Ann Wilson is best known for fronting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Heart, her dramatic, banshee vocals powering timeless tracks such as “Barracuda,” “Crazy On You,” “Magic Man,” “Straight On,” “What About Love,” “Never,” “These Dreams,” and “Alone.”
But her latest project shifts the focus off of herself and onto the long list of beloved musicians who have died recently: Wilson’s new album “Immortal” (out Sept. 14) pays homage to 10 artists who were influential to her, including Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Amy Winehouse, Glenn Frey of The Eagles, Lesley Gore, and George Michael.
You’ll hear a few of Wilson’s interpretations of these artists’ songs Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Stars Align Tour at Coral Sky Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach. The classic-rock triple header also features guitar god Jeff Beck and singer Paul Rodgers of Free, Bad Company, and post-Freddie Mercury Queen.
Wilson talked to the Miami Herald about the concert, the making of “Immortal,” her feelings and memories about some of the musicians, and how it feels to still be rocking at age 68.
Q: What made you want to do this kind of tribute album?
A: Well, a lot of these artists just all picked up and left their bodies within a short time of each other, and it seemed to me sort of like an exodus. I just wanted to do something to honor them, and a few of them were artists that really inspired me as I was learning how to do what I do. And I think a lot of their work is worthy of being passed down in a kind of oral tradition.
Q: Whom were you closest to on your track list? I know Chris Cornell spoke at your induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
A: It would have been Chris — he was from the same city I was from, Seattle, and our paths crossed a lot up there. We played music together, we hung out together, we partied, and we went to a couple of friends’ memorials together. I mean, there were a lot of things over the years. So when he went, that was the thing that made me think about doing this record, too.
Q: Did you feel any strong spiritual connection with any of them during the recording?
A: Yeah, I think all of them. Mostly, I think Amy Winehouse and probably Chris and Bowie and Tom Petty. And oh, definitely Leonard Cohen — the lyrics of those songs in particular are my favorite, and I could get inside them, almost.
Q: I know you also had a connection with [Linkin Park singer] Chester Bennington. Did you consider doing anything by Linkin Park on this record?
A: I considered it, and I auditioned a whole bunch of their songs — I couldn’t find one that I really could feel great about making my own. Same with [Cranberries singer] Dolores O’Riordan.
Q: Speaking of making these songs your own, they were a lot more than just cover versions — you really put your own stamp on them. Did you go into this thinking of doing something truly unique?
A: Yes, I didn’t see any point in just going and copying the versions by the original artists. I truly wanted to honor their work, so I didn’t just pick the hit songs by them — I went in to their bodies of work and chose the songs that spoke to me the most.
Q: What will we hear at the show?
A: Well, I have 45 minutes onstage on this show, so I do one Heart song, one original song, and I will do four songs off of “Immortal.”
Q: You’re 68 years old now, and your voice still sounds great. What drives you to keep singing, recording, and touring?
A: Well, if you love doing something, and if you feel like you’re succeeding and doing it well, then you want to do it. I mean, we must do something with our lives, and I just really enjoy it.
Q: How has your approach to touring and recording changed over the years?
A: Not that much. I hold myself to a standard of authenticity — for me, the biggest sin would be for me to go out there and just start phoning it in. I really want to be there every time, and give all of myself, and that’s what I had at the beginning as my sort of creed for my whole singing career.
Q: You’ve often covered Led Zeppelin songs — what’s the attraction there beyond the obvious vocal fit with you and Robert Plant?
A: Robert Plant wrote some really great songs. He and [guitarist] Jimmy [Page] wrote some really great songs together, and Robert Plant’s lyrics have always been really great to me. I think they’re creative and imaginative — he’s a great storyteller. And for a rock band, Zeppelin material is a really great learning experience. People just love to play their songs.
Q: Did you know you had talent as a young child?
A: Well, the only time I sort of felt that at all as a little kid was when my parents would have cocktail parties, and I used to do this version of Ethel Merman singing the Hawaiian wedding song. And my parents would sometimes ask me to do it for their friends. But then the rest of the time, I was just a normal little kid. I was shy, and I didn’t have a particularly beautiful voice. But somehow, that real theatrical singing thing of Ethel Merman, I was able to do.
If you go
- What: The Stars Align Tour, with Jeff Beck, Paul Rodgers, and Ann Wilson
- When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25
- Where: Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601 Sansbury’s Way, West Palm Beach
- Info: LiveNation.com; $21.25-$99.50