How the Wilson Sisters Became Rock & Roll’s Leading Ladies

In the mid-’70s, two talented sisters, Ann and Nancy Wilson became the forefront of Heart, a classic rock band originally formed by men. Ann was the first to join as the group’s lead singer, and Nancy followed shortly after on the guitar. Together, the band sold over 35 million records worldwide and cracked the top 40 charts with hit after hit after hit.

The band ‘Heart’ posing together in a driveway / Ann and Nancy Wilson holding a rose / Ann and Nancy Wilson posing in a black and white photograph / Ann and Nancy Wilson today holding a guitar next to a staircase / Nancy Wilson performing in 1980 / Ann and Nancy Wilson on the red carpet today

Photo by Michael Putland, Getty Images / Michael Orchs Archives, Getty Images / Mark Sullivan, Contour, Getty Images / Kevin Winter, Getty Images / Gary Gershoff, Getty Images / Steve Granitz, WireImage, Getty Images

The Wilson sisters stood out on stage, and not just because of Ann’s vocals and Nancy’s skillful strumming. But because they were considered an oddity at the time. Two girls at the forefront of a rock band? It was different and refreshing. Ann explained, “It never occurred to us that we couldn’t be in a band, we had no concept of specific gender roles.”

But the path to success was a rocky one full of rumors, vicious tabloids, and many broken hearts. Here’s how it all began.

On Sundays, They Had Pancakes and Opera

Due to their father’s military career, the Wilson sisters spent part of their childhood in unique areas of the world. Both girls were born in California but followed their parents to bases in Panama and Taiwan. Their mother, Lou Wilson, was a concert pianist and choir singer and relied heavily on music to feel at home in those foreign countries.

Ann and Nancy Wilson posing together for a portrait

Photo by Fotos International / Getty Images

“There was no recognizable music there, so we made our own music, always.” She mentioned in Heart’s VH1 documentary. “We’d turn it way up and rock,” Nancy agreed, “There was everything from classical music to Ray Charles, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, bossa nova, and early experimental electronic music.” Ultimately, the family settled in Seattle in the early ‘60s.

Nancy, the Talented Whizfingers

In 1963, Ann came down with mono and missed three months of school. With a lot of free time on her hand, Ann was given a cheap guitar to play around with. But it was Nancy who fell in love with the instrument. She completely took over her sister’s guitar and amazed the family with her natural talent.

Nancy Wilson with her guitar on stage

Nancy Wilson. Photo by Clayton Call / Redferns / Getty Images

“I just ate it up, I couldn’t stop playing. I brought it in bed with me. I slept with it, literally. Not real comfortable, but it was symbolic to me. It was a romantic-symbolic thing. He was my first boyfriend,” Nancy mentioned. Her family eventually nicknamed the guitar prodigy – Whizfingers.

Ann’s Salvation Was Singing

Life wasn’t easy for 13-year-old Ann. She was transitioning into puberty and felt disconnected from her own body. “Hitting puberty, you’re either super confident and popular or ugly and hate yourself,” Ann admitted she saw herself as the latter. A terribly shy kid, Ann found herself stuttering and tripping over her words.

Ann Wilson performing in 1977

Photo by Bob Riha, Jr / Getty Images

Miraculously, the only time she released a smooth, unbroken phrase from her mouth was when she sang. So, she spent her teens performing in churches and knew from the start she would make singing her life’s work.

The Newspaper Ad That Changed Her Life

Ann jammed with a few Seattle bands until one day, she ran into a newspaper ad that changed the course of her life completely. The ad mentioned a band called Heart, and its members were looking for a lead singer. Ann contacted the guys and booked an audition.

The members of ‘Heart’ including Ann and Nancy Wilson posing together

Photo by Fotos International / Getty Images

According to Heart’s former guitarist, Roger Fisher, her performance was electric: “It was instant magic. It was a really powerful, good vibe.” Both Fisher and bass player Steve Fossen nodded their head in excitement. They knew they had found their singer.

It Was Love at First Sight

The ambitious musicians set off on an eight-month tour, and it was at one of their gigs that Ann met her first love, Michael Fisher. Michael was Roger’s brother, and he had come all the way from Canada to see his little brother in action.

Michael Fisher and Ann Wilson sitting on a train with a bag

Michael Fisher and Ann Wilson. Source: Twitter

For Ann, it was love at first sight, “I was sitting there on the dancefloor with a glass of wine and a big cigarette, and he and I looked at each other… and never stopped looking. It was just one look. It was pretty amazing.” Within six months, Ann quit the band and moved to Vancouver to be with him.

Michael Fisher, the Magic Man

Their time together in Canada was sweet and naïve. Exactly how you would imagine a first love to be. Their relationship inspired Ann to write one of Heart’s great songs, Magic Man. “Everything written in that song was biographical. My mom called me up and told me, boy, you sure left the house quick, you know… What’s going on up there.” Ann explained.

Ann and Nancy Wilson posing together on a wooden porch

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

After a couple of idyllic months together, the band was back in business. Michael Fisher became Heart’s official manager and set out with them on their exciting new journey into stardom. But, for Ann, one person was missing for Heart to be complete – Nancy.

It Took Time for Nancy to Join the Band

Nancy was a student in Oregon at the time, and although she was busy with college life, she knew deep down that her place was rocking on stage with Ann. But she put that off for a bit so she could learn to do things on her own.

The band Heart posing for a portrait

Photo Michael Putland / Getty Images

“I needed to hold that off and experience life without Ann for a little bit. So that I would have more to bring to the table when I came back.” Nancy told VH1. Ultimately, in January 1975, when Heart was offered a deal with Mushroom Records, Nancy took a huge leap and left college to join the group. According to Ann, Heart was now complete.

Roger Was Nuts About Nancy

“Roger was after me from the word go,” Nancy revealed. Although she wasn’t so enthusiastic about the guitarist at first, she eventually gave into it. “By the time I was 19 when I joined, I was ready for a little action,” she explained.

Nancy Wilson posing for a portrait with ‘80s style hair and fingerless mesh gloves / Roger Fisher performing

Photo by Aaron Rapoport, Corbis, Getty Images / Lynn Goldsmith, Corbis, VCG, Getty Images

Roger, on his end, was head over heels for the talented beauty. He couldn’t take his eyes off her as they played together on stage and felt he had to make a move. Ultimately, it was Nancy who leaned in for the first kiss: “I was really in love with her for a long time. And then one night, I walked her to the car. And she kissed me. And that was it. That was amazing.” Roger revealed.

Dreamboat Annie Was a Sinking Ship at First

It took Heart a year to make their first record, Dreamboat Annie. The band had also finalized their lineup, adding two more musicians to the bunch, guitarist Howard Leese and drummer Mike Derosier. When the record came out, the members waited eagerly for the crowd’s reaction, but it was far from what they hoped.

Nancy and Ann Wilson on stage performing 1977

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

There was barely any feedback. It didn’t catch on as they expected it would, and things were looking a bit stale. They were still performing, but the crowd felt dead. Heart was even fired from one of their gigs after Ann made a joke about the club’s food tasting like Lysol.

A Surprising Turn of Events

For a while, Heart felt disheartened and viewed their album as a total flop. But there was one place in Canada that seemed to disagree. Apparently, Montreal radio played Dreamboat Annie for weeks, and people wanted to see them live.

The band stretching and preparing to go on stage

Photo by Richard McCaffrey / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

The band went from total despair to total disbelief when they were called to perform as Rod Stewart’s opening act at the Montreal Forum. When they got up on stage, the crowd already knew the lyrics to their songs. Steve Fossen mentioned he had goosebumps the whole night.

The Suggestive Publicity Stunt

Dreamboat Annie ended up selling over a million copies, and, for a brief moment, everything felt perfect. But an ugly publicity stunt put a halt to their second album. When Ann and Nancy opened up Rolling Stone Magazine in late 1976, they couldn’t believe their eyes.

Ann and Nancy Wilson posing together in a black and white photograph

Photo by Mark Sullivan / Contour / Getty Images

They saw a tabloid placed by their record label with both of them standing back-to-back, naked, and underneath them, a headline that read: “It was only our first time.” The girls were infuriated. They knew how the tabloid made them look – like two lesbian sisters.

A Big Mushroom Cloud

The sisters wanted out of their contract with Mushroom Records but firing them was no easy deal. The label decided to fight back, and the war between Heart and Mushroom began. Mushroom threatened to take some of Heart’s unreleased tracks, add some live performances, and release it as an album without their consent.

The band Heart posing together in rock style clothing

Photo by Steve Rapport / Getty Images

The ugly ordeal was settled in court. The battle between the band and the record label lasted two excruciating years. Eventually, in 1977, Mushroom Records released the band’s second album, titled “Magazine.” Heart put their past behind them and signed with Portrait Records.

The Idiot Behind Barracuda

As much as the suggestive ad was humiliating and inappropriate, it helped create one of Heart’s greatest songs – Barracuda. According to Ann, the story goes like this: After one of Heart’s shows, she ran into a fan who clumsily came up to her and asked, “So Annie, how’s it going, babe? How’s your lover?”

Ann and Nancy Wilson posing outside of a building in Japan

Photo by Koh Hasebe / Shinko Music / Getty Images

Ann thought he was talking about Michael, so she answered that all is well with her and Fisher. Of course, the reckless fan referred to Nancy, so he replied, “No, no, your sister. You and your sister.” Ann got so mad, she instantly went back to the hotel and wrote the words to Barracuda.

Roger Cheated on Nancy, and Heart Began to Bleed

In 1978, Heart released their fourth platinum album, Dog and Butterfly, so career-wise, things looked great. But in their personal lives, Heart was bleeding to death. Nancy found out that Roger had cheated on her, and she decided to end their relationship.

Nancy Wilson and Roger Fisher posing together at an event

Nancy Wilson and Roger Fisher. Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Roger recalled, “It’s so amazing for a person to look back on their life to a time when they had everything going for them. Just the dream come true, and then they mess it up with drugs and alcohol. And the ability to be unfaithful. But I did. And when Nancy found out, it was such a tragedy. A real shame.”

Nancy Fell in Love With the Drummer

Nancy fell out of love with Roger and deeply in love with fellow bandmate Mike Drosier. It took a while for Drosier to pick up on Nancy’s loving gestures. But by the time they were out on the road promoting Dog and Butterfly in 1979, they were an official couple.

Nancy and Mike sitting by a lake

Nancy Wilson and Mike Drosier. Source: Pinterest

Understandably, Roger was incredibly bitter about the whole thing, and he shot deadly stares at Nancy on stage. “I would be standing there in front of twenty thousand people, hopelessly in love with this beautiful, gifted person next to you who’s in love with the drummer. God, that was just the most difficult thing I had ever gone through,” Roger confessed.

The Great Kabong Incident

It was hard for Roger to act like a “happy camper” on stage, so he finally cracked after weeks of keeping it together. He smashed his guitar on stage in Portland: “I was falling apart, and my guitar wasn’t staying in tune, and I just lost it.”

Roger Fisher and Howard Leese of Heart performing

Roger Fisher and Howard Leese performing in LA on July 15th, 1977. Photo by Bob Riha Jr / Getty Images

While some musicians smash things on stage for show purposes, Roger wrecked his guitar because he didn’t care anymore. The sisters viewed his behavior as disastrous and dangerous and decided to vote Roger out of the band.

Goodbye Fisher Brothers

After nearly ten years, Ann and Michael’s relationship came to a heart-breaking end. According to Ann, Michael fell in love with someone else. “I asked him do you love her? And he said yes, I think I do. And that was all I needed to hear,” she revealed.

Nancy and Ann Wilson holding gold records and a rose

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

The singer understood that she had to part with him and leave that part of her life behind. She cried all day, packed her things, walked out the door, and never came back. The Wilson sisters and the Fisher brothers’ romantic fairytale had come to an end.

Nancy’s Love Life Interfered, and the Band Fell Apart

In 1980, after the release of their album Bébé le Strange, Nancy’s relationship with Derosier began to fall apart. “I was in love with him, but it was a one-way street. And I was so heartbroken over that. But I guess it served me right after what I did to Roger,” she reflected.

Roger Fisher, Nancy, and other members of Heart posing together

Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

When the band came together in the fall of 1981 to record their next album, Private Audition, the members’ private lives interfered with the band’s creations. Steve Fossen admitted that “everything on that album was out of whack.” After Private Audition, the Wilson sisters fired both Fossen and Derosier.

Nancy and Ann’s Wake Up Call

The Wilson sisters knew it was time to bring new players into the field. They hired bass player Mark Andies and drummer Andy Karmasky to try and revive Heart. They recorded Heart’s seventh album, Passionworks, in 1983, and, sadly, it was a miss.

Nancy and Ann Wilson posing with curly hair

Photo by Frank Edwards / Fotos International / Getty Images

Passionworks barely cracked the top 40, and Heart’s record label decided to part ways with them. It was a troubling time and a huge wake-up call for the Wilson sisters, who understood now that success is indeed a slippery slope.

Nancy Felt Cameron Was the One for Her

Nancy met her former husband, Cameron Crowe, through a mutual friend. She was still a bit heartbroken from her breakup with Derosier and wasn’t too hopeful about meeting someone new. But her friend insisted she meets Cameron, so she eventually agreed.

Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson posing together on the red carpet

Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson. Photo by SGranitz / WireImage / Getty Images

When Nancy met him, she knew they would get along. She viewed him as an intelligent and talented man who, thankfully, wasn’t a rock star: “He’s not a rock guy. But he’s been on rock tours, and he gets the life,” she explained.

Capitol Records Were Extremely Skeptical

In January 1985, Heart signed with Capitol Records. But Don Grierson (Capitol’s former executive) admitted that many people at the record label were really wary about the deal. People at the label viewed Heart as a group of “has-beens.”

The band Heart posing playfully in front of wooden siding to a home

Photo by Michael Putland / Getty Images

But Heart proved them wrong. Their self-titled ninth album was an incredible success and had four top ten singles. One of them, These Dreams, hit number one. The guys at Capitol could not have been more wrong about the band. Heart clearly had a lot more to bring to the table.

They Felt They Lost Their Souls

With the help of designers and photographers, the Wilson sisters adopted a new, glamorous look. But they didn’t feel comfortable about it. They were expected to look sexy, but that was the last thing Ann and Nancy cared about.

Ann and Nancy Wilson posing in front of a tree by the lake

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

“We were always sexual beings on stage. But then, when it becomes an expectation, you want to rebel. Then you don’t want to be a sex symbol. Then you don’t want to play dress up.” Nancy explained. The girls felt like they were losing touch with their real, creative selves.

Ann’s Weight Became an Issue

As Heart toured the world and promoted their new album, the media fired hurtful remarks about Ann’s looks. It was evident to everyone that she had gained weight, and the comments relentlessly mocked her about it. Even the people close to her, the ones trying to market the band, saw her weight as a problem.

Ann and Nancy Wilson posing outdoors for a photograph

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

“No matter how much energy or heart or soul I poured into my singing. How much emotion and sincerity I did it with? In the morning, there would be this review like, “oh, what’s wrong with her? How tragic,” Ann explained.

Ann Experienced Panic Attacks on Stage

The public’s nasty remarks took over Ann’s mind, and she began to develop panic attacks on stage. Singing and performing had been Ann’s way of freeing her mind. But now, it was the source of her pain and shame. Sadly, the singer’s insecurity got the best of her.

Ann Wilson performing

Photo by Rick Diamond / Getty Images

Nancy tried to get her sister out of it: “She [Ann] would get into a feared spiral, and her eyes would glaze over at me [on stage], and I would be like ‘come on come on.’ I figured out ways to snap her out of it,” she revealed.

Motherhood Grounded Ann

After they finished recording their 1991 album, Brigade, the Wilson sisters knew it was time to pack their bags and head home. Both girls needed a break from everything. That same year, Ann adopted her first child, a daughter whom she named Marie Lamoureaux Wilson.

Nancy, Marie, Dustin, and Ann Wilson posing together on the red carpet

Nancy, Marie, Dustin, and Ann Wilson 2009. Photo by Lester Cohen / WireImage / Getty Images

In 1998, Ann adopted her second child, Dustin. For Ann, motherhood has been the most grounding and centering experience of her life. She finds the commitment, hard work, and devotion involved in parenthood to be healing.

They Felt Free With The Lovemongers

In the mid-’90s, Ann and Nancy formed an acoustic band along with Sue Ennis and Frank Cox called The Lovemongers. Ann mentioned their time with The Lovemongers was truly fulfilling because they felt they could do whatever they wanted. She described it as a “pallet cleanser.”

Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson, and Sue Ennis saying goodbye to their parents before going on tour

Ann and Nancy Wilson with Sue Ennis saying goodbye to their parents before leaving on tour. Photo by Roger Ressmeyer / Corbis / VCG / Getty Images

The Lovemongers released an album titled Whirlygig (1997) and a holiday collection of Christmas song titled Here is Christmas (1998). Whirlygig was reviewed as a record “that will likely appeal to fans of both Heart’s earlier and later material.”

Nancy and Cameron’s Divorce Shocked Everyone

In 2010, Nancy startled fans when she filed for divorce from Cameron. Headlines read: “If Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson Can’t Stay Married, Who Can?” Vanity Fair called their marriage “The north star we all looked up to.” So, what happened to the couple after 24 years of marriage?

Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson posing together on the red carpet

Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris / WireImage / Getty Images

“Irreconcilable differences” was said to be the reason for their separation. Apparently, the two were living separately long before they finalized the divorce (two years!).

Nancy Pays Tribute to Eddie Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen

Nancy is planning on releasing a solo album titled You and Me in April 2021. The album will feature collaborations with Sammy Hagar, Duff McKagan, and Taylor Hawkins from The Foo Fighters. The record’s first single, “The Rising,” is Nancy’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s song.

Nancy and Ann performing indoors for a television program in 2007

Photo by Bill Tompkins / Getty Images

Another track on the album, “For Edward,” is dedicated to Eddie Van Halen. Nancy explained it’s about the time when she gifted Eddie his first acoustic guitar. They toured together in the ‘80s, and when Nancy discovered he didn’t have his own, she bought him one!

What the Girls Thought of Sarah Palin’s Use of Barracuda

Barracuda was played at the 2008 Republican National Convention, as a play on Sarah Palin’s high school nickname “Sarah Baracuda.” The Wilson sisters were pretty annoyed (to say the least) that the Republican campaign used their song. They claimed, “Sarah Palin’s views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women.”

Nancy and Ann Wilson posing on the red carpet in 2003

Photo by Donato Sardella / WireImage / Getty Images

But one Heart member was more than pleased to hear the hit song booming from the speakers again. Roger Fisher called it a win-win situation and was thrilled because it gave Heart publicity and royalties while benefiting the Republicans with a “kick-a** song.”

Ann’s Husband Assaulted Nancy’s Children

On August 26th, 2016, Heart performed at Washington’s Amphitheatre, Auburn. While things looked good on stage, backstage was a different story. Ann’s husband, Dean Wetter, physically assaulted Nancy’s twins after they accidentally left the door to Ann’s tour bus open.

Ann Wilson with Dean Wetter on the red carpet in 2018

Photo by Sylvain Gaboury / Patrick Mullan / Getty Images

According to one detective, “Dean became immediately upset and began calling [one of the teens] names … slapping him on the back of the head, causing pain.” Things got so heated up to the point where Dean practically choked them to death. He was arrested and charged with two counts of assault.

Two Former Heart Members Sued the Hall of Fame

When Heart was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, two band members were left out. Bassist Mark Andes and drummer Dennis Carmassi were active members for more than a decade, yet they weren’t invited to the party.

The band ‘Heart’ posing together with Mr. T

The band ‘Heart’ and Mr. T backstage 1983. Photo by Paul Natkin / Getty Images

The former members were furious and sued the institution. Hall of Fame CEO Joel Peresman replied that the committee felt like the original members should be present, and he’s “sorry if these others feel this isn’t right.” When Ann and Nancy went on stage that night, they mentioned, “They should be here. They really should be here.”

Where Is Ann Wilson Today?

Ann came out with her latest solo album, Immortal, in 2018. The reasoning behind her album’s title: “As my understanding of what I had undertaken grew and clarified, I realized a larger truth: That the souls may have departed, but the songs will forever be their resonances.”

Ann Wilson performing in 2015

Ann Wilson. Photo by Kevin Mazur / WireImage / Getty Images

Recently, Ann has released a new song, Tender Heart. It’s a genuine, soft-rock ballad that came out of a personal struggle. “This song is for the soul whose heart is blindsided by reality but is still soft and innocent,” she explained.

Is It Easier to Be a Woman Rocker?

While it’s normal for men rockers to have groupies throw themselves at them, being a female rocker is quite different. When Rolling Stone magazine asked the girls if they’ve ever had trouble with hysterical fans, Ann answered:

Heart filming a music video circa 1982

Photo by Richard Creamer / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

“We’re not really into it, and men, generally, are too proud for that. I don’t think they’re quite as quick to lay themselves at a girl’s feet.” Ann concluded that, in that sense, “it’s easier to be a woman in rock.”