They have the sort of knockout wholesome looks that could qualify them as the next TV spokeswomen (should a change become expedient) for Florida oranges. Yet in the historically mean, Mr. Un-Clean world of rock, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson front Heart—the hottest band this side of Fleetwood Mac and the most matriarchal supergroup anywhere. Their maiden LP, Dream-boat Annie, sold a tidal 2.5 million last year, and the current follow-up, Little Queen, shows no signs of infarction. It sold gold in two weeks, and the driving Barracuda is now gnawing to the top of the singles charts.
En route, Ann, 27, and Nancy, 23—and their four backup male musicians—have demolished a few myths, notably that rock groups must be macho-dominated, shuttle between L.A. and London, and be addicted to the FDA’s Top Ten list of dangerous substances. These ladies not only staunchly defend their Pacific Northwest hideaways near Seattle, they also spend days off-tour at barbecues with band members, friends and parents. And when the Wilson women want a “red” they don’t pop it, they pour it from a bottle of fine Bordeaux. That’s their closest approach to vice, except that both sisters live in what has traditionally been called sin with members of their entourage.
Though each group’s cloud is platinum-lined, comparisons to Fleetwood Mac stop there (so far). Heart’s rock ranges from folkishly light to light-heavy metal. Guitars recall the psychodelicized funk of Jimi Hendrix; Ann’s lead vocals soar like Grace Slick. And whereas Mac’s intramural love-lives came apart with their watershed LP last year, Heart holds together a tight brothers-sisters act. Ann’s Heartthrob is the group’s former manager and current sound man, Mike Fisher, 29, while Nancy’s is his brother Roger, 27, the lead guitarist. Though the band prefers a no-star image, shrewd commercial sense put the alluring ladies out front onstage: “Obviously,” says keyboardist Howard Leese bluntly, “it’s easier to market two beautiful girls than four ugly guys.” Ann, though, is no figurehead. As she points out: “I’m the turkey who has to sign everything.”
The two sisters keep any possible sibling rivalry off the records. “I choose the beat,” explains the more gregarious Ann. “I put what I want to say in the form of a poem. Then Nance can actually transform my ideas into music on the guitar.” “Ann amazes me with her ability to keep on going long after I’ve given out,” says Nancy. It’s a merciless pace. Last year they played 200 dates with the 23-member entourage split between two buses, and when the two pairs of siblings OD’d on each other, there was just enough space so each could solo in private compartments. Still, the road can be defeminizing. Says Ann, “It’s impossible to be ladylike and aloof.” “The hard-core women on the road in various aspects of the rock world,” Nancy agrees, “are not a pretty thing to see.”
Heart members are now indulging in white cars (Porsches, Sevilles) and retreats around Lake Washington. Ann and Mike are settling into a house eight minutes by water from the Japanese-style home of Nancy and Roger. Rock precludes families for Nancy and Ann now, but a roughly similar migrant life-style never deterred their dad, John Wilson, a retired Marine officer. The girls grew up on a score of bases in the U.S. and abroad. It was in Bellevue, Wash. at 10 and 14 that they found their calling during a joint three-month hospitalization with mononucleosis. Their dad rented guitars “to keep them from going crazy.” Once cured of mono, they were zapped by the fever of folk rock. With other members of the group and their wives, Ann shared a one-room prefab home across the border in West Vancouver, taking turns sleeping inside. They had no hot water or heat, ate brown rice, stole fruit from neighbors’ trees and ripped off toilet paper from the local university. Meanwhile Nancy declined regular offers to join the squalor until they convinced her they were bent on making it in 1974.
Still, their ex-Marine dad marvels that through rock these girls have become women. “They are utterly responsible, and now know more about the world than I do.”