Pat Blythe – The Women of Rock Redux Part 5 – Nancy & Ann……and music

Sooooo many women to include in this series. Six years later and research has me discovering so much more. Although these columns were supposed to be “quick and dirty” updates because of work, that doesn’t appear to be happening. Additions are easy, subtractions…..not so much. There’s so much and so many I want to include and my illustrious editor has found even more. We all have our own favourites and it’s impossible to embrace every single female artist, even just keeping to a single genre. So many forgotten or cast aside as inconsequential, but it’s those women who forged the path many others followed during the past 50 years those are the women I’m focused on.

Nancy & Ann – Two Hearts beat as one

Ann & Nancy Wilson

The Wilson sisters…..two extraordinarily gifted women who had the good fortune to not only grow up together, but play music together. What they have with each other is magic and they have more than paid their dues. After 20 years in a male dominated, “bash and strut”, rock ‘n roll men’s world, along came Heart. They were the first band to be led by women, all the songs were written by women and all the business decisions were made by women. In a 2010 interview with both sisters, Nancy stated quite clearly, “how we look has never been what’s important to us. Hello. It’s about the effing music.”

“Heart has sold over 35 million records worldwide, had 20 Top 40 singles, seven Top Ten albums and four Grammy nominations. Heart achieved Top 10 albums on the Billboard charts in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2010s, with chart singles in each decade. This span of over four decades gives them the longest span of Top 10 albums by a female-fronted band.(Wikipedia)

“The draft” and a Canadian back story…..

No….they are most assuredly NOT Canadian no matter how much you hoped they were. Although from the U.S., Heart did find their initial success in Canada after relocating from their hometown of Seattle to Vancouver in 1972. The original lineup included Steve Fossen, brothers Roger and Mike Fisher and Ann Wilson. Nancy Wilson didn’t join until 1974.

Mike Fisher with Ann Wilson in West Vancouver, B.C., in 1975

In a 2013 interview with the Huffington Post, Nancy Wilson described the band’s “Canadian connection”.  She goes on to describe how Ann had fallen in love with a guy by the name of Mike Fisher, who happened to be the brother of guitarist Roger Fisher. The brothers had a Seattle band called White Heart (formerly Army then Hocus Pocus), but Mike was a draft dodger who was living in Vancouver, Canada. He literally escaped out the back window of his home when the army came looking for him after he didn’t report for duty. Ann was performing with the band, but having fallen for Mike (who later segued from performer to soundman) she ended up leaving home with just a backpack and her guitar and headed to Vancouver. The band followed her because “there’s no singer like that anywhere in the world.” So White Heart became Heart and, unable to cross the border for obvious reasons the band lived and toured in Canada, “essentially acting like any other Canadian band. They even billed themselves as Canadian.” So there you have it

In the beginning…. Heart group shot

Heart’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie was recorded in 1975 at Can-Base Studios in Vancouver (later Mushroom Studios) but the album appeared to, unexpectedly, tank. While playing a two-week gig in B.C. they received an invitation to open for Rod Stewart in Montreal in four days. Unbeknownst to the band, Montreal radio stations had been playing Dreamboat Annie and by the time Heart walked on stage, the entire audience knew all their songs. Heart were on their way.

Also by this time the two sisters were heavily involved with the two Fisher brothers…..Ann with Mike and now Nancy with Roger. Although the four “ran the band” together for some time, the inevitable and eventual breakups did not go well. Roger Fisher had a complete meltdown on stage during a live performance in Oregon in late 1979, totally destroying his guitar (and not in a good way). Needless to say, he was officially out of the band. Unfortunately, the entire incident was captured on film. With both Fisher brothers gone, Ann and Nancy were now fully in charge. In a 2017 article in Classic Rock, Nancy was quoted as saying, “Yeah, inter-band relationships weren’t necessarily a good thing,” with the benefit of 20 years’ hindsight, of Heart devolving into something of a Fleetwood Mac-style soap opera. “Especially in the first incarnation.”

According to Nancy, all their hard work with self-promotion began to pay off as the music of the album began to infiltrate the States. After hitting 30,000 in sales in Canada, Mushroom decided to release the album in the U.S. in 1976. Dreamboat Annie spawned two hit singles — Crazy On You and Magic Man (written by Ann for Mike Fisher). Both singles reached numbers 35 and nine respectively on the Billboard Hot 100. Magic Man reached number seven on Billboard 200. The album eventually sold over one million copies. At the same time, the band found out Mike Fisher had been illegally drafted so they were free to play in their home country…..and they did.

The “ad” debacle…..

In 1977, Mushroom ran a full-page ad in Rolling Stone Magazine showing the two Wilson sisters, bare-shouldered, with the suggestive caption “It was only our first time!” When a record company exec suggested (another story has a reporter making the implication)  the sisters were lesbian sex partners, the insinuation enraged Ann so much she returned to her hotel and immediately began writing the lyrics to Barracuda. The “ad” was the front headline fodder in many rags in North America and overseas.

Clockwise from top left: Roger Fisher, Michael Derosier, Steve Fossen, Howard Leese, Nancy Wilson and Ann Wilson of Heart in 1977, the year ‘Barracuda’ was released. PHOTO: MICHAEL MARKS/MICHAEL

No surprise, Heart cited the ad as the primary reason for breaking their contract with Mushroom and signing with Portrait Records, a subsidiary of CBS. Reason number two, Heart didn’t like to be rushed and Mushroom was apparently pushing the band to finish recording their next album, Magazine, in a hurry to capitalize on the popularity of Dreamboat Annie. Interestingly, another report states that while Mushroom was keeping the band under contract, they had no intention of release another Heart album. Inevitably, a drawn out legal battle ensued between the two record companies and a “who’s going to get to market first” race. Mushroom Records proceeded to release a partially recorded Magazine in 1977, just prior to Portrait releasing Little Queen. Attempts by both companies to block each other from releasing any Heart music resulted in a Seattle court decision that forced Mushroom Records to recall Magazine and allow the band to re-record some of the material and remix the tracks. 

In the papers

Oh, and reason number three…..apparently Heart’s contract with Mushroom stipulated that producer/engineer Mike Flicker would be the producer of all Heart’s recordings. Flicker cut ties with Mushroom, so Heart considered the contract broken, which left them free to sign with whomever they wished.  With the release of Little Queen in 1977, and with help of Barracuda and the album’s title song, Little Queen went on to be another million album seller. Magazine also went on to become certified platinum.

Ahhhh the 80s…..time for a change-up. Who WAS the costume designer?

Since 1978, Heart has released 13 studio albums, the most recent, Beautiful Broken, in 2016. A live album, Live in Atlantic City was release in 2019. In December 2012, the Wilson sisters were asked to perform a tribute to Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy Center Honors. Performing with Jason Bonham on drums, a complete orchestra and two choirs, their rendition of Stairway to Heaven brought the audience to its feet and tears of joy from Robert Plant. The video went viral on YouTube with over four million hits in five days. iTunes released it as a single for two weeks only where it hit #1 immediately and #20 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart. It’s exquisite. A beautiful, loving and (yes) heartfelt tribute. In April, 2013 Heart were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All original members were reunited for the first time in 34 years.

A sad update…..

While Heart were performing at the White River Amphitheater in Auburn, Washington, Ann’s husband Dean Wetter was arrested for assaulting Nancy’s 16-year-old twin boys. According to various reports, Wetter became enraged after discovering the boys had left the door to his RV open. The twin boys had decided they wanted to look inside their aunt’s tour bus but neglected to close the door behind them when they left. According to court documents Wetter punched one of the boys and when the other stepped in, he choked him to the point where he couldn’t breathe. Wetter was charged and pleaded guilty to the assault charges.

L-R) Jimmie Vaughan, Billy F Gibbons, Robert Plant, Sheryl Crow, Danny Clinch, Nancy Wilson, and Ann Wilson perform onstage during the Third Annual Love Rocks NYC Benefit

Putting a huge strain on the sisters’ relationship, they opted to pursue their own side projects and didn’t speak to each other for three years, only sporadically contacting each other through text messages. Lucky for Heart fans, in February 2019 the sisters had worked out their differences and were reuniting for their Love Alive tour. Together again on stage for the first time in three years, Heart performed at the Love Rock NYC benefit concert in March 2019. Due to a high demand for tickets, The Love Alive tour was extended through October 2019.

The Wilson Sisters legacy…..

Ann Wilson has released two solo albums. Her first, Hope and Glory, was released in 2007; her second album Immortal, was released in 2018. Nancy Wilson’s first solo album, You and Me, was released just one month ago (April 2021). Nancy plays guitar and is the vocalist for every song including her rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s song The Rising.

Jake Brown’s book, Heart: In The Studio describes the band as, “beginning a revolution for women in music … breaking genre barriers and garnering critical acclaim”. According to Lzzy Halie of Halestorm , “Heart were the first female-fronted band I heard and was influenced by. I heard Heart and was like, ‘Oh! Singing like that as a girl is actually a thing!’”  The ladies of Heart have survived and thrived through it all. Canadian or not, we took them to our own hearts….they were “ours” for a while.

Heart – Mistral Wind (from the Dog and Butterfly album)

Heart – What About Love

Ann and Nancy Wilson – performing Stairway to Heaven at the Kennedy Center Honors

Heart – Barracuda

Heart – Dreamboat Annie

OMG!! Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special. My mental musical filing cabinet hasn’t opened this drawer in eons. Ann’s vocals are powerful, intense and pierce right through you. One of my favourite Heart songs. These ladies are pure gold, (or should I say platinum).

Heart — Crazy On You (Live 1977)

Heart – Dog and Butterfly

Heart – Crazy on You backstage

Magic Man was written about Michael Fisher, who became Heart’s manager in 1973. According to Ann, “everything in the song is autobiographical.”

Heart – Magic Man

Heart – All I Wanna To Do Is Make Love To You

Daughter – Nancy Wilson

You and Me – Nancy Wilson


Today’s podcast is Frank Zirone….Zero One, Hanover Fist and the ONES show! A long history in music, the man has played with everyone and everywhere. Eddie Van Halen loved his music and Frank was fortunate enough to record at Peter Townshend’s Eel Pie Studios in England.


Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

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“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto.


Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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