April 1, 1980
By David Huff
Rock 'N' Rolling Heaven Down with Heart
It's an obscure novel written long ago that holds little meaning for you or I. But, for one person in particular, the title of that book would mark the humble beginnings of a local bar band in the Seattle, Washington area that would one day become a household word around the country as a superstar in rock music.
Steve Fossen is one of the original founders of Heart. He, along with Roger Fisher, (who’s since departed) assembled this band almost a decade ago. They dropped the word White to make the group's name easier to remember. The bane was officially called Heart when Roger and Steve met up with a promising female singer by the name of Ann.
"Roger and I met Ann in 1971,” recalled Fossen. "We were still touring and working in bars down in the states then. Later on that year, like we had to of known Ann for eight months, we all moved to Canada. At that time, Seattle was kind of a rough area financial-wise because Boeing (aircraft plant) wasn't happening. A lot of guys were getting laid off, so entertainment in Seattle slacked off. People were going to see us, but there wasn't that real good cash flow that you kind of need to stay alive.”
"Before we hit it big, we had never left the Northwest. We played in the areas like Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. We had toured a little bit across Canada before we made it also.”
Nancy Wilson didn't join the group permanently until a few years later. Howard Leese, guitarist/keyboard/backing vocals, and Michael Derozier, drums and percussion, became members of the group just before the release of Heart's first album, Dreamboat Annie.
"Well Nancy," continued Fossen, "Ann's sister, she was there the first day we ever practiced with Ann and decided we were going to put a band together. But, at the time she was going to college, and her parents didn't really want her to drop school and go join a band unless they knew it was going to do something. So, she waited until '74 to join—after we had made our mark around Seattle and Vancouver.
"About two or three weeks before we finished Dreamboat Annie is when we finally decided on Derozier as the drummer and Howard who was working with us on the album. He was a personal friend of our producer, and after we would do our part, he would come in and do some work. He was a session man then, and on the strength of us hearing what he did on our album, and we knew he could play keyboards which is what we needed, we asked him to join the group. He and Derozier came along about the same time and joined. Everything started falling into place. It was like a puzzle you put together and everything worked."
Fossen says that Heart's entrance into the rock industry began when they signed a contract with a Canadian record company called Mushroom Records.
"When we got our record contract," replied Fossen, "that was the big breakthrough for the group. We had finished Dreamboat Annie and we were working the clubs. We were playing this one club in Portland when we got a phone call from the record company saying our record was No. 20 in Ontario, or something like that. We were totally mind blown at the time.”
"On the strength of that, the record company released the record first of all in the Northwest. It got lots of airplay in Seattle and Portland, and based on the strength of that. Mushroom decided to open up an American branch of their company and release Dreamboat Annie nationwide. Almost immediately upon release, we started touring. We did like a big nation-wide tour.
"I was surprised at the phenomenal success. It was like a fairy tale come true. It was just unbelievable. It was just like climbing a stairway, everything just kind of fell right in place. Like we didn't have a manager, then we got a manager. We needed to play in the Midwest and then we started playing in the Midwest. Then we needed to play on the East coast and then we started playing on the East coast. We needed to play the West coast and then we played there You know, just everything was just so logical and so dream-like, that it was just amazing to us."
Perhaps the most amazing development that came out of Dreamboat Annie were two particular cuts off of the album. These two would go on to be staples of the Heart concert repertoire as well as launch the group onto the nation's radio airwaves. They also helped establish Ann Wilson as one of this country's top female rock vocalists.
"When we first met Ann," said Fossen, "she was lust one of the better singers that I had ever worked with in my whole career up until them. And, she has just gotten better. Every day she gets better, and I really don't think that there are too many people, male or female, that can sing any better than she can. I really don't."
Heart's association with Mushroom eventually led them into the courtroom. After Dreamboat Annie, Heart signed with Portrait Records, a CBS subsidiary, and released Little Queen. A year later, Mushroom rushed released a Heart album entitled Magazine. It was comprised of a lot of unfinished material which included some live Seattle club recordings.
Heart sued to have the album removed from the record bins. A compromise was reached between the two factions and the album was withdrawn. Heart was given a chance to fix the album up and redo parts of the album. Mushroom later re-released the album.
A lot of media attention is focused on Heart not only because of its music, but because of the Wilson sisters. Female performers attract a lot of attention, and the Wilson's have had more than their share, on and off the stage. As with other groups that feature female singers, little attention is ever given the male musicians except if one leaves, like Fisher did. Fossen insists that the publicity focused on the Wilson's has little or no effect on the men in the group.
"This group doesn't evolve around Ann and Nancy Wilson," insisted Fossen. "That is what the press has fed people, and that's what they want. They want to see the girls. We are working on songs and stuff, and our contribution is just as valid as anybody's, you know?”
"Everybody contributes to this group and has their points that they contribute too. The girls write most of the songs, so in most people's mind, that's the greatest part of the song. But, what we do is turn their chords and lyrics into a real live song.”
“There's no trouble working with these two. I have known Ann, and we have all been playing with each since 1971. Ann is that type of person you know, like when you have a partnership going, everyone works and everyone contributes so there is no big, gigantic power trip or anything like that. Both Ann and Nancy are too sweet. They are really too sweet. If they don't like something, they almost have to tell somebody else that they don t like it."
There's not even the slightest trace of animosity in Fossen's voice when he speaks about the Wilson's.
"Working with the Wilson's is the kind of relationship you kind of hope for all of the time,” explained Fossen. "The kind of pressure that you feel is the pressure of a challenge than the pressure of anything else. When they write a song, they present it to us, and it is like a challenge to make it as good as we can. That is where the pressure is, and there really isn’t too much pressure in any other area.”
“When they present a song to us, they give us the basic music and chords. Nancy will play her part and then Ann will sing. The rest of us will start playing, filling in here and there, I play the bass, so like on acoustic songs and other things, from how Nancy is playing her guitar, you can kind of feel what is natural. It is kind of a sixth sense or something."
Sometimes that sixth sense can be described more appropriately as magic. Fossen recalls the feeling the group had after recording the song "Barricuda," and they all knew it was going to be a hit. To date, it has been one of Heart's biggest selling singles.
On the other hand, the magic can sometimes be turned into a pleasant surprise, “Dog and Butterfly" was such a case. The band hadn't even considered it as a single when the album came out.
“’Dog and Butterfly’ was something that the FM jockeys played a lot," recalled Fossen. "It started getting airplay before we even thought of releasing it .They kind of convinced us that it was good. We got a lot of feedback from the record company and different DJs across the country. They said that they liked to play that song a lot and it certainly got a lot of airplay. It got quite a ways up on the charts and it really was a nice, pleasant surprise."
Fossen tries to explain Heart's sound as music that ranges from anywhere to semi-pop songs to raunchy rockers. He also says there is a difference in the way the band sounds from record to live performance.
"I don't think we have ever come off on record exactly like we have live,” admitted Fossen. "When you conceive a song in your mind and you play it together with everyone before it goes on record, you have this concept of what it should sound like.”
"On record, it should sound like what we play live—no holds barred, it's just the instruments playing our music. But for some reason, when we translate it onto an album, a lot of times that live leer gets lost.”
You would think that the members of Heart would have known deep inside that they had something big going after the success Dreamboat Annie and their two singles enjoyed across the country. Fossen says that it took a little bit more time to finally accept everything that was happening to them.
“It’s hard to think about anything when you’re recording, touring and repeating the process over again,” replied Fossen. "I think that it was after the release of “Dog and Butterfly,” after it was out for a little while and we toured, that we all kind of knew what we had was huge.
"We have never looked back. Like I said before, we haven't worried about things too much. We just said, 'Okay, we have a job to do. We want to be big and we are going to do it. That is just what we did.”
"I think that the success of Heart is based on its album, popular album, sales. Each single gets lots of airplay. Each album gets lots of airplay. I would say our singles have helped because they have all done well, but our albums have been real consistent. They are all platinum, and a few are double platinum.”
"When we started," Fossen explained further, "as far as we we’re concerned, we were just going to plug away until it happened. I have been playing for 13 or 14 years. This, right now, is a childhood dream. What's happening to us now doesn’t affect me badly at all. I think that I am a much happier and satisfied person than I was three or four years ago. It is like heaven and earth to me I mean. I do what I want to do and I am playing some music that I personally am really turned on about.”
Gut feelings have carried people a long way in directions they felt they had to pursue. Face it, you only get one chance, and Heart wouldn't be headlining concert halts around the world today it they hadn't believed in what they were doing. No matter who gets the attention in the group, each and every one is striving for the same goals together as a single unit.
“There is no way you can conceive success like this." said Fossen without prompting. “You can feel, oh yeah, you can feel it. I don't know if we contribute just as much as Ann and Nancy do but as I said, we do contribute. If I let all of the press concentrating on Ann and Nancy bother me I would quite the band. That’s the only alternative.”
“I don’t ever see myself quitting. I started this band I will never quit it until it breaks up, or throws me out, or something I have never quit a thing in my life, except for a dumb dishwashing job in Seattle.”
'You know. I can’t force guys (press) to come and talk to me, or be interested in what I do or anything. So, when you get right down to it, it really doesn't matter. It just doesn't because everything that is good for Heart is good for me. If interviewing Ann and Nancy is good or Heart, then it definitely relates back to me in a big way.