Heart's Nancy Wilson

When the Seattle-based Heart splashed on the '70s rock scene, sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson were awash in largely untested waters. Not only was it still extremely uncommon for a heavy-rock band to be fronted and led by women, the Wilson sisters were also uncommonly beautiful. Consequently, as Heart's anchor, Nancy sometimes found herself at the crossroads of mixed blessings in an industry that is not often known for its heart. But Nancy, Ann and Heart persevered, becoming not only rock's most enduring female rock group but also a quarter-century-old comeback success story that places them among rock's elite by any standard.

Nancy Wilson was born March 16, 1954, in San Francisco. The Wilson sisters' father was a Marine Corps captain who moved his family to Southern California and Taiwan before settling in Seattle.

The sisters loved singing as youngsters. After college, while Ann sang lead in a rock band, Nancy, heavily influenced by Joni Mitchell, tried to make it as a folk singer. Ann's group, White Heart, shortened its name to Heart in 1974, when Nancy joined as guitarist, mandolin player and singer.

After gigging around Vancouver, British Columbia, Heart was noticed by the Canadian Mushroom Records, which issued the band's debut, Dreamboat Annie, in 1976. The LP, a mix of blistering hard rock and folky ballads, became a smash in Canada and the U.S., as the singles "Crazy on You" and the top-10 "Magic Man" received healthy radio airplay. Heart's cachet was only enhanced by being one of a handful of heavy-rock bands led by women (although in its early years guitarist Roger Fisher was a lead member).

Heart switched to a CBS subsidiary label in 1977. When Mushroom retaliated by issuing the half-finished Magazine at the same time as the band's intended sophomore LP, Little Queen, there was no shortage of bad blood between the label and the group. But Little Queen went on to become another million-selling smash and yielded the band's signature tune, the #11 "Barracuda," which Ann has said she wrote as a scathing indictment of the music-industry creeps who, among other things, were starting and spreading baseless rumors about an unnatural relationship between her and Nancy.

Following the hit single "Straight On," from Dog and Butterfly (1978), and during the recording of Bebe le Strange (1980), Fisher quit the band. Heart added guitarist Howard Leese and carried on with lesser success.

But in 1985, after signing with Capitol, the Wilsons decided to take a more pop approach to their music and enlisted outside songwriters. The result was their biggest-selling LP, Heart, which featured four top-10 hits, including "What About Love?" "Never" and the Nancy-sung "These Dreams" (RealAudio excerpt), Heart's first #1. Longtime Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin originally had written the diaphanous rock ballad for Stevie Nicks.

Bad Animals (1987) made #2 and featured the chart-topping "Alone." Brigade (1990) was similarly successful. The Wilsons then formed an informal acoustic band, the Lovemongers, and released an EP that included a cover of Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore."

More lineup changes ensued in Heart, who issued Desire Walks On in 1993. Two years later, the band released The Road Home, which included acoustic versions of their earlier hits, produced live by Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. A pair of greatest-hits albums followed, while the Wilsons put Heart on the back burner.

Last year, Nancy issued her solo debut, Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop. In addition to new songs such as "Sister," the album included covers, Mitchell's "A Case of You," among them.

Ann and Nancy have been touring as a duo during the past few years. Earlier this year, Nancy — who married rock journalist and filmmaker ("Jerry Maguire") Cameron Crowe in 1986 — gave birth to twins, William James Crowe and Curtis Wilson Crowe.

Other birthdays on Thursday: Michael Bruce (Alice Cooper), 52, and Flavor Flav (Public Enemy), 41.