Dreamboat Annie had just come out in Canada 40 years ago this August — can you believe it? — and the members of Heart realized their fortunes were finally going to tick upward after some rather humiliating setbacks.
The struggling rock band had just been fired from a steady gig at a small Calgary club. Ostensibly, for singer Ann Wilson’s complaint, on stage, that the hotel food smelled, and tasted, like Pine-Sol.
“We got fired, and we go on a train and went to Montreal and opened for Rod Stewart, which was our first big stage,” guitarist Nancy Wilson says from the kitchen of her home in Los Angeles. The memory is one of her favorite Heart stories. A beautician is doing her hair as she chats. Things really have improved on the Heart front.
“That was really an amazing part of our history. People knew our album, and that was the first time we realized that people liked our album, and they were holding up a whole bunch of matches. That was a magical thing to happen when you are a little cabaret act and trying to make your way and learning to be a rock band. That was such a nice affirmation,” Wilson, 61, says.
Heart is once again about to perform at a club for about 700 people. But don’t call it a come down after selling 35 million albums since Dreamboat Annie and subsequent titles like Little Queen, Dog and Butterfly, Heart and the current Fanatic.
The venue is LIV inside the hotel Sinatra built, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, on Saturday. An intimate 60-minute show for the Bleau Live concert series. Siblings Ann, 64, and Nancy Wilson and the best Heart lineup they’ve had since the original ’70s grouping will attempt to cram in as many hits as possible. The set list will include some of the ’80s radio favorites like Alone — even if they were from a musical era more indebted to musicians and producers hopped up on cocaine and “too much hair spray.”
Heart makes the songs work in the modern era and for the smaller, upscale room. No fears. “It will be plenty, plenty loud,” Wilson promises.
Also, given Ann’s still dextrous vocal chops, songs like Alone, What About Love and Crazy on You don’t require the requisite key changes other boomers must contend with as voices lose their range.
“That’s unusual,” Wilson, who sang lead on Heart’s first No. 1 single, These Dreams, concurs. “It’s only skin basically, and you can wear it out pretty easily, especially if you are at an advanced stage of experience.”
A pause. She laughs.
“Or old!” she lets slip. “But you can’t expect to maintain a big rock voice without really taking care of it and Ann does.”
Ditto for Wilson on the guitar.
“I’ve sort of developed my own language on acoustic, in particular, because I play aggressively and ... my hand doesn’t like it all the time anymore. I don’t use light strings either. I use medium. It’s a different sound, but it’s mine. I kind of gravitate to electric here and there to save it up for when I really want to do the big acoustic moments.”
Bleau Live featuring Heart is at 8 p.m. Saturday (Heart is scheduled to perform from 9 p.m.-10 p.m.) at LIV at the Fontainebleau, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Packages start at $125. Information: 305-538-2000 or BleauLive.com. Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.