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“Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson are the creative spark behind Heart, a rock group who initially found success in the mid-’70s via guitar-heavy radio hits like “Magic Man” and “Barracuda,” only to reach greater heights after engineering a major pop comeback a decade later. Drawing from progressive rock, hard rock, and folk, the band’s 1976 debut, Dreamboat Annie, and 1977 sophomore effort, Little Queen, helped establish Heart as a hard-hitting hitmaking machine with both hooks and attitude. Their eponymous eighth album, 1985’s Heart, reached quintuple platinum status via more mainstream fare such as “Alone,” “What About Love?,” and “These Dreams,” the latter of which scored the band its first number one single. Heart managed to land Top Ten albums in each of the band’s four decades, despite taking a break in the late ’90s to pursue other interests — the Wilsons did release a pair of roots-oriented LPs under the moniker the Lovemongers in 1997 and 1998. Upon reconvening in 2004 with Jupiters Darling, Heart went on to issue a string of successful albums, culminating in their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
The daughters of a Marine Corps captain, Ann (born June 19, 1950) and Nancy Wilson (born March 16, 1954) grew up in both Southern California and Taiwan before the Wilson family settled in Seattle, Washington. Throughout their formative years, both were interested in folk and pop music; while Ann never took any formal music lessons as a child (she later learned to play several instruments), Nancy took up guitar and flute. After both sisters spent some time at college, they decided to try their hand as professional musicians, and while Nancy began performing as a folksinger, Ann joined the all-male vocal group Heart.
Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Heart was actually formed in 1963 by bassist Steve Fossen and brothers Roger Fisher and Mike Fisher; initially dubbed the Army, they later became White Heart before settling on simply Heart at the beginning of the ’70s. After her arrival in the group, Ann became romantically involved with guitarist Mike Fisher; when Nancy joined in 1974, she in turn began a relationship with guitarist Roger Fisher. Soon after Nancy‘s arrival, Mike Fisher retired from active performing to become the band’s sound engineer. After gaining a following in Vancouver, Heart were approached by Shelly Siegel, the owner of the Canadian label Mushroom and, augmented by keyboardist Howard Leese and drummer Michael Derosier, they recorded their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, in 1975.
After selling more than 30,000 copies north of the border, Mushroom issued the LP in the U.S., where it quickly achieved platinum status on the strength of the hit singles “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man.” In 1977, Heart jumped ship to the CBS affiliate Portrait, resulting in a protracted legal battle with Siegel, who in 1978 released the unfinished LP Magazine on Mushroom shortly after the band issued its true follow-up, Little Queen, on Portrait. The single “Barracuda” was another massive hit, and like its predecessor, Little Queen sold over a million copies.
After 1978’s Dog & Butterfly, both of the Wilson/Fisher romances ended and Roger Fisher left the group. In 1980, Heart issued Bebe le Strange; following a lengthy U.S. tour, both Fossen and Derosier exited and were replaced by ex-Spirit and Firefall bassist Mark Andes and former Gamma drummer Denny Carmassi. After 1982’s Private Audition and 1983’s Passionworks slumped, the group was largely written off by industry watchers, and moved to Capitol Records.
In 1985, however, Heart emerged with a self-titled effort that ultimately sold more than five million copies on its way to launching four Top Ten hits: “What About Love?,” “Never,” the chart-topping “These Dreams,” and “Nothin’ at All.” Arriving in 1987, Bad Animals continued their comeback success; “Alone” was another number one hit, and both “Who Will You Run To” and “There’s the Girl” achieved considerable airplay as well. Brigade, issued in 1990, featured the number two smash “All I Want to Do Is Make Love to You” as well as the Top 25 hits “I Didn’t Want to Need You” and “Stranded.” In the early ’90s, the Wilson sisters took a brief hiatus from Heart to form the Lovemongers, an acoustic quartet fleshed out by Sue Ennis and Frank Cox; in 1992, they issued a four-song EP that included a cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “The Battle of Evermore.” Heart returned in 1993 with Desire Walks On, on which Andes and Carmassi were replaced with bassist Fernando Saunders and drummer Denny Fongheiser. With 1995’s The Road Home, Heart enlisted onetime Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones to produce a live acoustic set, reprising hits like “Dreamboat Annie,” “Crazy on You,” and “Barracuda.”
Heart were on hiatus by the late ’90s, as the Wilson sisters concentrated on the Lovemongers, issuing a pair of albums: 1997’s Whirlygig and 1998’s Here Is Christmas. But Heart weren’t completely silent: they were the subject of one of the better episodes of VH1’s Behind the Music; a pair of best-of sets were issued (1998’s Greatest Hits covered their early classics, while their later years were spotlighted on 2000’s Greatest Hits: 1985-1995), and their music continued to pop up in movie soundtracks (2000’s The Virgin Suicides, among others). In 1999, Nancy released her first solo album, Live at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and a year later penned the score to her husband Cameron Crowe‘s hit motion picture Almost Famous, while Ann continued to play with others — in the summer of 2001, she participated in the A Walk Down Abbey Road: A Tribute to the Beatles tour, which also featured Todd Rundgren, John Entwistle (the Who), and Alan Parsons (the Alan Parsons Project). Heart returned to active recording for Jupiters Darling, released on Sovereign Artists in 2004, and issued Dreamboat Annie Live (a live performance of tracks from the band’s debut album, recorded in Los Angeles in 2007) three years later. Red Velvet Car, an all-new collection of original material, was released in August 2010.
Heart picked up the pace in 2012. In June, Legacy released the retrospective box set Strange Euphoria. In September, the Wilson sisters became authors with the publication of their memoir, Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll. Capping off the year was Fanatic, a collection of all-new studio material that appeared in October. A seasonal Christmas album, Home for the Holidays, appeared in 2014. The Wilson sisters and a host of collaborators completed the recording of a new album in early 2016. Entitled Beautiful Broken (for a bonus cut from Fanatic), the album included ten tracks that balanced new material and re-recordings of songs that originally appeared on albums between 1980-1984 — the band felt they weren’t captured correctly the first time. The set also featured a guest appearance from Metallica‘s James Hetfield on the title cut. Beautiful Broken was released by Concord in July.” – Jason Ankeny, AllMusic
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
“By playing pure and simple rock & roll without making an explicit issue of her gender, Joan Jett became a figurehead for several generations of female rockers. Jett‘s brand of rock & roll is loud and stripped-down, yet with overpowering hooks — a combination of the Stones‘ tough, sinewy image and beat, AC/DC chords, and glam rock hooks. As the numerous covers she has recorded show, she adheres both to rock tradition and breaks with it — she plays classic three-chord rock & roll, yet she also loves the trashy elements (in particular, Gary Glitter) of it as well, and she plays with a defiant sneer. From her first band, the Runaways, through her hit-making days in the ’80s with the Blackhearts right until her unexpected revival in the ’90s, she hasn’t changed her music, yet she’s kept her quality control high, making one classic single (“I Love Rock ‘n Roll”) along the way.
Jett was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 12 years old. By the time she was 15, she had formed her first band and was performing around town. Kim Fowley, a Los Angeles record producer, discovered the band at one of their gigs and became their manager; soon, he renamed the all-female group the Runaways and secured them a contract with Mercury Records. The band released three albums that never had much commercial success in America, yet were very popular in Japan; the group was popular in both the Los Angeles hard rock and punk scenes, which led to Jett‘s production of the Germs‘ first record, (GI). The Runaways group broke up in 1980 and Jett moved to New York to begin a solo career.
Teaming up with producer/manager Kenny Laguna, Jett independently released her self-titled debut album in 1980 in America, since no labels were interested in signing her. The record was a more traditional rock & roll record than the punky Runaways, yet it retained her previous band’s defiant attitude. The record sold very well for an independent release, leading to a contract with Boardwalk Records, who reissued the album under the title Bad Reputation; it soon climbed to number 51 on the American charts.
Jett formed the Blackhearts between Bad Reputation and her second album, 1981’s I Love Rock-n-Roll; the group included guitarist Ricky Byrd, bassist Gary Ryan, and drummer Lee Crystal. Released at the end of 1981, I Love Rock-n-Roll became her greatest success, sending her into the Top Ten. Originally the B-side of an Arrows single, the title track was an enormous success, spending seven weeks at number one in the spring of 1982. The follow-up single, a version of Tommy James & the Shondells‘ “Crimson and Clover,” went Top Ten as well; a single of Gary Glitter‘s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” taken from the Bad Reputation album, reached number 20 in the summer of 1982. Album, released in 1983, went gold yet had no hits that compared with either “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” or “Crimson and Clover.”
Jett starred in Paul Schrader‘s 1987 film Light of Day, which featured the Top 40 title song, yet she didn’t have another Top Ten hit until 1988, when “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” taken from the Up Your Alley album, hit number eight; the album became her second platinum record. After the album’s success, her career had another slow period, with 1990’s all-covers album The Hit List making it to number 36 and 1991’s Notorious failing to chart. Between Notorious and 1994’s Pure and Simple, a new generation of female rockers came of age and everyone from hard alternative rockers like L7 to the minimalist riot grrrl punk rockers like Bikini Kill claimed Jett and the Runaways as an influence. As a consequence, Pure and Simple received more press and positive reviews than any of her albums since the mid-’80s. In 1995, Jett recorded the live album Evilstig with the remaining members of the Gits, a Seattle punk rock band whose lead singer, Mia Zapata, was raped and murdered in 1993. Jett reunited with the Blackhearts for the 1999 album Fetish, and in 2006 Sinner, a return to her punk roots (and ten of whose 14 songs were found on the 2004 Japanese-only record Naked), came out. The next few years were spent touring with spots on the Warped Tour and as an opening act for bands like Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, and Green Day. When Jett returned with a new album, it was with touring guitarist Dougie Needles, longtime drummer Thommy Price, and even longer-time associate Kenny Laguna all on board. 2013’s Unvarnished represented a stunning return to the form of the early days of the Blackhearts and featured a song produced and co-written with Dave Grohl.” – Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AllMusic
When it came time for Elle King to choose a title for the follow-up to her 2015 gold-certified debut album Love Stuff, she thought, “How do I sum up ‘The year I lost my fucking mind’ in an album title?’” she says. “Because that’s really what this record is about. I decided to call it Shake The Spirit because I was shaken to the core over the last year and half. I was literally talking to ghosts. But making this album not only changed my life, it saved my life. It’s like when you see somebody who is struggling, what do you want to do? You want to shake them! Putting this record out is like shaking myself awake.”
Over the past few years, King seemed to be leading the charmed life of a rising star. Love Stuff — a sultry mix of rock and roll, blues, and country, with a twinge of pop — featured the breakthrough single “Ex’s & Oh’s,” which earned her two Grammy nominations and was certified double platinum. The track, about leaving behind a string of brokenhearted exes, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs Chart, and topped the AAA, Hot AC, and Alternative Radio charts, leading King to become the second female artist in 18 years to reach No. 1 at the latter format. Other career highlights included performing for President Obama at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors, being featured on Dierks Bentley’s Grammy-nominated No. 1 Country Airplay hit “Different For Girls” (she performed it with Bentley at the CMA Awards and took home an award for “Musical Event of the Year”), and seeing “Ex’s & Oh’s” featured on Kidz Bop. (“Whenever I was having a bad day, I’d watch videos people sent me of their kids singing along to my song,” she says.) King earned critical accolades — The New York Times described the Ohio-born, New York-raised artist as “a sassy, hard-drinking, love-’em-and-leave-’em hellion with bad tattoos and a broad pedigree across rock, pop, and country. She has Adele’s determination and Joan Jett’s stomp, Brenda Lee’s high-voiced bite, and some AC/DC shriek.”
For three years, King worked tirelessly to promote Love Stuff, performing on every morning and late- night talk show and touring the world, during which time she says, “I partied harder than anybody and their brother and their brother’s cousin. I was staying up later than everybody else and still getting up earlier than everybody else. I’d play a show, take a red-eye, wake up, do a morning show, and never cancel a performance.”
Though King’s hard work was paying off professionally, personally, she was falling apart. “I was struggling with mental health issues and exhaustion and literally felt like I was losing my mind,” she says. “I was so lonely and broken and desperate for love that I was reaching out for anything.” Then the day before the 2016 Grammy’s, King secretly eloped with a man she had met in London three weeks before. The marriage unraveled quickly, marked by substance and physical abuse. “It was happening behind closed doors on the back of the tour bus. It was really scary and made me start to keep everything inside because I couldn’t tell anyone we were married.” After the couple separated, King suffered from PTSD, became severely depressed, and took to self-medicating. “I was struggling and I wasn’t really able to talk to anyone because the nature of everything was so dark that people started to pull away from me,” she says.
King left the couple’s home in Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles with the intention of staying in a detox facility, followed by rehab, but left after seven days. “I convinced everyone I was cured and, I’ll be damned, everyone believed me,” she says. She arrived in L.A. with one suitcase “and a bad habit.” She also reached out to the members of her band, The Brethren, about reconvening to write a new record. “My band are not hired guns,” she says. “They are my family. These characters changed me as a musician and helped make me the person I am. They didn’t give up on me in literally my darkest and most insane time.”
A natural-born story-teller, King can reel off multiple highly engaging tales about making Shake The Spirit, but here are the facts: The album was written and recorded with The Brethren partly in Los Angeles and partly in a small studio in rural Denton, Texas, with King herself producing many of the tracks. She wrote most of the songs on her own, but did work with a few key collaborators including Tim Pagnotta (on the album’s first single “Shame”) and Greg Kurstin (on “Baby Outlaw” and the ballad “Runaway”). “Greg has his own studio, but he came to my crazy house where I had a pinball machine, pink and blue shag carpet, three fucking pianos, and disco lights, and he didn’t judge me,” she says of the producer, who has written hits with Sia and Adele. “I have video of him playing drums in a sombrero and me in leopard pants and a disco top recording ‘Baby Outlaw’ and having a great time. He made me feel very comfortable.” During the process, King learned to play bass, which she credits with changing the way she listened to music, “which changed the way I wrote music,” she says. “I started writing songs on bass guitar and it set a different groove. I was so emotional and had such big feelings, they all just kind of came through me.”
Shake The Spirit is an album that transcends its influences, with emotionally cathartic songs that manage to be both witty and vulnerable (from “It Girl”: “In middle school I wasn’t very cool / but slutty girls taught me the golden rule”). They are also relentlessly candid. On “Man’s Man,” King cops to infidelity while calling out an ex’s transgressions. On “Sober,” she insists she’s fine and will fix everything when she’s clean. On “Good Thing Gone,” which was written during a particularly stressful time in her marriage, King laments its demise. “Look at this good love we’ve wasted,” she sings.
For King, the highlight of the album is its gutsy final track, “Little Bit of Lovin’” — an uplifting song about emerging hopeful after a breakdown. “The original lyrics were, ‘I don’t need nobody. I don’t need no one. There just ain’t no lovin’ left in this heart of mine,’” she says. “I looked at them and thought, ‘You know that’s not true, Elle, and you don’t want to put that out into the world.’ So I changed it to, ‘But I still got a little bit of lovin’ left in me.’ When I sang it with the band for the first time, I felt this joy coming through me. I’ll never forget it. Instead of having an out-of-body experience, I had an into-my- body experience. I felt myself snap into my body and I fell to my knees and burst into tears. I just started weeping. And I looked up at my bassist and he looked at me and he said, ‘It’s really nice to see you again, Elle.’”
King views Shake The Spirit as an evolution not only of herself as a musician and writer but “as a human being,” she says. “This music is truly me. I said what I wanted and what I believed in and I really wouldn’t take a step back. It’s exciting for me to show people that you can struggle, but if you don’t give up on yourself you can get through things and become a better person. I have my year and a half summed up in one crazy-ass, goddamn album and I’m proud of that. I’m ready to bare my spirit and soul and heart and hardships to the world and say, ‘You know what? I got through it. And this is how I did it.’”