Dear Guitar Hero: Nancy Wilson
Originally published in Guitar World, October 2010
She’s the guitarist for Heart, the wife of filmmaker Cameron Crowe and one of the most notable female ax slingers in rock. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…
Growing up, who were your guitar heroes? Were they all male, or did any female guitarists inspire you to play? —Sir John General
There have never been a lot of female guitarists out there, so most of my influences were male. Acoustically, I followed Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. Also, John Lennon and Paul McCartney—both incredible acoustic guitar players. And this might sound strange, but Elton John had a big impact on me. I used to transpose a lot of his piano parts to the guitar. Neil Young, too—one of my favorites on both acoustic and electric.
After Jimi Hendrix, Heart were the first act from Seattle to make a mark. Do you feel as though you’re overlooked as part of that city’s musical heritage? —Max Yagoda
I don’t think we’re overlooked as Seattle musicians. You know, there were so many great musicians who came out of the Seattle area before Jimi Hendrix—the Wailers [considered the first garage-rock group] and the Sonics are just some of them. Heart weren’t part of a movement like grunge; we were our own kind of movement. I think it’s extremely cool that we came from Seattle, and we became friends with so many musicians from the city.
Heart have had many members over the years. In your opinion, is the present lineup the best, or do you prefer a different era of the band? —Johnny Pasek
I think the present lineup is the best. Actually, this lineup has been together longer than the original Heart. I know that first impressions are usually the best, but I think the people who comprise Heart right now are just fantastic. We’ve played together long enough to have that kind of musical shorthand that you see with great bands. We jam, we wing it. There’s a great kind of ESP going on now that we never used to have.
I’m a mother of two, but I also play in a rock band. Do you find it hard to be a mom and a rocker at the same time? —Frances Ann
[laughs] Now, that’s a great question! The answer is definitely yes. But you know, I would say it’s hard to be a mother and any kind of career woman. Being a musician can be particularly difficult, though, because you have to travel so much. You don’t want to miss things as your kids grow up. You want to be around for their school functions and things. Sometimes you can take them on the road with you, but it’s not like they’re just footballs you can tuck under your arm. They’re people and they need to have their lives. Yes, it can be extremely hard to raise a family and have a rock band.
I hear a lot of different tunings in your music. Do you use a drop-D tuning? If so, when did you first hear that and who inspired you? —Fred Everly
Yes, I use a lot of drop-D, but I also use a double drop-D [DADGAD]. Those tunings are pretty standard in a lot of rootsy folk-rock music like Crosby, Stills and Nash. Neil Young, too, used a lot of those tunings. Jimmy Page was a big fan of drop-D and double drop-D. And Joni Mitchell—I don’t think she ever used standard tunings at all! [laughs]