In August of 2016, Ann and Nancy Wilson and the rest of Heart took to a stage in Washington, in the midst of an extensive Summer tour. While the band was performing it’s encore, Ann’s husband, angered at Nancy’s twin 16 year old boys for leaving the door to Ann’s tour bus open, physically attacked them. He was subsequently arrested, and pleaded guilty to two counts of non-felony assault. The Wilson sisters, holding disparate views about the night’s events, spent the rest of the tour occupying separate dressing rooms, and rarely communicating.
In the little over a year since, all and nothing has changed for Nancy Wilson. She assembled a formidable new band, recorded a critically acclaimed album, released several well received singles, and found herself on tour in support of a fellow rock legend. Her relationship with Ann however, remains strained.
With that as the backdrop, I reached out to Nancy, one of rock music’s most thoughtful and reflective artists, and asked her who and what she will be thankful for this holiday. This is what she told me…
A little over a year ago, everything went to hell in a hand-basket with my family, and my family band. Things between my sister Ann and I had already been a little on the strained side, because we were experiencing some new dynamics. Ann had a new husband, and we were all really trying to get to know him better, like anyone would when someone new comes into their family. We were trying to figure out how we all fit with each other.
But what happened that night just hit us broadside, out of the blue. That there was some sort of impression on his behalf that my kids were acting entitled in some way, still does not justify hitting them. That was never going to be okay with us. The venue reported the incident to the authorities, and if we had not also reported it ourselves, we could have been in trouble with the law and child services, because my boys were underage. A lot of families might not have dealt with it the way that we did…it is common for people to just sweep stuff like that under the carpet. The fact that we didn’t, became a little more noticeable because my sister and I are in a rock band.
I think Ann kind of felt that she was stuck in the middle between her new love, and me, her original love. [slight laugh] She tried to defend her husband’s actions and, I feel, sort of deny the importance of what happened. That one night set the course for the last year or so, which has been emotionally challenging, to say the least. My sister and I sort of went off in different directions, and have hardly communicated since. It has been painful. Just a nightmare.
After the incident, my husband Geoff knew me well enough to know that after we finished the tour, I was going to need to get something positive and musical into my life, right away. He said, “Why don’t you get together with Liv Warfield?” I first saw Liv sing on ‘The Jimmy Fallon Show’, and I thought she had a real energy and presence about her, in addition to an incredible voice. She had been a member of Prince’s New Power Generation, and was collaborating with a guitar player named Ryan Waters, a fellow Prince protege. Earlier that year, Heart asked her to open our shows at the Hollywood Bowl, and Liv and I hit it off right away. We talked about writing songs or doing something together in the future, and we both agreed that we should be the people who actually say something and then do it, instead of just talk about it.
Now Geoff was telling me, “You guys swore up and down that you’d try to do something! Let’s get this going right away.” He knew. He saw me on a collision course with insanity and depression, and all the other forms of sadness that might come from my break with Ann. So, we decided to try it.
There was still about a month of Heart dates left to do at the time though, and they were excruciating. The shows and the crowds were great, but the vibe between Ann and I obviously was not. A day after we finished the tour, Liv and Ryan, and my fellow Heart bandmates Ben, Dan and Chris, found ourselves in a rehearsal space in California, trying to see if we actually had anything here. The two camps didn’t really know each other, so there we were, sitting in a room together, with everyone acting kind of nervous and shy. Believe me, it was a big leap of faith to fly everyone into town, book out rehearsal space, and bring technicians in, just to figure out if we could possibly be. I mean, it was entirely possible that we would have to say, “Sorry everyone, but this isn’t going to work. Nevermind!” [laughs]
But it worked. We were exhausted because we were just coming off of the tour, but once we started playing together, that all went away. It was exciting and meaningful, right off the bat. I had this idea to arrange a Colin Hay song called ‘Hold On To My Hand’ that I had only heard an acoustic version of. I loved the song, and brought it to the table as our first thing to tackle as a new group of musicians. Almost immediately, we found an amazing shorthand with each other.
We recorded ‘Hold onto my Hand’ and it sounded great, but more importantly, there were no egos, or power trips or band politics. The six of us formed a creative democracy. Everyone wanted to share and support and make something great together. I just thought, “Thank God for these people!” We named ourselves ‘Roadcase Royale’, to describe the beautiful collusion between an old road band like Heart, and the rock n’ roll royalty that Liv and Ryan hail from. Geoff was right. I needed this.
Well before Heart started experiencing its problems, my husband was going through a challenging time himself. Ever since he was a kid he had identified himself through his work, but now found himself leaving his job of 25 years, without knowing what his next life move was going to be. He was not only losing the camaraderie he had with his friends and co-workers, but also the rituals and routine, and his everyday purpose. Adjusting was proving more difficult for him than he thought it would be, and as I saw him trying to deal with it, I wrote about it.
So, when Roadcase Royale came together, I said, “Hey guys, since we’re writing songs, I’ve got these words…” and our single, ‘Cover Each Other’ just came to life. My husband told me later that he had to wipe a tear from his eye the first few times he heard the song. It was very meaningful to him because we support each other through thick and thin, with unconditional love and friendship. That’s what it’s all about, you know?
Once the band was up and running, we were looking for gigs. We ended up doing a few in the LA area, which were really fun. Of course, we did them for next to nothing, moneywise. Starving musician syndrome all over again! [laughs] We did see one opportunity though. Bob Seger had previously offered Heart the opening slot on his upcoming arena tour, and I was really excited about the opportunity to breathe some new life into Heart by doing something big like that. Unfortunately, Ann said no.
I went back to the powers that be and said, “What about Roadcase Royale? We don’t suck! We’re actually really good!” We sent them a few videos to check out, but they said, “I’m sorry, we have to think about about selling tickets.” So, it wasn’t looking great. But Bob and his manager, after checking out our stuff, came back to us and said, “Hold on a second, you guys are good. I think we do want you to open for us. You’ve got the job…but we really want you to bill yourselves as ‘Nancy Wilson of Heart, with Roadcase Royale”.
I was resistant to that. We were trying so hard to make something different and new. And of course, Ann was out on the road calling her thing ‘Ann Wilson of Heart’, so it was a rocky proposition for me all around. Ultimately, we decided that if this was the only trade-off I would have to make for our incredible new band to have this great opportunity, then so be it.
Once we got on the tour and hit the stage, I knew we had done the right thing. We were going out there and playing a few Heart songs at the beginning of our set – because as newcomers, you have to be out there waving your arms, shouting, “Hey, look at us! We’re the big, shiny thing over here!” – and the audience would steadily pour in. By the end of our set, nearly every seat would be full. We were getting standing ovations at the end of ‘Crazy On You’ every night. We were on a roll.
It didn’t last long, because unfortunately, Bob re-injured a vertebrae in his neck. When he first got hurt, he was forced to cancel only one show, but we had a feeling of, “Oh, no!” Then we got the news that the rest of the tour was postponed, and it took all the wind right out of our sails. We were just getting our sea legs under us as a live band playing arenas. It was a major disappointment.
It was so surreal for us to have to immediately get off that tour bus and take leave of each other, get on a plane, and go home. The first day back, I have to admit that part of me was thinking, “Oh, well there’s my nice, beautiful bed! My real kitchen! My washer and dryer!”, but the next day was a huge letdown. It was like, “[sound of losing game show buzzer] Where did all the glory go?”
Bob’s people said that he has never cancelled a tour before, and he doesn’t want to disappoint the fans if he can help it, so I’m hoping that he feels better and we can reconvene soon. I can’t wait to get back out there!
As far as Heart goes, we may have seen the end of it’s long run. It stopped on such a weird, awkward, and unnecessarily hurtful note though, and I really don’t want to go through another holiday season without talking to Ann. Last year was a painful experience. I keep reaching out to her, through our sister Lynn, hoping that we can get together around Thanksgiving. Just so the three of us could be together and talk, as sisters. It doesn’t have to be about Heart, but it has to be about…sisters.
So, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my sons of course, who I love and am very proud of. I am thankful for my husband, for all the reasons I mentioned, and many more. I am thankful for Liv, Ryan, and our new band, who in some ways, saved my life. And I am thankful for my sister Lynn, who I love very much.
I am also thankful for Ann, and always have been. Our relationship as sisters is far more important than any career decision we’ve made, or will ever have to make. Blood is thicker than any of that other stuff. Whether we see each other over the holidays or not, I know we will always love each other, unconditionally, no matter what.
Robert Ferraro interviews and profiles pop culture figures. A former radio talk show producer and Major League Baseball production assistant, he has otherwise held over 50 menial jobs, all of which he promptly departed when he couldn’t find anyone interesting to talk to.
Roadcase Royales’ website is: roadcaseroyale.com
Purchase their album on itunes: ‘First Things First’ by Roadcase Royale
Follow Nancy on Twitter: @nancywilson
Follow Nancy on Instagram: @nancywilson
Follow Nancy on Facebook: facebook.com/officialnancywilson