Heart’s Howard Leese

Though Seattle-based rock band Heart was mainly a vehicle for the talents of sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, guitarist/keyboardist Howard Leese was a key ingredient from their 1976 debut LP, Dreamboat Annie, to their last album, The Road Home (1995).

Leese, who turns 48 today, wanted to become a guitarist after seeing a performance by surf-music act Dick Dale and the Del-tones. Leese studied violin and music theory at City College in Los Angeles. He played in a band, the Zoo, before he was hired by Heart to assist on Dreamboat Annie.

Heart evolved from an all-male Seattle band, the Army, which was formed in 1963 by guitarist brothers Roger and Mike Fisher and bassist Steve Fossen. By the time singer Ann Wilson joined in 1970, the band was called White Heart; they later shortened the name in 1974, when her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, joined.

Canada’s Mushroom Records signed the band and issued Dreamboat Annie, which became a smash based on the hit singles “Crazy on You” (RealAudio excerpt) and the top-10 “Magic Man.” The album showcased Heart’s mixture of crunching hard-rock and soft, acoustic ballads.

The band began recording its follow-up with Leese now an official group member. But when Heart subsequently signed to Portrait Records, they were slapped with a lawsuit by Mushroom, which rushed out the group’s unfinished second LP, Magazine. Portrait released Heart’s official second album, 1977′s Little Queen, at about the same time. The LP contained Heart’s signature song, the Led Zeppelin-like #11 hit “Barracuda.”

The semi-acoustic Dog and Butterfly (1978) went double-platinum based on the hit “Straight On.” While recording Bebe Le’ Strange, the Fishers, who were romantically involved with the Wilson sisters, quit Heart. Leese and Nancy Wilson then began handling all the guitar parts.

Fossen and drummer Michael Derosier soon quit as well; they were replaced by former Spirit/Firefall bassist Mark Andes and drummer Denny Carmassi. After Passionworks stiffed, Heart began turning to outside songwriters for more pop-oriented material in an effort to revive sales. The result was their #1, five-times-platinum eponymous album (1985). The LP spawned such hits as “What About Love?” “Never,” and the #1 “These Dreams” (co-written by Bernie Taupin).

Bad Animals (1987) followed suit, yielding the #1 ballad “Alone.” With two smash LPs under its belt, the mid-’80s version of Heart successfully toured the world. Brigade (1990) spawned the #2 “All I Want to Do Is Make Love to You.”

Only Leese remained with the Wilsons by the time of 1993′s Desire Walks On, which sold comparatively poorly. As the Wilsons began to spend more time on their acoustic side group, the Lovemongers, Heart was put on the back burner, where it remains.

Leese, who makes his own guitars, has built a Seattle recording studio, produced local bands such as Sister Mary and Indika, and concentrated on his own group, once called Bitch Magnet but now known as the Howard Leese Group.

He has also worked with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company fame, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen /Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, and the Ricola Brothers, who tour with Ann Wilson.

Leese also recently played on the Wilsons’ version of “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves,” on The Yellow Album from the “The Simpsons” TV show.

Other birthdays: Dennis Locorriere(Dr. Hook), 50; Bo Donaldson (Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods), 45; Jorge Santana (Malo), 45; and Deniece Pearson (Five Star), 31.