Rock Hall can’t deny it ... You gotta have Heart

By John Benson

Despite its multi-platinum success, classic rock band Heart has always been somewhat overlooked.

Perhaps it was because the Seattle-based act was led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. Or maybe it was because the group’s rock sound was heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin.

Whatever the case, it’s been quite a year for the group. Beginning in 2012, the Wilson sisters were asked to perform “Stairway to Heaven” as the finale to the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Led Zeppelin. In addition to visibly moving Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, their rendition brought the entire Kennedy Center audience to its feet.

Last year, Heart was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it was this spring’s honor – induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – that cemented the group’s legacy. Considering the band has been eligible for more than a decade, did the members feel like it would ever happen? Maybe the critics were right?

“We were beginning to think it wouldn’t happen,” said Ann via an email interview. “We were contemplating the possibility that we weren’t the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame type. [But] I don’t feel vindicated for past negative press, that’s just part of the game. I do feel very happy that all our hard work and many challenges have made a mark on rock culture, that our voice has been heard.”

That voice started exactly 40 years ago when the Wilsons set out to prove that women could rock just as hard as men. However, unlike in the past where women fronted an all-male act, Heart was centered around the Wilson sisters who led the band, wrote the tunes and played the music.

During the ‘70s, Heart enjoyed hit songs with “Crazy on You,” “Magic Man,” “Barracuda,” “Straight On” and more. Proving its longevity, Heart continued topping the charts through the ‘80s and ‘90s with “These Dreams,” “Alone,” “What About Love,” “If Looks Could Kill” and “Never.” All told, Heart has sold more than 35 million albums worldwide.

This includes its latest effort, 2012’s “Fanatic,” which was a top 25 entry in Billboard Magazine.

“‘Fanatic’ is the most evolved Heart album to date,” Ann said. “Songs deal with world issues as well as personal ones. It is our heaviest album, sonically. The songwriting is pushing a new limit. There are many new ideas on ‘Fanatic.’”

As for the group’s current tour, which comes to our area for shows tonight at First Niagara Pavilion and Monday at Blossom Music Center, the band has seemingly divided up its set. The first half of material includes plenty of hits along with an unlikely cover of Elton John’s “I Need You to Turn To.”

However, it’s the latter half of the show that truly epitomizes the heart and soul of the act. Opening for Heart this summer is Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s son Jason. During the encore, he joins the Wilson sisters to get the Led out with six-song tribute to the magic of the ZOSO group.

In a way the set epitomizes the legacy of Heart.

“I think you could say our legacy is that you don’t have to fit a stereotype to succeed in music,” Ann said. “You need only a great talent, your confidence and your soul.”

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