Sunday, October 3, 2010

Venus Zine: The Greatest Female Guitarists of All-Time

This is a cool feature on Nancy from Venus Zine. :)

 A born guitarist: Nancy Wilson, most famous for her guitar prowess in the band Heart, started playing at age 8. Born in 1954, she grew up in Southern California and Taiwan before her Marine Corps father retired to the Seattle suburbs. “I fell in love with the guitar immediately,” she says from her Los Angeles home in February 2008. In the same way that her sister Ann Wilson was born to sing, Nancy Wilson says she’s definitely a born guitar player.

The self-taught guitarist says she has a good ear for picking things up and imitating what she’d heard on vinyl records. She mastered guitar by playing songs by Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, and Pete Townsend. “Before Heart, I played nonstop and way into the night, and I just couldn’t put the guitar down,” Wilson says. “I didn’t mind that my fingers hurt. I had to know every song that I loved.”

Favorite guitars: Wilson has a soft spot for classic guitars because they have the most character and soul. She has a Gibson Les Paul Special that she’s played since the ‘70s and continues to play now. She also loves the Martin guitar and has worked with the company on a new design. “I designed it in the style of the Martins that Crosby Stills Nash and Young used to play because that’s the sound I grew up with and learned,” she says.

Expert advice: Wilson’s primary advice for aspiring guitarists is to have fun. She recommends learning to play by ear instead of concentrating on reading music. “Learn every three-chord song first,” she says. “You know, ‘Gloria’ or ‘Wild Thing,’ and ‘Louie Louie.’ Play with other musicians and bang on the piano and have a party.” She thinks it’s best for aspiring musicians to make stuff up and not take themselves so seriously. “Sometimes they think, ‘I must educate myself in the ways of music.’ But if you’re going to play rock in particular, it’s really about having a good time and getting off.”

A different kind of sexy back: Wilson says she has mixed feelings about the music industry right now. On the one hand, she feels that MTV has created a manufacturing process for sexualizing popular music. She feels that the late ’60s and ’70s was a time of cultural exploration, expression, and groove; whereas today, mainstream music tends to involve image perfection and being sexy. “The ’70s was definitely a sexy time in music,” Wilson says. “It just wasn’t sexy in the way that sexy is today. Today’s sexy is pre-fab, and there’s a very narrow definition about what’s supposed to be sexy, which to me is largely unsexy compared to the more natural look of sexiness. I think [Heart] always had a lot of sexual prowess with our music and on stage and in our early videos before MTV but it was way more of a natural idea.”

On the other hand, Wilson is excited about music that’s coming from underground sources. She says she’s glad there are sites such as YouTube that allow people to access music on their own. “When you create a groundswell inside culture that’s outside of the box, you have something great happening in music,” Wilson says. “It feels much more like the ’70s again to me — before everything got so corporatized. I’m really hopeful for music right now. The business itself is dying on the vine because a lot of the corporate mentality has choked itself to death. Maybe that’s a good thing. It’s gonna be more about what people love and what people want now.”

Keeping score: Wilson composes music for a number of  films, including Elizabethtown and Vanilla Sky. She most recently scored music for a CNN program called Heroes in 2008. “I’ve got a lot of crazy instruments like the Japanese koto and mandocello that I use for scoring — I have no idea how to play them, but I just play them anyway,” Wilson says. “There’s all kinds of fun to be had.”


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