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Interview: Ann Wilson Reflects on Heart’s Remarkable Year

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Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart

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For Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, the last 12 months have been a ride. Last December, jaws dropped during their show-stopping rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony with Jason Bonham on drums (with the surviving Zep members and President Obama in the audience, no less).

A few months later, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where they reunited with the band’s original members, and they also jammed with fellow Seattle-ites Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Jerry Cantrell of Alice In Chains. They spent the summer on the road with Jason Bonham, playing a show that included a full set of Zep classics. They recently released a holiday single — the A-side features Ann with Aaron Neville singing “Please Come Home For Christmas” and the B-side is Nancy doing the traditional Irish song “All Through The Night” featuring Richard Marx on backing vocals.

Tomorrow (December 12) they’ll perform a Christmas concert at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall with some big-name friends: Sammy Hagar, Shawn Colvin, Richard Marx and Train’s Pat Monahan, which will air on Christmas. Radio.com recently spoke with Ann about the band’s unforgettable year.

How did you get together with Aaron Neville for “Please Come Home For Christmas?” 
You know, ever since I was a teenager when “Tell It Like It Is” came out, I’ve been such a fan of his, and his sweet, soulful voice. He really has a gift. We’ve become friends over the years, but we’ve never gotten to sing together until now. Just one more thing in this year that has been unbelievable for me!

How do you approach doing an iconic song like that? 
You just find the right key, the one that just feels really good on your voice. For me, that’s usually what does it.

Tell me about the Christmas show.
We are going to have a bunch of special guests, unfortunately not Aaron because he’s on tour, but we’ll have Shawn Colvin and Richard Marx and Sammy Hagar and Pat Monahan. Plus, we’ll have a gospel choir with us, it’s gonna be awesome. We’re gonna mix it up, it’s a holiday show, so there will be holiday songs, but it’s also a Heart show. But it isn’t going to be a Heart show that you’ve ever seen before. It’s a little bit more theatrical than most of our shows, it’s at Benaroya hall. It’s gonna be a gorgeous night.

An obvious highlight for you this year was the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction. Chris Cornell made a pretty great speech.
Well, I think that’s about the most I’ve ever heard Chris talk, we’ve been friends for a long time, he’s kind of quiet. It was really great. I love Chris, he’s such a deep soul, it meant so much to hear that coming from him. He’s a really thoughtful and deep person. It was awesome.

You guys were exposed to a totally new audience when you and Nancy appeared on the Singles soundtrack as the Lovemongers in 1992.
Yeah, I guess we were, that’s not what we were going for. That soundtrack was really all about Seattle musicians. We weren’t looking for a new fanbase. We could do (Led Zeppelin’s) “Battle Of Evermore,” and at that time my sister was married to the director (Cameron Crowe).

At that time – the “alternative rock” explosion – most classic rock bands were viewed with a bit of cynicism.  It seemed like you guys got a pass because of your inclusion on Singles, and the fact that you guested on Alice In Chains’ Sap.
The thing about Heart is that it always is changing, we’re always reinventing ourselves. If we stayed in our ’80s clothes with our ’80s hair and our ’80s songs, we wouldn’t have been accepted much outside of the ’80s.

So now that you’re a Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer, you get to vote for next year’s induction class. Who is going to be on your ballot?
I would definitely vote for Peter Gabriel. And Deep Purple: they were definitely an influence to bands of our generation.

Have you ever watched the video of your performance of “Stairway To Heaven” from the Kennedy Center Honors?
Yes.

What did you think of Robert Plant’s reaction? It looked like he was crying.
You know, I feel that there are a whole lot of feelings that could have brought tears to his eyes right there, other than our rendition of “Stairway To Heaven.” I saw a man seeing his life going in front of his eyes. I think when the choir came out, I don’t think anybody wasn’t crying. I’m just really happy that we were able to please those guys, that’s what we had in mind.

I recently interviewed Dave Davies of the Kinks, who was curious how you and Nancy have held it together for so long, and seem to get along so well. What is your advice for siblings in bands?
That’s hold to speak generally about. I think most of the time you hear about siblings fist fighting, it’s brothers. It’s more likely that a couple of dudes are gonna go at it in that way. Not that women don’t get rough.

Heart’s concert – “Heart & Friends: Home For The Holidays” – will air on December 25 at 8 pm ET on AXS TV. Get more info on the broadcast here

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