Ann Wilson is one of the premier hard-rock vocalists of all time. Smashing boundaries with longstanding Seattle outfit Heart, she's enjoyed a decades-long career resulting in more than 35 million albums sold and an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Wilson recorded much of her new solo album, Fierce Bliss, at Fame Studios, Muscle Shoals in Sheffield, Alabama, and enlisted the company of a trio of guitar powerhouses for good measure: co-producer Tom Bukovac, Warren Haynes and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Haynes, who last worked with Wilson on her Immortal solo release, returns for Fierce Bliss, bringing along Gov’t Mule for a pair of original songs: Gladiator and Angel's Blues.
Shepherd accompanies Wilson on two covers: a monstrous version of the Robin Trower classic, Bridge of Sighs, and an ambitious take on the Eurythmics’ hit, Missionary Man, the latter of which has Wilson backed by a 40-person gospel choir.
An ethereal duet version of Queen classic Love of My Life with Vince Gill is also featured on the album, as well as fantasy art by Roger Dean, renowned for his work designing Yes's sleeve artwork.
We spoke with Ann Wilson about Fierce Bliss, working with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes and her favorite memories of Heart.
Was it your desire to create a guitar-driven album?
“Yeah, that’s what I’m comfortable with and what speaks to me. I was blessed to get into the company of Tom Bukovac, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes. They’re great players who are also great humans. After we got vaccinated, we all put on masks and went to Muscle Shoals, where Tom had put together this band with Tony Lucido on bass and Sean Lane on drums.”
What was it like recording at Muscle Shoals?
“I think it’s every musician’s dream to work there. Treading in the footprint of the gods and goddesses. The place is unassuming, small, kind of funky and down-home. It’s a real old-school studio with no big luxuries. The energy of that place was very strong.”
Let’s talk about a few tracks from Fierce Bliss, starting with Greed. What was your vision for that track?
“The conceptualizing for Greed was done beforehand because I already knew what I wanted to sing about and what kind of mood I wanted be in when I sang it. I had all the lyrics written down in my notebook and when I got together with [Wilson's backing band] The Amazing Dawgs, I showed them to Tom and he had just the thing for it.”
Did the track Blackbird have its roots in the pandemic lockdown?
“Yeah, that was a pure pandemic lockdown song from being stuck here in the house for over a year. I live near a big river and was looking out the window at the seabirds and their big wing spans. They were so free and weren’t affected at all by this lockdown. They could go wherever they wanted to go, and I felt envious and started talking to them. Pretty soon I was writing it all down.”
What inspired you to do a cover of Bridge of Sighs?
“I've always wanted to do that song ever since Robin Trower [released it]. Kenny Wayne Shepherd and I had an idea to do something together. So, we started making lists of songs to do and one of them was Bridge of Sighs. Kenny is a whole generation younger than me, so for him, doing a song like Bridge of Sighs was like returning to his rock roots, and he really lived up to it.”
It was an interesting choice to also do a cover of Eurythmics’ Missionary Man.
“I'm a person who doesn't apply eras to songs, especially if it's a good song that speaks. I thought Missionary Man was relevant with what’s going on in our country today with the left and the right. One side has this dogmatic base, and the other side doesn't. I wanted to make the song into a mega church production, so we got a forty-person gospel choir and just blew it up.”
What made you decide to do a reimagined duet version of Queen’s Love of My Life?
“I've always loved Queen and was listening to A Night at The Opera one day when that song came on. I knew it was sweet song, even with the heavy, baroque, chamber music treatment Queen gave to it, but I wanted to take the song out of that element and lay it out organically and see what it was.
“That’s when I decided I wanted to do it as a duet with a man. My voice is rock and raspy, so I wanted the man to be an angel and there was only one choice, and that was Vince Gill.”
How did Warren Haynes become involved on Fierce Bliss?
“Warren had invited me to sit in with Gov’t Mule back in 2017 at Lockn' Festival, and we really hit it off. Warren came in and played on my last solo album, Immortal, and when it was time to do this album he had this idea of making an epic song that goes to all these different places.
“He sent me a demo of him and Mule playing this thing that eventually became Gladiator. I went up to Connecticut to where Mule was recording. They had taken out two rooms because they were making two albums at once: a blues album and a rock/jam band album. The first day we went into the rock room and did Gladiator, and the second day we went into the blues room and did Angel's Blues.”
This is the 45th anniversary of Heart’s Magazine and Little Queen albums, both released around the same time the band was having legal issues with Mushroom Records. When you look back on that era of the band, what thoughts come to mind?
“The whole convoluted legal mess that happened back then was too bad. We had a concept for Magazine that was really good, but we didn't have enough time to finish it before all these legalities set in.
“We never got to create that piece of art the way we wanted to because our timing was thrown off. We recovered with Little Queen, but for a time it was high drama and really scary, because it was threatening to take us out of the studio altogether.”
Of all the highlights of your career what stands out to you as most memorable?
“That's almost an impossible question to answer because there have been so many super-highs. I think being inducted into the Rock Hall was memorable, for sure. Then there are the various achievements along the way and some of the shows when everything was clicking.
“I remember one year we did a four-night run in Seattle for New Year's Eve when the place just sort of levitated. Then there was an experience at a Texxas Jam in the middle of summer. It was super-hot and people were fainting and being hosed down. We were on stage and right as we started playing Mistral Wind, a breeze came up and the sky opened up and cooled everyone off.”
What excites you the most about the new album and this next phase of your career?
“I'm looking forward to the small things as we go, like getting back on stage again with The Amazing Dawgs. It's fulfilling to me because it's creative and not mechanical. Each night is different, and each is a thrill.”
- Fierce Bliss arrives April 29 via Silver Linings Music.