Vancouver Was Awesome: Heart, 1976

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A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.


Although more associated with Seattle, Heart hit the big time while based in Vancouver. Like many young American men during the Vietnam War, Mike Fisher fled to Vancouver to evade the draft. Eventually his brother Roger, Ann Wilson, and others from the band Hocus Pocus joined him in Vancouver and together they formed Heart. Nancy Wilson became their guitarist in 1974, and the next year they recorded their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, at Can-Base Studios (later renamed Mushroom Studios) at 1234 West 6th Avenue on the Mushroom label.

Dreamboat Annie didn’t catch on at first, and Heart continued to play clubs around Vancouver, the Lower Mainland, and Western Canada. One night after getting fired from a dive bar in Calgary for insulting the establishment’s cuisine on stage, Heart’s manager told them he scored a last minute gig opening for Rod Stewart in Montreal. Unbeknownst to the band, a Montreal radio station had been playing Dreamboat Annie, so at their first big arena show, Heart found themselves playing to an audience familiar with their songs. The album was soon a smash hit, first in Canada, and then the US and around the world.

Heart’s relationship with Vancouver was short-lived, in part because Mushroom published a creepy full-page ad in Rolling Stone Magazine bragging about Dreamboat Annie’s success. The ad showed the bare-shouldered Wilson sisters along with the caption “It was only our first time!”, implying the two were having an incestuous lesbian love affair. When a reporter asked Ann Wilson about her “lover,” she was so infuriated that she went back to her hotel room and wrote “Barracuda” about the Mushroom executive responsible for the ad. (The song was in the news in 2008, when the Wilson sisters sent a cease and desist letter to stop the Republican Party from using it in its election campaign; ”Barracuda” was Sarah Palin’s nickname in high school). After a drawn out legal battle with Mushroom, Heart switched labels and left Vancouver.

Heart endured other sexist indignities throughout the years, especially over Ann Wilson’s weight gain, but their persistence paid off big time and helped paved the way for other women in the macho world of hard rock. This year Heart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in December the Wilson sisters made a big splash at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Led Zeppelin with a lavish rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” that made Robert Plant teary-eyed.

Source: Behind the Music: Heartvia YouTube