgments.

"It was more of a personal challenge just to tell the story as honestly as I could," he explains. "My mission statement was to be honest about myself. I wasn't going to worry about being honest about other people."

In order to tell a story, one has to remember it, and rock and roll memories can grow hazy. As Seraphine developed Street Player: My Chicago Story, his 2010 memoir covering his 23 years with Chicago, he found that music itself often helped bring the past into focus.

"There were periods that were really hard to recall," says Seraphine, "but I'd listen to some old music and everything would come back like it was yesterday. I'd write down everything I could as soon as it came back to me."

Reliving events over the course of writing a book often means re-experiencing emotions, not all of which will be positive. Seraphine's tenure with Chicago ended when he was voted out of the group by his bandmates, and he might have used the platform of a memoir to express anger or bitterness. But he says he was more interested in writing a work of reflection and appreciation.

"In hindsight you get perspective, and there's usually an element of truth in each side to a story," says Seraphine. "I could have been a lot harder on people I was upset with at the time, but I didn't want to do the blame game thing. I wanted to talk about the positive, because to me that's just as important a part of the story."

Longtime rock and roll author, journalist and consummate insider Harvey Kubernik has been in the interesting position of not only creating a memoir from his own experiences (2004's This Is Rebel Music), but also authoring what might be considered a "group" memoir with his 2009 oral history narrative of Southern California's Laurel Canyon scene in the '60s and '70s, Canyon Of Dreams. (He applies a similar approach to the famed Monterey Pop Festival in the forthcoming A Perfect Haze, due Oct. 15).

Kubernik believes that when a rock and roll life is set on the page, the story told should be richer and deeper than the most salacious of details.

"One of the things that surprised people about Canyon Of Dreams is that there's hardly any sex and drugs in it," says Kubernik. "People always think that's going to be at the center of any book about rock and roll, but those aren't the themes I want to explore. I consider the music I write about and the people whose stories I'm telling to be important enough to be taken seriously. It's worth exploring the craft, skill, artistry, influences and geography that inform the music and the lives."

In writing a memoir, as with hit singles and drum fills, timing is everything. And timing was especially crucial for Tommy James, of Shondells fame, when he penned Me, The Mob, And The Music with co-author Martin Fitzpatrick. Released in February, the book finely details James' experiences in the '60s as a hit recording artist signed to Morris Levy's Roulette Records, which James says was a de facto extension of the Genovese crime family in New York.

"Writing the book was very therapeutic for me," James explains, "because I've been wanting to get this off my chest for 40 years. But every time I started to tell it, I felt like I was taking my life into my hands. I wanted to tell the story of having your dream come true in this dark and sinister environment, but I really didn't feel comfortable doing that until the last of the Roulette 'regulars' had passed away."

While the book is explicit in describing the strong-arm management and financial hardships James was subjected to, it also makes clear an honest affection James has for the late, Godfather-like Levy.

"Every time I wanted to say something really nasty about Morris and Roulette, I had to stop myself," he says, "because I realized if there wasn't a Morris, there would never have been a Tommy James, and that's really the truth of it."

Now that James has finally put his life down in memoir form, he's excited at the prospect that his onetime dark, personal secrets are now being developed into Broadway and Hollywood productions.

"There are no secrets once you do an autobiography," says James. "Making mistakes is part of the drama of living a life, and a lot of people can relate to that. You've got to be ready to tell it all if you're going to bother to tell it in the first place. It's actually very liberating to tell on yourself. And if that helps steer people back to the music, nothing could be better than that."

(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)

Heart

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Heart

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Tim McPhate
Universal City, Calif.

Saturday night. Los Angeles. What to do?

Luckily this was one weekend evening I had mapped out already, as I had made plans to see Heart at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif., months in advance.

Heart hit the stage just past 9:30 p.m., entering to the tribal beats of "Cook With Fire," the lead track to 1978's classic Dog & Butterfly that cautions men not to dance too close to a deceptive female's flame. "She's going to burn ya/She's gonna make you a fool/But it'll learn ya/Way, way better than school," sang Ann Wilson. (In a rare moment of concert clarity, I thought, "Too bad they didn't teach that in school.")

The '80s made a grand entrance in the presence of "What About Love?" — the lead single from Heart's 1985 quintuple-platinum, self-titled album. Added back to their set this year, the song still resonates as it did a quarter century ago.

Sister Nancy Wilson made her first splash of the evening in laying down some funky riffing on her aqua-blue-swirled Fender Telecaster. Guitarist Craig Bartok joined the fun and off the band catapulted into the pointed "Straight On." The Wilsons' patented crystal-clear harmonies shone through on this hit, also from Dog & Butterfly.

Nancy, an overlooked lead singer in her own right (par for the course when your sister is Ann Wilson), took the mic for two songs. First up was Heart's first-ever No. 1 single, "These Dreams." Saddled with her trusty mandolin, Nancy introduced the song as the "spare a little candle version" in describing the intimacy of the rendition to come. Indeed, the song features a more stripped-down, mature treatment nowadays, while still maintaining a meditative quality.

Segueing into the brand-new "Hey You" — a romantic poem set to song perfect for any longstanding couple weathering the proverbial storm of love — Nancy displayed her musicality in playing autoharp.

The evening's sonic experiment came via a garage band-worthy mash-up of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" with "Even It Up" from 1980's Bebe Le Strange album. I like to think Mick and Keith would have approved.

The understated title track for Heart's new album, Red Velvet Car, followed. Ann described the song as "a soul rescue vehicle. It's about that friend you call in the middle of the night when you're stuck." An anthem of friendship and loyalty, the performance was hypnotic, and augmented by red lighting.

The monumental ballad "Alone" played out like a solemn prayer. Ann's vocals were complemented sparingly by Nancy on acoustic guitar and the pig-tailed Debbie Shair playing a harpsichord-type keyboard patch. Usually a high point at any Heart concert, tonight's rendition was particularly mesmerizing as Ann evoked the character of the song's protagonist like an Oscar-winning actress.

Picking the pace back up, the band ripped into "WTF," another new song from Red Velvet Car. With a driving groove — convincingly led by drummer Ben Smith and bassist Kristian Attard — and a sea of acoustic guitar strumming by Nancy, lyrically the song centers around a theme of self-examination with Ann warning: "The hardest thing you'll ever learn is what bridge to cross and what bridge to burn."

With her cascading strawberry-blonde hair, the timelessly beautiful Nancy Wilson moved across the stage with a combination of agility, grace and fervor for the entire evening. Her tour de force was her acoustic guitar solo preceding "Crazy On You," which featured an extended treatment with an excerpt of the main riff of "Hijinx" (a Heart diehard-only catch), a little bit of blues and a few bars of Led Zeppelin's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You."

"Crazy On You," along with "Magic Man" before and "Barracuda" following, received arguably the best reactions from the L.A. crowd. A well-placed trio of veritable rock classics.

What does a band like Heart do for an encore? They read a few pages from the classic rock songbook. On "What Is And Never Should Be" from Led Zeppelin II, Ann matched Robert Plant's every nuance while Bartok played the song's memorable slide guitar solo, doing his best to evoke Jimmy Page.

The evening came to an end via the Who's dense "Love Reign O'er Me," an uplifting finale. As the last echoes reverberated, the band exited the stage to thundering applause.

With a band such as Heart having a vast catalog of music, there are always going to be songs you wish were played. (As a matter of fact, no songs were played from my favorite Heart album, 1990's Brigade.) But I found the 90-minute set well balanced and paced perfectly. As for the songs from Red Velvet Car, they fit together comfortably amid the band's classics.

True to the band's duality, the concert was ripe with dynamics. It was hot and cold; aggressive yet subtle; loud and quiet; powerful and delicate; and introspective yet communal. But most of all, it was full of heart.

Set List
"Cook With Fire"
"Heartless"
"What About Love?"
"Straight On"
"Dog & Butterfly"
"These Dreams"
"Hey You"
"Gimme Shelter"/"Even It Up"
"Red Velvet Car"
"In The Cool"
"Alone"
"WTF"
"Magic Man"
"Crazy On You"
"Barracuda"
"What Is And What Should Never Be"
"Love Reign O'er Me"

To catch Heart in a city near you, click here for tour dates.

(Photo information: Heart performs at Gibson Amphitheatre on Sept. 18 / Photo: The Recording Academy)