Ann Wilson chats about Stars Align Tour with Paul Rodgers and Jeff Beck

Coming to Daily’s Place in Jacksonville Aug 23

It may be the most aptly named tour of the summer. The Stars Align Tour features a trifecta of rock’s most celebrated artists. Ann Wilson of the legendary group Heart, who reigns as one of the top female voices in rock ‘n’ roll, joins forces with rock stalwarts Paul Rodgers and Jeff Beck.

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EU Jacksonville spoke with Wilson two days after kicking off the tour in West Valley, Utah. The Stars Align Tour stops in Jacksonville Aug. 23 at Daily’s Place.

Previous commitments forced Wilson to turn down Rodger’s initial offer to tour last year. When she learned Jeff Beck was added to the bill, she moved some things around. “I didn’t even hesitate a moment,” she says. “They are both long-time favorites of mine. They are masters at their craft, and it’s an honor to share the stage.”

Rodgers had two career-defining turns with Free and Bad Company. His set will feature favorites from both camps including ‘Rock and Roll Fantasy’ and Free’s biggest hit, ‘All Right Now.’

Beck’s headlining slot will showcase his musical versatility on songs by classic artists like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well as blues greats Otis Rush, Lonnie Mack, and Willie Dixon.

Wilson will perform a mix of Heart classics, including the anthem ‘Baracuda,’ solo material, and selections from her latest project Immortal, a collection of covers slated for a September release. The concept was inspired by the recent string of tragic losses in music and recorded as a proper tribute to such artists as Tom Petty and Chris Cornell.

“Along about the time Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington and Tom Petty all died in rapid succession, I just kind of felt like something clicked inside of me, and I needed to do something. I’m not the kind of person to sit around and be so sad, because these souls gave their all while they were here,” she says. “It was time for them to move on, so they’re on to their next journey, and I want to keep my thoughts about them really happy and wish them well. The expressions they left are beautiful, and they are like an oral tradition that can be passed on. That’s why it’s called Immortal. I chose songs that were not necessarily the hits but ones that I thought [were] great writing and spoke to me that way.”

Cornell’s death struck Wilson especially hard. The two shared a history in Seattle and a deep connection as artists and friends. Facing his body of work in memoriam was difficult, and she chose the song ‘I Am the Highway’ he recorded with Audioslave. “‘I am the Highway’ has always grabbed me because the words are really simple, but they’re very powerful. Don’t objectify me. I’m not just the wheels on your car. I am the road you’re driving,” she says.

To record Immortal, Wilson went back to basics with respected producer Mike Flicker who was the original producer on such early Heart classics as ‘Dreamboat Annie’ and ‘Dog & a Butterfly.’ The tracks were all recorded on tape and transferred to digital to capture the warmth and intention of the material.

“I like people like Lucinda Williams who is so human and just sounds so raw and so gorgeous. I think that Mike Flicker knows how to make my voice sound good, and he knows what it takes to make a record sound good,” says Wilson. “We went really old school and recorded this album by doing it ‘the old-fashioned way.”

Through her storied career, Wilson and her sister Nancy were forced to flex their strength as serious musicians in a male dominated industry. In the 70’s when their band Heart was just taking off, female rock bands were considered novelty acts. Just to get a song played on the radio was a big accomplishment that, for women in rock, was often rewarded with a congratulatory slap on the ass.

The Wilson sisters were determined to break into the business based on their talent instead of their looks. While the juxtaposition of Nancy as the blue-eyed blonde and Ann as the raven-haired beauty attracted attention, they had the serious chops to the back it up.

“Being in a rock band is hard work. It’s a great job but it’s hard work. I think the challenge that my sister Nancy and I had in the beginning was credibility. When we started, there weren’t any other female-fronted bands. All along it’s been a matter of not taking no for an answer, and not falling victim to the things that so many young women do when they’re trying to get famous,” she says.

“Back when we first started in the 1970’s, if you complained about someone acting as they say now “inappropriately,” they just laughed at you because you were lucky to even get an appointment. It was so much different. Someone could just lay his hand on your butt or something and it was just to be expected. I am so happy that now it’s become inappropriate and it helps men to understand – it helps everyone to understand – that respect is earned.”

Wilson says she gets tired of women mistaking their sexuality for power, who claim to be feminists while saying “‘here are my breasts. They’re out in the world and I can jiggle them and shake them and twerk because I’m a feminist.’ No, that’s not what that means. I think a lot of young women get that mixed up. I’m going to sound like an old school feminist here, but as long as you’re tottering around on these super high stiletto “fuck me” heels and confusing sexuality with your power, then that’s the message that your sending. I’m not saying anyone deserves to be raped. I’m not saying anyone is asking for it. I’m saying that women act out and men get the message. If women say ‘hey, I don’t care what you think of me. I’m myself,’ they’re going to hear that.”

With over four decades in the rear view, Wilson is still bold and fearless with her music. She is grateful to share her voice and inspire women that standing up and being heard is worth fighting for.

About Liza Mitchell