The quarantine period produced different results for artists which were sometimes quite unexpected.
For Ann Wilson, she was very grateful that her stay at home in Florida, where she had just moved with her husband before the pandemic, ended up being extremely creative and inspiring.
New songs began to emerge, “Black Wing” being a vision that came as Wilson struggled to define his new normal. “In North Florida, it’s very rural and it’s like living on a different planet than Seattle,” she shares in a conversation with UCR. “We didn’t really know anyone yet and I felt pretty isolated and cut off because all of a sudden we were in quarantine here.”
“Looking out the window for several days at all the seabirds above the great river that we have here, I began to have the impression that they were emissaries of civilization,” she continues. “I started talking to them, the birds. This is how “Black Wing” was born.
The longtime Heart singer was “relieved” by the songwriting flow that started to gain momentum. “He was [quiet] inside of my creative self for a long time. I realized when I started writing again that it was just because all the contributions had died out, ”she says. “Now I have had the silence and the time to look inside. So with that, the songs were still there and it was really a big relief for me.
She started a new band, the Amazing Dawgs, with the help of Nashville session ace Tom Bukovac (Joe Walsh, Bob Seger, John Fogerty) and they took a trip in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in March, spending a week doing “Magic”At the legendary FAME Studios.
An additional recording was to follow, as Wilson reunited with Warren Haynes to work on songwriting and it was a prolific passage. She mentions “Gladiator” as one of the songs they came up with. “We went to Gov’t Mule in the northeast and hung out for a few days,” she adds. “I cut a few pieces with the Mule that are on the record, so that will be good.”
Haynes was also on his last solo album, playing guitar on two tracks, while Wilson joined Gov’t Mule for a memorable set in May that included covers by Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty.
We spoke with Wilson recently as she was getting ready for a trio of homecoming shows in Seattle in mid-October, to discuss the new music taking shape and his memories of the Grunge Revolution.
I know you like to play live and it’s exciting for you to come back and do concerts. But is it also a little anxiety to play shows in the midst of this ongoing pandemic situation?
Yes, the protocol that we are observing now is really intense. The last two stages we went on, especially the northeast one, some of these places don’t allow you on the scene unless you’ve tested negative. And some do not allow you on the scene unless you have a vaccination record.
We had to put this thing down for our whole tour group. Every last member of the crew, every member of the group, had to be vaccinated. Some of them just stamped their feet and said, “Well, that’s against my… you know, I’m a free spirit. I don’t have to. And we were like, “Well, if you want to go on this tour. So they all did.
But we remain cautious. Everyone must mask themselves when they are not in their dressing room. So far we have not had any positive tests and we have now come out on three stages. You just have to play with a lot of caution.
Watch Ann Wilson play Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”
You have this new album which has been taking shape for a year. Part of that trip got you to record earlier this year at Muscle Shoals. What was the inspiration that drove you in this direction to record there?
I always wanted to see what this place looked like. I mean, ever since the Rolling Stones went there and sure enough, [artists like] Aretha [Franklin], Ann Peebles [and] all those people in the 60s who recorded there and made it run like a hit factory and put the soul vibe there.
When the Stones got there, it became that kind of iconic place that I wanted to see on a bucket list one day. When we moved south, it became much more of a reality. I had met these great musicians and I said to myself, “What better convergence than just being with them in this place? I had come up with a few songs and we had a few more covers, like a Jeff Buckley song that we wanted to do.
I made a duet with Vince gill on a Queen song, “Love of my Life”. It turned into this great week. All of that will be on the new album I’m preparing.
“Love of My Life” is one of your new songs yell EP live. What do you like about this particular Queen song and how did Vince get involved? How did you approach it as a duo? Because it’s really interesting.
I love this song, because it’s a pure, clean and simple love song, soul to soul. i know the queen [version] is almost like chamber music. They put in that treatment which was very Edwardian. I just thought, “This song is so good and the melodies are so great and the meaning is so pure. You could take it all apart and that would be just beautiful, you know.
What if I did a duet and what male would be perfect to be able to get those nice words across and not get in the way? ”Sure, that was Vince. Because he has the voice of an angel, you know?
He got involved, because I had a bunch of meetings in Nashville, looking for a record label, lawyers and stuff. I met this guy named James Zumwalt, who turned out to be the executive producer of this album. He said, “Well, you know, if you want a music director, call Vince Gill.” I called him up and he said, “Well, I really don’t want to be your music director, but here is who can be.” He introduced me to Tom Bukovac who is our guitarist.
Tom came with the rest of the players. We all checked in to Muscle Shoals and Vince came down one night. He got off Nashville alone and sang on “Love of my Life”, then got in the car and drove back to Nashville! It was very, very relaxed and good.
I have met Vince several times over the years and have done a few things with him musically. I always thought he was vocal royalty. I know it sort of exists in the country music genre, but for me it’s so much more than that. I mean, he’s with the Eagles right now. He can go where he wants, vocally. I was really happy to be able to sing with him.
Watch Ann Wilson perform “The Love of My Life”
I know he grew up as a rocker as well. He liked the James Gang and all that.
That’s right. The first time I saw him was in the early ’70s when Heart was opening for Rush or something. Pure Prairie League was once in this group. I remember doing a soundcheck and doing a soundcheck on a bunch of Led Zeppelin stuff. Vince was tearing up the guitar. [Laughs]
It is therefore a quadruple threat. He’s got that voice and he can play guitar like the best of them and he just happens to be the nicest guy you’ve ever met. It is very sweet and very pure and good.
You mentioned Rush. Do you have a good anecdote about playing with them?
Well, probably not so much at the time. I think the most recent experience I had with them was the night our two bands were inducted into Rock Hall. Neil Peart was just the nicest person. Just the nicest, sweetest person. Because we were all nervous and we were all sort of out of our element.
He really put me at ease. And Rush fans were just enraged. They almost filled the whole place and they were so into it. I remember it was really quite impressive.
You mentioned that you did a Jeff Buckley song at Muscle Shoals. One of our writers was at one of your shows in New York and wondered how you ended up on the cover of Buckley.
When I first met my husband in 2014, it was one of the songs that was on his playlist. He always played when he was there. I fell in love with “Forget Her” and thought it was so powerful and so heartbreaking.
Like, what an honor to sing a Jeff Buckley song. He’s another one of those people who just sang from a place that was right in the center of his soul. I sing this song as a fan. [Laughs] I really do.
Watch Ann Wilson perform “Forget Her”
It always comes out with your choice of blankets and I think that’s cool. It is clear that you are a fan of the artist or the group. It’s not just the thought that it would be good to put it on the set list.
Law. Yeah, no, I’ve always fought against filling a set with, you know, opportunistic songs. I just want to sing songs that really speak to me. That I feel like I can get inside. Jeff Buckley’s song was one of them. Aerosmith’s “Dream On” was one of them. Anything by the Who.
It’s really hard when you pick covers to do, because it’s so easy for them to become old people who are doing oldies. [Laughs] The songs must be true. They must really touch you.
You’ve been working on additional new music since the trip to Muscle Shoals. Can you update us?
I have 10 songs ready for a studio album. At this point I’m just trying to find a title for it and we’re trying to find a home for it. It won’t be like any disc that already exists. It’s like a one-time affair. So we’re looking for a place where people really get it and we’re trying to release it in the first quarter of 22.
The EP you released in June had a handful of things in the studio. Is this some kind of preview for recording? How much of that will end up on the album?
None of the elements of the EP will be on the album. It’s all new. These are all new original songs except for three I think. There are three blankets on it. There is “Bridge of Sighs”, “Missionary Man” and “Love of my Life”. The others are originals.
It’s cool that you do “The Bridge of Sighs”. I loved one of the recent Heart tours, hearing you release “Day of the Eagle”. What do you like about Robin Trower?
I just think it’s the most powerful, beautiful, and soulful guitar ever. I can’t wait for you to hear our version of “Bridge of Sighs”, because I’m so proud of it. Kenny Wayne Shepherd played guitar.
What can you tell us about some of the other originals that are out there?
There are [a live version] of “Black Wing”. There are [also] “As the world turns”, “Fight for life”, “A moment in paradise”. There is a bunch of stuff. These are just new originals that we developed during quarantine. And then we finally came face to face with Muscle Shoals and took them out.
Thanks as always for the time. It’s always a pleasure to talk about music with you.
Good thanks alot. I enjoyed it.
Classified Heart Albums
This list of heartbreaking albums, ranked from worst to best, wasn’t easy to compile, as unlike many longtime bands, the band never made a bad record.