The Foley Files: Nancy Wilson

Sue Foley sits down with Heart's quiet but always powerful guitarist, Nancy Wilson.
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Grace in motion—that’s how I’ve always seen Nancy Wilson. I remember being a kid, staring at Heart album covers, and being so intrigued with this mysterious and quiet blonde who played guitar beside her vocalist sister, Anne. Nancy showed how to be both strong and feminine in the visceral world of rock, asserting herself onstage with a sense of playfulness, musicality, sensuality, and, like I said, grace. Of all the women I’ve interviewed, Nancy’s name comes up the most as an early influence.

How were you drawn to become a guitarist?

Coming from our family that’s very musical, I think I was born to play guitar. My uncle taught me the ukulele when I was about six years old. Then, we saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and it was like, “Oh, my god! We have to have a band. We have to get guitars now.”

Who were your favorite players when you were coming up?

I was always such a Jimmy Page fanatic, and Paul Simon, too. There’s also little bit of Joni Mitchell in there, and a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Did you start playing electric right away?

I had an electric guitar, but I was mainly an acoustic player at first. Then, I got a chance to step up and do a few leads here and there. The guys in the band taught me how to play a little more lead, and how to be a good support player. A lot of it is what not to play. It’s when to shut up.

Do you think there’s a difference between the way women approach the instrument?

There are a lot of flashy guys, and a lot of girls can do that, too. Technique-wise, they can play anything a guy can play. But there’s a different kind of soul, and I think a lot of it is just the basic instinct of women. It’s more of a poetic thing that happens with women players.

So many people I talk to point directly to you, and I was thinking, “I wonder if she realizes how influential she has been?” And I thought that, chances are, you’re looking forward, not backwards.

Thank you very much. It’s really good to know that after all this time—having done something and worked hard doing it—that it means something to people. Being an influence means that the best part of you moves forward into the next chapter of women in music, and music in general. I always hoped that I could imprint something that was in some way elevating and inspiring to people that heard Heart’s music, and my music. I know it sounds corny, but that’s the sh*t, man.

For more information on Sue Foley, click to her website (, or check out her latest CD, The Ice Queen.