Without question, Ann Wilson is one of the greatest vocalists that rock has ever produced. With a range that covers three octaves, she can belt out a full-on hard-rock aria or lay back on an acoustic ballad. She’s spent over 40 years leading Heart alongside her guitarist/singer sister Nancy, and they’ve sold more than 35 million records and been voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Songs like “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” and “Crazy on You” are still classic-rock radio staples, but next week’s Peace Center show is going to be a lot more than a stroll through Heart’s history. And that’s because alongside her strengths as a songwriter and bandleader, Ann Wilson is also a first-rate interpreter of other people’s songs.
Check out Heart’s covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” or Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” on 1980’s “Greatest Hits Live,” or her incredible performance of Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore” as part of an acoustic group called The Lovemongers.
Wilson says she plans to bring some unexpected material to her show next week, by some of her favorite writers, along with the expected Heart showstoppers and songs from her solo EPs, “Ann Wilson’s Thing Vols. 1 & 2.”
“The whole purpose of doing this tour is to allow me to stretch out and do some unusual things, both as a person as a singer,” she says. “We’ve designed a really cool little show that goes all kinds of places, and it’ll be a great trip for people. There’s a really cool song by Peter Gabriel and a couple of Who songs, just all kinds of things that all have messages to them. It’s a really cool thing to be able to reach into my soul and bring all of that out, to bring out the feelings and speak to people directly.”
When it comes to choosing songs to sing from outside her catalog, Wilson says it comes down to the words. “I’ve always loved beautiful lyrics,” she says. “They have to be well-written. They have to sound great and they have to carry a message. I get bored singing, ‘I love you; you love me. Oh how happy we could be.’”
Wilson has been covering other people’s material for a while now, even on albums where people might not have realized she was doing it. Many of the songs on the band’s multiplatinum 1980s albums “Heart” and “Bad Animals” came from outside writers, and she’s expressed ambivalence about some of those songs in the past. But the ones that hit home with both Wilson and her audience have remained special to her.
“A song like ‘Alone’ that we didn’t write — the audience just completely dug it and they responded hugely to it,” she says. “And if it hadn’t gotten that reaction, I probably wouldn’t be too interested in carrying on year after year with it.”
Another lesser-known fact about Wilson is that offstage, she tends to be painfully shy and introspective. In fact, she says that onstage is where she’s able to express herself most freely. “It’s where I’m most comfortable, she says. “I’ve always felt more at home talking to a lot of people than just one. It’s where I can be me. I can dance, I can sing, and I can bring out the very deepest stuff that’s inside of me.”
Thursday, March 23