by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 13, 2016 8:23 PM

I remember fondly my discovery of the group Heart when I was in high school. I was a freshman and Dreamboat Annie had been out for nearly a year. I was instantly fascinated with the guitar riff on Crazy on You, the flute on the title track, the venerable Magic Man. And Ann Wilson’s voice. During my freshman year, the band released their second album entitled Little Queen. I bought it immediately. It had Barracuda, which was great, but Love Alive was my favorite. It started slow and built in passion. And the voice. Before my family moved from Columbia, Maryland after my freshman year, my friend Pam took me to Baltimore to see the group. It was amazing. I remember it well. I saw Heart several times in Boston over the next few years and once again in Southern California. The latter wasn’t a good show. By that time, the group had descended into 80s big hair pop, and as much as I love 80s big hair rock, I prefer the male big hair bands. 

Sexist, I know. 

For years, I listened to debates about who the best female rock and roll singer was. Most people’s immediate answer was Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane and then the Jefferson Starship, and eventually just plain old Starship. I never agreed. Maybe because I wasn’t a big Airplane fan, though I did become a Jefferson Starship fan. I just didn’t think Slick had very much same range. Her voice always seemed almost one note. I loved Janis Joplin but she never had a great voice, just a distinct voice. I would listen to everyone and then I would tell them that the best female rock and roll singer ever was Ann Wilson. Most of the time people would stop and look at me and then say, yeah, you know, you’re right. Chick’s got pipes. 

She did and she does. 

I loved Nancy Wilson’s guitar work and I know she was always known as the pretty one, but the front (wo)man was the dynamic one. Some have referred to her as the female Robert Plant, and she and her group did a killer rendition of Stairway to Heaven at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony several years. She put her own signature voice to it and it rocked. 

The band evidently still tours in the same way that bands from the 70s all still tour. They don’t really make much new music anymore, existing off of their old hits. I haven’t listened to them in years. I still have that Dreamboat Annie album, and Little Queen, and all of the others that I bought over the years. I also bought several CDs in the 80s when I was still trying to like them even though they had lost their magic, man. 

Today I got an invitation to like a page on Facebook. It was called The Ann Wilson Thing. Naturally, I liked it. Evidently Ms. Wilson who is now 65, has a new group and she’s touring small cities around the country. She comes to Tucson on the 18th. Next week. 

I listened to several tracks on her album, appropriately called The Ann Wilson Thing. From what I had read, I thought the music would be substantially different than Heart and truth be told, it is different than Heart now but not necessarily Heart then. The music seems tinged with blues. The songs are by Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Buffalo Springfield. She’s had guest performers with her like Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss, and Shawn Colvin. I read where she’d like to have Lucinda Williams join her for a song or two. In concert, she’s not doing Heart songs, opting for covers of Neil Young, Peter Gabriel and more instead. 

The idea is to challenge herself, expand her repertoire, and do something different. But still with that voice. That voice. Still the best female rock and roll singer around, and ever, in my opinion. She had heart. Now she’s got heart, and I may be becoming a fan all over again. Next week, at the Rialto.

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live out loud

Rockin' out on a Friday afternoon

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 7, 2014 11:54 PM

I often suffer from what I call the Friday afternoon blahs. It happens around lunchtime. The end of the day and thus the end of the week starts to come into focus, and with that focus comes my lack of focus where work is concerned. I find something to stream through Netflix or Hulu. I do it here in my office so as to give the impression of still sort of working. I answer emails. I do a little light bookkeeping. But anything truly heavy duty is relegated to Sunday afternoon when I’ll at least think about it, and more likely Monday morning when I have no good excuse for not actually doing it.

But Friday afternoon is mine. I skirt phone calls if I can. I eschew my writerly duties. I surf, I iChat, I day dream. I play with the dog, I read a magazine, usually something thoroughly mindless like Entertainment Weekly, which comes, luckily, on Fridays. For some reason, many years ago when I was working in PR, I got on the list for EW. I continue to get it. It’s a completely vacuous little magazine. Takes about 15 minutes to read. I love it.

Sometimes I read a chapter or two in whatever book I happenn to have going at the time. Very seldom do I do any personal writing even though I think about it and chastise myself for not doing it since it’s the perfect time. But when one has the blahs, one’s writing tends to mirror those blahs and comes out very blahing.

This Friday afternoon I tuned up an episode of Grey’s Anatomy on Hulu. I’ve been watching Grey’s since it began, back when it was really good, and I just can’t yet quit it. It’s like a not horrible habit, like eating too many French fries, that I know aren’t really very good but that I’m just not ready to give up. In this particular analogy I would point out that at least the fries are damn tasty. Of course, so are several of the male cast members of Grey’s. There is McDreamy, otherwise known as Patrick Dempsey, who is still very handsome even with his graying hair. The newer guy, Jackson Avery, played by Jesse Williams, is quite the specimen. I also happen to love Kevin McKidd. I have no idea why; he just appeals to me. And I like James Pickens, the venerable Dr. Webber. He’s long been a favorite of mine.

So there I was, half watching Grey’s Anatomy, half reading an online article about the lady who drove her Honda Odyssey minivan into the Florida surf yesterday, and also iChatting with best good friend Bobbi who had the audacity to actually be working (gasp), when I hear blasting from the other side of the house, Baby I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney. I smiled. Obviously my husband was also experiencing the Friday afternoon blahs and was surfing youtube, looking for music that he likes. He was always a Beatles fan and less of a McCartney-solo fan, but Baby I’m Amazed isn’t bad as far as McCartney songs go. Live and Let Die is still better; ditto Band on the Run, which remains a personal favorite album.

I continued with my blahs. Soon I heard the dulcet guitar pickings from Stairway to Heaven. I smiled again. He was definitely reliving his youth. When the song blasted into high gear about half way through, with an increased urgency to the guitar, and a crescendo of drums, the volume got cranked, drowning out my Hulu. I smiled. I too like Stairway to Heaven. Always did. Once upon a time, I could actually play it on the guitar. I no longer remember how.

Shortly thereafter, I got an email from my husband with the subject line, simply: this rocks! I opened and clicked on the link he provided, because of the blahs and needing something else to keep me occupied because I was already bored with Grey’s. This is what opened:

He had been listening to Ann and Nancy Wilson’s version of Stairway to Heaven, performed at the Kennedy Center honoring Robert Plant, Jimmy Paige, and John Paul Jones. I was a huge fan of Ann and Nancy Wilson in the 1970s, when they fronted Heart. They still front a band named Heart occasionally, though the only remaining original members are the sisters Wilson. Nancy is quite the guitarist; Ann remains the best female rock singer of all time, in my humble opinion. Their rendition of Stairway to Heaven included excellent musicians on guitars and drums, along with a choir that made the song soar. I found out, through the magic of the internet, that the drummer was Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin’s original drummer John Bonham. It explained the tears in the eyes of Zeppelin front man Robert Plant as he watched.

It rocked, just as Kevin said it would. It was the perfect antidote to the Friday blahs.

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live out loud

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