Earlier on this leg of her solo tour, Ann Wilson was slated to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which was going to include a couple of her greatest hits. Then Chris Cornell died. Wilson, and her sister Nancy were the unofficial godmothers of the Seattle rock scene. Losing the Soundgarden frontman, a longtime friend, had a devastating impact on the singer.
“Chris inspired me because he was a great person and he was an artistic nomad,” Wilson says over the phone before a show in Kansas City. “He never stopped moving. That inspired me a lot. When he was done, he was done. He was never going to fade away.”
The morning following Cornell’s death, Wilson and her band set out to pay tribute to their fallen friend. The result? A stirring rendition of “Black Hole Sun” that managed to capture the spirit of the song in that spellbinding version. The unplanned performance was one of the musical highlights of Kimmel this year.
“We were going to play something else, then we got the news about Chris that morning,” she explains. “Our heads were spinning around, but it was pretty spur of the moment. But, a good song is a good song. Just like ‘I Am the Highway,’ it had the most incredibly cool words and he was doing vocal gymnastics with it. It hit really hard.”
To many, Wilson will forever be paired with her sister Nancy as the faces of Heart, and with good reason. The duo defied the machismo of rock at the onset of their career to put together a stellar run that eventually landed them in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Though relations with her sister are frosty, Wilson has soldiered on with her solo material.
The subsequent live shows have rejuvenated the singer. Mixing Heart favorites like “Barracuda” and “Crazy on You,” covers like the Who’s “The Real Me” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” along with a few new songs, Wilson wasn’t quite sure how the material would be received. Yet, as each night as gone on without problem, she’s grown more confident and continues to be pleasantly surprised by the reception.
“It’s gaining momentum and so much more than I thought it would be by this time,” she says. “I thought I’d have to talk people into having to like it because it wasn’t Heart. When they come, I don’t to convince. They’re actually right there for it.”
Unlike the larger shows Heart plays, Wilson’s current string of shows are in more intimate setting. Sometimes, someone with the rock legend status that Wilson has could scoff at leveling down. Performing in smaller theaters, however, is inspired by a more direct and intimate connection with fans.
“I can see the whites in people’s eyes and make a connection with them,” she explains. “I don’t feel like I have to be an entertainer as much or work so hard as I do when they’re so far away.”
Her show at The Grove is her last of this current stretch, but Wilson has two more legs of this tour still to go. During those three-week stretches when she’s at her home right outside of Jacksonville, Fla., the singer is busy working and writing new material that will comprise new EPs instead of a full-length. That doesn’t even include the three different literary ideas she and her graphic designer husband are working on, which include a children’s book, a second autobiography and the story of their relationship.
Although many of her hard rocking peers are either retired or fallen by the wayside, Wilson continues to push herself creatively instead of just playing the hits. Sure, the Heart catalog isn’t going anywhere, but as she say…
“The minute you stop really striving, that’s when you start to die,” Wilson says. “You just have to keep on fighting the whole time or otherwise you can say, ‘That’s it folks,’ and go play some golf. Nothing against golf, but I can’t do that.”
Ann Wilson performs at the City National Grove of Anaheim on July 2. For more details and tickets, click here.