“MY HANDS ARE THE TRUE STORY OF MY
personality,” says Nancy Wilson of Heart.
“One hand looks kind of glamorous, and
the other is a real worker hand with
Heart’s artistic success over the long
run owes as much to Nancy’s musicianship
as the band’s original splash of
publicity owed to her stunning stage presence.
From its inception, rock and roll
has been a phenomenon performed
almost exclusively by men, but Heart has
turned the tables somewhat with Nancy
Wilson and her sister, vocalist Ann. In
supplanting the ephemeral image of “two
women and a rock band” with the security
of an artistic identity and enduring
commercial success, the Wilson sisters
had to overcome entrenched stereotypes—
the “chick singer,” for one. For her part,
Nancy has dispatched the problem by
demonstrating her talent and versatility
on album after album.
What was your first guitar?
I started off with a little three-quartersize
Stella—a ten-dollar special. By the
time I was learning barre chords, I realized
it wasn’t good enough for me—that
there was no possible way to do what I
wanted to do on it. So I got a Harmony
nylon-string. Everywhere I went, it was
there with me.
Who are some of the guitarists that influenced
Paul Simon was a big influence as an
acoustic, fingerstyle player. When I first
started on electric, Jimmy Messina was
an influence, as were Jeff Beck, Jimmy
Page, and Steve Howe. I also played
electric-style blues—such as B.B King’s
“The Thrill Is Gone”—but my sister, Ann,
and I would play it on acoustic guitars,
because we didn’t have electrics back
You said you’ve never had guitar lessons.
Do you regret not taking more formal instruction?
No. For me, and for this kind of music,
playing by ear is the most important
thing. So many people I know became
confined by their learning to the point
where they couldn’t really feel the music,
or venture out into their own imaginary
Are you an aggressive player?
I’m mainly a rhythm player, and, on
acoustic, I play really hard. Acoustic players
tend to overplay an electric—pushing
down too hard on the strings and all
that—so it’s really good for me to develop
the discipline to hold back and have a
lighter touch on electric.
Rhythm guitar is often overlooked.
That’s true. There are a lot of good
lead players, but not a whole lot of good
rhythm players. Oddly enough, I’ve never
really emulated the Stones, but I think
Keith Richards is a compelling rhythm
player, and John Lennon is a lot like that,
too. John Lennon is an amazing rhythm
guitarist—he knows how to be loosely
tight. John Lennon has more soul than
he can almost handle. David Gilmour and
Jimmy Page are other incredible players
who do both great rhythms and leads.
Before you became famous, did people
hesitate to take you seriously as a rock instrumentalist
because you’re a woman?
Yes, that’s kind of predictable. I don’t
encounter it so much now, but I did when
we were first getting going. Other guitar
players used to come up to me and say,
“You don’t play too bad for a girl.” Well,
too bad I’m a girl, I guess. I mean, what
can I say to that? I was serious about
learning guitar in the fifth grade, and
that’s a young age to be serious about
anything. But I’m glad I started as young
as I did, because there was no one telling
me that a woman couldn’t do that. I got
into it, and the guitar became my main
man. It still is.—Excerpted from the Tom
Wheeler/Steve Rosen piece in the December
1979 Guitar Player