Heart savors freedom of long career

Tour with Jason Bonham allows Wilson sisters to share Zeppelin love

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IF YOU GO

What: Heart, in concert with Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience.

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 30.

Where: Sleep Country Amphitheater, 17200 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

Cost: $28 to $117.90 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000.

Information: 360-816-7000 or sleepcountryamphitheater.com

Heart singer Ann Wilson has a simple philosophy these days about how she and sister Nancy Wilson should go about their career.

"At this point in our career, at this point in our creative life, there's no point at all in not doing exactly what we feel like doing," she said in a recent phone interview.

The Wilson sisters and Heart have certainly earned that privilege. The group has pretty much achieved everything a band could want out of a career.

The group has had huge success — selling more than 35 million albums and notching 21 Top 40 hit singles, headlining the biggest of arenas along the way. The Wilson sisters, in particular, have had a major impact on music, being among the first women to break into the rock scene, helping to open doors for several generations of female artists that have followed. Ann Wilson is universally hailed as one of rock's greatest female singers, while Nancy Wilson has shown that as a guitarist, a woman can hold her own with most any other guitarist around.

The influence of the Wilson sisters and Heart was confirmed earlier this year when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To say the least, Ann Wilson was blown away by the Hall of Fame recognition.

"If you're thinking of rock as an institution, it is definitely the highest honor," she said. "You can't go any higher than that. It's like getting an Oscar. So it was just an amazing feeling. I'm still processing it. … I'm honored. It's very amazing."

Now Wilson and Heart are getting back to work — but doing something that very much meets the criteria of being fun.

The band is touring this summer with drummer Jason Bonham, son of late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who is bringing out his Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience show to open the evening. Then to close the shows, Bonham will join Heart to play an extended encore of Led Zeppelin songs.

Heart has often played Led Zeppelin songs in concert and the Wilson sisters consider the British rock legends one of their biggest influences.

"They were teachers for us," Wilson said. "I mean, we had a few different artists that we really listened to deeply and learned from. Paul Simon was another one. The Beatles was another one. But I think the thing about Zeppelin that was really, really special to us was the acoustic, the rock inside of the acoustic. They somehow managed to get all of those really unusual tunings and just so off-the-wall timing things into an acoustic setting. I mean, Nancy Wilson just sat up and saluted when she heard that. That's what she's like as a person and as a guitarist.

"I think for me, (Led Zeppelin singer) Robert Plant sang in my range, so I learned from him a lot about pronunciation, because rock singers, especially women rock singers, I think, sometimes blow it with pronunciation," she said. "They really try to sound black or Southern when they're not. So Robert Plant and Elton John, I think, were both responsible for helping me learn how to say words."

The tour with Bonham figures to be another high point in what has been a busy, rewarding — and yes, fun — past couple of years for Heart.

The period has seen the group release a forward-looking studio album, "Fanatic," which stands up to the best Heart albums of the 1970s ("Dreamboat Annie" and "Dog and Butterfly") and '80s (1985's "Heart").

The album combined strong songs with creative sonics, a major contribution of producer Ben Mink.

"He's a guy who is really dead-set in the present," Wilson said of Mink. "So he's going to pay respect to us and who we are, but he's always going to push us. And he really has a great sonic imagination and ability to come up with crazy ideas that really refer to us in an honest way."

Heart also released a career-spanning box set, "Strange Euphoria," which was populated with a generous number of demos, rare live cuts and unreleased tunes spanning the band's career.

Then there was an autobiography on the Wilson sisters and Heart called "Kicking and Dreaming," which was published last fall.

Wilson said she and Nancy didn't hold back in telling their story, which chronicled the various highs and lows of Heart's career, the band's music and the challenges that came with being among the first women to front, write music and play instruments in a hard-rocking band, as well as the private lives lived along the way.

"We decided pretty early on there was really no point in doing it if we were just going to do a big covered-up whitewash," she said. "What's the point? You might as well just stay silent if you're going to keep everything secret. So we told our story as openly and honestly as we can, having living children and everything. And so it's a pretty interesting story."