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Before Tampa show, Ann Wilson talks Heart's hiatus, living in Florida and covering the dead

JEFF DALY   |   Invision/Associated Press (2016) Ann Wilson of Heart performs at the Perfect Vodka Amphitheater on Friday, September 23, 2016 in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo by Jeff Daly/Invision/AP)
JEFF DALY | Invision/Associated Press (2016) Ann Wilson of Heart performs at the Perfect Vodka Amphitheater on Friday, September 23, 2016 in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo by Jeff Daly/Invision/AP)
Published Aug. 23, 2018

Ann Wilson wants to offer fans a deal.

"I think that the audience has every right to hear me sounding great and being really happy about what I'm doing," the singer said by phone from a recent tour stop in Indianapolis. "So for 45 minutes, we can strike up a bargain that they get to hear Barracuda, and then I get to do what I want. I respect the audience a lot, and if it was a good 75-minute set or two-hour set, I would do a lot more Heart stuff. But I just don't have time right now."

Some fans might want to hear more from the band that got the platinum-throated Wilson to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But on her tour with Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers, which hits Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Sunday, she's singing mostly covers, including a few from her forthcoming album Immortal, a collection of songs by deceased friends and heroes like Tom Petty and Chris Cornell.

The familial tensions that have put Heart on hiatus might have something to do with her setlist choices. Wilson and her sister Nancy haven't played together since 2016, when Ann's husband, according to Rolling Stone, allegedly assaulted Nancy's teenage sons in a backstage altercation at a gig near their hometown of Seattle. He pleaded guilty to two lesser assault charges to avoid jail time, but the damage to Heart had been done.

Wilson, 68, said she believes she and Nancy will play together again, though she doesn't know when. She also makes a point of noting her solo band "is really the best band I've been in, in terms of what they can do." Hmm.

Before the show in Tampa, Wilson talked about covering the dead, touring with Beck and Rodgers and her recent move from Seattle to Jacksonville.

Do you feel like a Florida person now that you've got a place here?

Yeah, more or less. I certainly like the weather way, way more than Seattle. I love to swim, and you can do a lot more swimming up there in my new house than you can in Seattle.

Chris Cornell, who you were close with, had a home in Miami near the end of his life. Florida just feels like a million miles from Seattle in every way — physical, emotional, spiritual. Does it seem that way to you?

Yeah, it does feel a lot different. It almost feels like another country. I don't really want to get into politics, because Miami is not like a lot of other parts of Florida, politically, but up where we live, it's pretty different. You can't get much more different.

You and Paul Rodgers are two of the premiere singers from your generation. Have you guys talked about the longevity of your voices?

Most singers have some kind voodoo that they practice to keep themselves able to do it. Paul doesn't allow any smoke anywhere in the backstage area — no incense smoke, no candles, no smoking, no smells. He doesn't even like scents around him. And he's extremely health-conscious. He does a lot of exercise and meditation, a lot of breathing and chanting and things like that to get going. I'm more of a drink-lots-of-water, get-lots-of-sleep, take-Vitamin-C and warm-up-before-the-gig girl.

How did you cultivate your reputation for being a great cover artist? Immortal is the latest example, but Heart has done a lot of covers; you famously did a Led Zeppelin tour with Jason Bonham a few years back.

The world is full of great, great songs. I don't really give a damn whether I wrote the song or somebody else did. If it's a really good song, I get joy out of singing it. I look back at my parents' generation and all the singers they loved — Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Eydie Gorme, Frank Sinatra. They didn't write songs. They were singing other people's songs because they were great songs. So that's where I stand on it. If you can make a song better, if you can really take it somewhere, then it's worth doing.

Are you good at karaoke?

(laughs) I've done some karaoke in my past. When I was still drinking. But I was never particularly good at it.

Singing songs exclusively by deceased artists seems like it could take you to some dark places. Did it?

No, not at all. The darkest experience I had was with Amy Winehouse's song Back to Black, which I take out of the Motown groove that Amy had it in, and make it sound more Gothic, just uncover the darkness of the words. That was really fun.

Has the Immortal process made you think any differently about your own legacy?

Totally, yeah. It's helped me to stretch out and imagine the world beyond the songs that I wrote with Nancy for Heart. Some of them are really good songs. And I'm not taking anything away from them. But as a singer, I really need to stretch out and go higher. This project has really helped me do that a lot.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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