Over nearly 50 years on the road with her band Heart, Nancy Wilson grew accustomed to waking up in a new city every day. So as she settles into the couch of her suite at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood on a sunny day in April, Nancy can’t help but share her excitement about being away from home for the first time since the COVID-19 lockdowns began last year. “When I got off the plane at LAX, I was like, ‘Ahh! So many cars! People!’” says the guitar goddess, 67, who was vaccinated earlier this year. “It was surreal after being in our nice little house out in the countrysid­e of Northern California for a year.”

She may have been forced to slow down over the past year, but the star – who grins as she recounts her hard-rocking past – says she still turned up the volume. She spent most days jamming in her home studio, where she recorded her newly released debut solo album, You and Me. “I could sing as loud as I wanted to and have fun with music – the thing that I’ve done all my life,” says Nancy, whose impeccable guitar skills have bewitched fans since she first joined Heart alongside her older sister Ann in 1974. It’s also the first time Nancy – who always deferred to Ann, now 71, as the lead singer of the group – has let her own vocals take centre stage. “I was more nervous about driving a car in LA yesterday than doing a solo album,” she says. “I think it’s because this is just for me. I don’t have to feel like I’m not a good enough singer next to Ann, who is one of the best there is. I’m not trying to prove anything now except that I’m a musician, and that’s what I was born to be.”

In recent years Nancy found happiness with a new love, her husband of nine years, Fox executive Geoff Bywater, and by bonding again with Ann. “I have everything I always wanted,” she says. That quiet confidence was built from years of battling to belong in the male-dominated rock world. During her early days with Heart – one of the only female-fronted bands in the ’70s – she was often asked, “Do you really play guitar?” She recalls answering: “Why, I certainly do, and I started when I was f--king 9 years old.” As kids Nancy and Ann were inspired to start playing music after watching The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show from their home in Bellevue, Washington, where their family settled in 1960 after years of moving for their father’s military career.

In the early ’70s, Ann joined the Canadian band White Heart, renamed Heart by 1974, and Nancy later dropped out of college to join the group. Heart’s 1975 debut album, Dreamboat Annie, spawned hits like ‘Magic Man’ and ‘Crazy on You’. “We’d call radio Russian, French – to request they play our songs,” says Nancy. “We had no shame.”

The Wilsons cemented their status as rockstars in 1977 with the Heart hit ‘Barracuda’. But as the ’80s rolled in, sexism toward the sisters took on a new life, and their commercial success stalled. “It was a harder time to feel taken seriously because of the objectific­ation in the videos and the corsets and the stilettos,” Nancy says. “It was the ego-driven style of the cocaine era that we were in, which was not quite as hippie as where we had come from.” While Nancy readily admits there were quite a few late nights of raucous partying – “You’re not a real rockstar unless there’s a few times like that,” she quips – she and the band never missed a show. Their dedication paid off, and by 1985 Heart had made a successful comeback with its selftitled No. 1 album. “Ann and I were military brats and really profession­ally minded about showing up on time and being present,” Nancy says. “There’s no excuse for people to be lame toward their audience.”

Nancy held steadfast to that mindset years later as she went through a public divorce in 2010 from her first husband, Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe, after 24 years of marriage. Their twin sons Curtis and William were then 10. “It was really a sad time because I didn’t know how to get through it,” says Nancy. “Backstage at one show some fan guy came up to me like, ‘Hey, I heard you’re getting a divorce. Do you want to marry me?’ Stuff like that hits you hard when you’re not ready, but you just got to soldier on.” In 2016 a fissure formed in her relationsh­ip with Ann after Ann’s husband, Dean Wetter, assaulted Nancy’s then-16-year-old sons during a Heart show after the boys reportedly left a tour bus door open. (Wetter pleaded guilty to two counts of assault.) “Heart was stalled out for about three years in order to regain our balance,” says Nancy. “But ‘blood is thicker than water’ has always rung true with me.”

In 2019, Nancy performed with her sister for the first time since the incident at a benefit show in New York: “When I saw Ann at sound check, I walked right up and gave her a big hug. Our natural closeness kicked in again like clockwork.” After all the ups and downs, Nancy is grateful that life brought her to Bywater, whom she met in 2011 through her manager. They wed the next year, and “between his kids and mine, we’re like the Brady Bunch”, Nancy says. “It’s a healthy, full-blooded relationsh­ip. He’s my protector, and that helps me in the world.”

With Bywater by her side, Nancy feels more invigorate­d than ever. Heart plans to head back on tour next year, and a biopic about the sisters is in the works. “I’m excited!” Nancy says. “But in the meantime I want to walk on a beach, get my hands in dirt and just keep being creative.”

“I’ve reconnecte­d with my former self. I was Pollyanna – hopeful and innocent” – WILSON

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