March 31, 1980 12:00 PM

Fleetwood Mac’s juiciest rumors could hardly compete when the band called Heart began to fibrillate. Heart was once the major matriarchal and tightest sibling group in rock. Ann Wilson, its lead singer, and sister Nancy, the acoustic guitarist, had paired off, respectively and romantically, with brothers Mike and Roger Fisher, the sound man and lead guitarist. Together, the Seattle-based group had cut four platinum LPs in as many years.

Then in late 1979, after what Ann calls a “horrible” year, the sisters severed their long liaisons with the Fishers. “Suddenly we had to stand up on our own,” decided Ann. “We had to see if we could make it as single women after depending on men for so long.” This week, as they launch a 77-city tour in the wake of their feminist new LP, Bébé Le Strange, the sisters feel “liberated,” says Nancy. “A 10-ton weight has been lifted.”

She was the first to call it quits after four years with Roger, the group’s co-founder, whose guitar licks on hits like Barracuda and Magic Man had defined Heart’s sound as much as Ann’s Slicker-than-Grace vocals. For a year Roger hung in, even though Nancy had reportedly developed an intense romance with drummer Mike Derosier. The sisters meanwhile were feeling increasingly like put-upon rock women. “They called us ‘front women,’ ” Ann remembers. “It was kind of degrading.” Finally they fired Roger last fall on what the girls call “Black Halloween.” A few days later Ann and Mike ended their own eight-year romance. “I think my independence rubbed off on her,” figures Nancy.

The Heartbeat went on, agonizingly, while they were finishing Bébé in the studio. Howard Leese, a member since 1975, had ably replaced Roger on guitar, though, as Nancy recalls: “The album was made of our tears. We’d sit in the control room and pass around Kleenex. But the pain made us work harder.”

So far touring without the buffer of boyfriends is “shaking the foundations of my life,” says Ann, now 29. “It was always the old man and I heading back to the hotel together. But I’m looking forward to finding out what it’s like to be single.” Nancy, 26, also worried about “going on the road alone and becoming the usual rock mama taking her men like trophies.” But with social and professional inquiries coming in already from Eddie Money, Gene Simmons and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, Heart’s sisters seem at least to be attracting rock’s best and brightest.

Off-tour, the Wilsons settle into a co-owned 250-acre ranch on the Oregon coast, but are temporarily sharing Nancy’s new five-acre spread in Seattle with three horses and six dogs. Their third roomie lately is their songwriter collaborator Sue Ennis, a longtime friend who left doctoral studies in German literature at Berkeley to write Bébé with them. Any further domesticity seems remote. “I’m not above marriage,” confides Nancy, “but it would have to be something pretty amazing. We love, we get hurt, we swear we’re never going to do it again—and of course we do.” The flip side of the Wilsons’ singlehood, though, is the discovery of sisterhood for the two daughters of a retired Marine captain who raised them around the country. “Ann and I are just getting to know each other for the first time as adults,” says Nancy. “We never had the chance before.”

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