40 Nostalgic Images Of The Heart Band Sisters Rocking It Up In The ’70s and ’80s

Formed by sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson, Heart were one of the most successful female-fronted rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s. And they remain a hugely popular live draw to this day. Here’s a look at their rollercoaster story and the nostalgic images which show them in their prime.

The origins of Heart go all the way back to 1967 when bass player Steve Fossen founded a group known as The Army. The Washington-based outfit underwent several personnel and name changes during their early years, including White Heart. They eventually released their 1970 debut album under the guise of Hocus Pocus.

Around this time, Ann Wilson began dating guitarist Roger Fisher’s brother, Mike, after the pair met at a Hocus Pocus gig. Ann then recruited both the Fisher siblings, keyboardist John Hannah and drummer Brian Johnstone to form her own rock outfit. In 1974 her sister, Nancy, joined the fold and the Heart we know and love today was officially founded.

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Heart soon developed a loyal following in their adopted hometown of Vancouver. And after Howard Leese and Mike Derosier replaced Hannah and Johnstone respectively, the group recorded their first studio effort. Produced by Mike Flicker, Dreamboat Annie achieved Canadian sales of 30,000 within three months of its 1975 release.

The band also began to make in-roads in the United States thanks to Top 40 singles “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man.” Dreamboat Annie eventually shifted more than a million units and peaked at number seven on Billboard’s Top 200. But while things appeared to be rosy on the surface, it was a very different story behind the scenes.

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Indeed, in 1977 the Wilson sisters were left furious when their record company ? Mushroom Records ? used an advertisement which featured them posing with bare-shoulders, using the tagline, “It was only our first time.” The duo subsequently decided to leave the label and join Portrait Records, a CBS offshoot instead. However, Mushroom boss, Shelly Siegel, wouldn’t let them go without a fight and a bitter legal battle ensued.

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Without the Wilsons’ consent, the Mushroom label then decided to release the band’s unfinished second album, Magazine. A court in Seattle later ruled for the L.P. to be recalled in order for the group to complete it the way they wanted to. Magazine was given a re-release a year later and reached number 17 on the Billboard 200. It also spawned a third Top 40 single in the shape of “Heartless.”

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But Heart had already added to their back catalog by this point with their first Portrait effort, Little Queen. The million-seller gave Heart a second U.S. top ten entry in 1977 and produced one of the group’s signature hits, “Barracuda.” This particular track was penned by Ann in response to their former label’s unsavory promotional antics.

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Heart’s winning streak continued in 1978 with Dog and Butterfly, which reached number 17 in the U.S., with both its title track and “Straight On” also hitting the Top 40. But once again, the band’s career was derailed by behind the scenes problems. Indeed, a year later, Roger Fisher exited the line-up following a unanimous band vote. His sibling, Mike, then followed suit shortly after.

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The band initially managed to maintain their early success as the new decade dawned. Indeed, 1980’s Bebe le Strange, achieved a new chart high when it reached number five in America. Later that same year, ballad “Tell It Like It Is” became Heart’s most successful single, reaching number eight on the U.S. Hot 100.

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Heart celebrated five years of commercial success with a 1980 compilation. As its name suggests, Greatest Hits/Live collected all of their biggest singles and six live performances, including covers of tracks by The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Two years later, the Wilsons decided to abandon long-term collaborator Mike Flicker and producer their sixth LP, Private Audition, themselves.

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The band’s merry-go-round continued when Fossen and Derosier were given their marching orders and replaced by Mark Andes and Denny Carmassi. This new line-up made its debut on 1983’s Passionworks. Much like its predecessor, though, it failed to achieve the chart success of the band’s 1970s output. However, Heart’s commercial fortunes were about to change significantly.

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Indeed, in 1984 Ann scored a top ten hit with “Almost Paradise,” a collaboration with Loverboy’s Mike Reno that appeared on Footloose’s official soundtrack. Its success inspired the Wilsons to venture outside their comfort zone and work with other writers. They subsequently embraced a more polished glam rock sound on 1985’s self-titled album.

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Released through Capitol Records, Heart shifted approximately five million units and gave the band their first Billboard 200 chart-topper. It also spawned no less than four U.S. top ten singles including “What About Love,” “Never” and their first number one hit, “These Dreams.” And the group weren’t finished yet.

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Indeed, Heart continued to pursue a more mainstream sound on the 1987 follow-up Bad Animals. And once again it proved to be an inspired decision. The record hit number two on Billboard’s Top 200 and produced their signature hit, the epic power ballad, “Alone.” It also saw the group score a U.K. top ten album for the first time in their career.

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Heart initially looked set to dominate the early 1990s just as they’d done the mid and late-1980s. Indeed, they reached multi-platinum status for the sixth time with 1990’s Brigade, which spawned the top-three hit single “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You.” Instead, it proved to be the group’s last U.S. top ten album for 20 years.

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Indeed, in 1992 the Wilson sisters took a break from Heart to form an acoustic side project with Frank Cox and Sue Ennis named The Lovemongers. When they returned in 1993, however, with new bassist Fernando Saunders in tow, the rock scene had moved on. And the band’s 11th album, Desire Walks On, could only peak at a disappointing number 48 in the States.

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Produced by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, 1995 live album The Road Home saw the group reinterpret their classic hits in an acoustic style. But shortly after its release, Nancy took a hiatus from the music industry to spend more time with her family. As a result, Ann began touring with a new band sometimes credited as Ann Wilson and the Ricola Brothers.

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The Wilsons joined forces again in 1997 with The Lovemongers’ first L.P., Whirlygig, and festive Heart album, Here Is Christmas. A Greatest Hits retrospective and a VH1 Behind the Music special reminded audiences of their rock legacy. But at the turn of the century, the sisters seemed more interested in their solo pursuits than the group which launched them to fame.

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Nancy later contributed to the soundtracks of Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky, both directed by husband Cameron Crowe. She also recorded a live solo effort at McCabe’s Guitar Shop. And Ann joined the likes of The Who’s John Entwistle, Alan Parsons and Todd Rundgren on a star-studded Beatles tribute tour.

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However, the Wilsons eventually returned to the Heart fold proper in 2001 with yet another new line-up. This one included bassist Mike Inez from grunge icons Alice in Chains. Three years later they released their first new studio effort in 11 years with Jupiters Darling, featuring the rock airplay hit “Oldest Story in the World.” This record revisited the harder-edged sound that the band had enjoyed success with back in the 1970s.

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In 2006 Heart were the subject of a VH1 tribute special in which they performed alongside the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Carrie Underwood and Dave Navarro. A year later, Ann recruited Alison Krauss and Elton John to appear on her solo debut, Hope and Glory. And in 2008, the band embarked on an American tour with fellow rock veterans Cheap Trick and Journey.

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Heart returned to the U.S. top ten for the first time in two decades with 2010’s Red Velvet Car. The band then went on to launch their biggest Canadian tour for three decades and share the stage with Def Leppard for a summer 2011 trek. In 2012 the Wilsons published their autobiography and were honored with a Hollywood Walk of Fame star.

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After adding to their back catalog with 14th L.P. Fanatic, Heart were recognized at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors. The accolades kept coming in 2013 with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Wilsons then reunited with former band members Fossen, Fisher, Deroiser and Leese at the ceremony for a performance of “Crazy on You.”

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In 2016, Heart then released a live album recorded alongside Britain’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall. That same year they once again reinterpreted their earlier material on Beautiful Broken. Its title track lead single featured vocals from an unlikely source, one James Hetfield, frontman of heavy metal giants Metallica.

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But the Heart story took an unusual turn shortly after. Ann’s husband was arrested in 2016 for assaulting Nancy’s teenage twins. Dean Wetter later pleaded guilty to the offence which occurred while his wife and sister-in-law were performing at Auburn’s White River Amphitheater. It seems that Wetton struck out after discovering that the two 16-year-olds had left his van door open.

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Inevitably, the incident caused a rift between Ann and Nancy. The sisters continued to fulfil their touring duties for the rest of the year but did so without once speaking to each other. And once their run of live shows had finished, they decided to hit the road with their own bands.

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Indeed, in 2017 Nancy invited several former members of Heart, as well as vocalist Liv Warfield, to join her new outfit, Roadcase Royale. Not to be outdone, Ann then asked Craig Bartock, Heart’s guitarist, to join her for a series of solo shows. Despite this, both siblings insisted that Heart were still very much an ongoing concern.

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Ann later told Rolling Stone magazine that she was disappointed at how the incident with her husband and nephews escalated. She said, “The cops were called, which I thought was totally unnecessary. It was something that could have been worked out in a family meeting, but instead, it just went ballistic.”

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The older Wilson sister continued, “I think it was overblown and just grew this other head. My gut reaction [after I found out what happened] was, ‘Let’s get everybody in a room and hash it out.’ All the emotional, super hyper-drama could have been avoided in the first hour.”

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Unsurprisingly, Nancy saw things differently. She told the same publication, “Ann came up on my bus [after the incident] and said, ‘I guess Dean must have touched the children, and he’s sorry, but he had to lie down and take a nap.’ And I’m like, ‘What? That makes no sense.’”

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Nancy continued, “I don’t think it was very cool of [Ann] to have to try to apologize and cover for him. I thought if he was an adult, all by himself, he would face it and come and say he was sorry and try to explain the behavior. But that’s never, ever happened.” And so the family feud continued.

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Ann also told Rolling Stone magazine that even before the incident, she and Nancy had started to grow apart professionally. She said, “We no longer had a shared vision for what we wanted for Heart. We didn’t want to see ourselves as an old, has-been legacy band just going out again and again to make the big bucks. I saw that happening the last couple of years more and more.”

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“[Nancy] has a vision of playing the same old meat-and-potatoes set in Europe,” Ann continued. “It can just go on forever. I just wanted to not call it a static thing that’s going to ride down into obscurity, without at least trying to evolve. I don’t mean to say she’s wrong. We just differ, that’s all.”

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However, both parties appeared to believe that they would be able to rebuild their relationship in time. “Nancy and I love each other,” Ann told Rolling Stone magazine. “We want to be friends. My side really hurt her side. Her side really hurt my side. We’ve got to let those [wounds] heal and get some counseling.”

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Nancy also told the publication that she was hopeful of a future reconciliation. She said, “I’m an eternal optimist because I’m from a really strong, tight family. I don’t think any drama that’s temporary is going to change our strong relationship. We just have to get through this first. It’s been kind of a nightmare.”

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Thankfully, the pair did appear to work through their problems. Indeed, three years after the family drama, the sisters announced that they would be sharing the stage once again for a performance at New York’s Beacon Theatre. The Wilsons joined the likes of Hozier, Robert Plant and Buddy Guy at the annual charity concert, Love Rocks NYC.

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The sisters also announced they would be hitting the road with Sheryl Crow, Brandi Carlile and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts for a summer tour later in 2019. Kicking off at St. Louis’ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre and concluding at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl, the Love Alive show will pass through 39 different cities across North America. And the duo believed that this run of gigs couldn’t have been better timed.

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Indeed, in an official statement about the tour, Nancy said, “I think [2019] is a good year to show the collective impact of some powerful women in music. We would usually steer clear of the female-centric concept. But in the light of current events it seems like the right statement at the right time.”

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Although the Wilsons didn’t explicitly mention their falling out in the press release they did, however, allude to it. And Ann even implied that the lengthy break had done them both the world of good. She said, “Both Nancy and I have stretched our wings in life these last three years. We’ve both lived and loved. We have breathed and traveled and experienced life.”

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Ann also suggested that she and her sister had managed to put their musical differences aside. The rocker added, “We come to this tour with fresh energy and oxygen. It will be unlike any other Heart tour that has been. Some of the songs will be classic of course, but this tour will be a new animal.”

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