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Tuesday, February 14, 2012
INTERVIEW: HEART original guitarist Roger Fisher ‘Getting voted out saved my life!’
By Ray Shasho
Seattle, Washington native Roger Fisher was the hard driving electric fury that established HEART as a rock and roll powerhouse in the 70’s. Originally known as Hocus Pocus, Heart was formed by guitarist Roger Fisher, bassist Steve Fossen, and Roger’s brother Mike Fisher who became the band’s manager. They met Ann Wilson at one of the bands gigs. Soon thereafter, Roger, Mike, Steve and Ann Wilson moved to Canada. Heart was officially formed in 1973 with their new songstress and songwriter Ann Wilson. The following year guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and sister, Nancy Wilson joined the band.
With the help of producer Mike Flicker and session guitarist/keyboardist Howard Leese (who became a full- time member of Heart in 1975), the band recorded a demo tape. Heart’s debut album Dreamboat Annie was subsequently recorded for Mushroom Records in Vancouver, Canada. The seductive album cover featured a bare shouldered Ann and Nancy leaning up against each other.
The singles, “Magic Man” and “Dreamboat Annie” quickly gained notoriety over Canadian airwaves. Dreamboat Annie was released in the U.S. on Valentine’s Day 1976. “Magic Man” became the band’s first Top 10 hit. “Crazy On You” reached #35, and the single, “Dreamboat Annie” reach #42 in the U.S. on Billboard’s Hot 100. The album sold over 1 million copies and became a mainstay on AOR radio stations worldwide.
Heart became instantly identifiable as a rock phenomenon. A band fronted by two beautiful and multi-talented women, backed by hard rock virtuosos. It was that very combination which gave the band its true identity. Brothers Roger and Mike Fisher became romantically involved with Sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson, and “Magic Man” was written about Mike’s torrid love affair with Ann.
After the success of Dreamboat Annie, Heart left Mushroom Records due to a publicity stunt that stated the sisters were actually lesbian lovers. The group signed with Portrait Records and later released the album Little Queen in 1977. The album featured, “Barracuda” a tune that would become recognized as Heart’s signature song. Roger Fisher’s pivotal hard rock thrusting intro to “Barracuda” will forever be glorified in rock and roll history. Ann Wilson penned the tune out of sheer anger over Mushroom’s lesbian publicity stunt. Roger Fisher was a co-writer on “Barracuda” and on many other tracks on Little Queen. “Barracuda” reached #11 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Another preeminent arrangement on the album was Roger Fisher’s co-written masterpiece titled, “Love Alive.”
In 1978, Heart re-released their third album, Magazine. Originally released in 1977, the first release was unfinished and unauthorized by the band. Magazine went certified platinum. The album included three cover tunes, “Without You” by Badfinger, “I’ve Got the Music in Me” by The Kiki Dee Band and “Mother Earth Blues” penned by Chatman, Simpkins and Dixon. Magazine also produced their Top 20 single, “Heartless.”
Also in 1978, Heart appeared on stage at California Jam II, a music festival held at the Ontario Motor Speedway in California. The concert featured Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, Santana, Dave Mason, Foreigner, Heart, Bob Welch (with special guests Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood), Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush and Rubicon. More than 300,000 people attended.
Later in 1978, Heart released Dog and Butterfly on Portrait Records. The album spent 36 weeks on the charts and peaked at #17 on Billboard’s 200 -highest selling albums. “Straight On” was the first song released from the album reaching #15 on the charts. The title track, “Dog & Butterfly” reached #34 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Dog & Butterfly spawned several profound arrangements including, “Minstral Wind” an incredible rock measure co-written by Roger Fisher, and “Nada One” a beautiful and mesmerizing piece sung by Nancy Wilson.
In 1979, Roger’s romance with Nancy Wilson ended. Later that year, Roger Fisher was voted out of the band. Mike Fisher also left the band after breaking his relationship with Ann Wilson. Heart lost their rock and roll backbone when Roger Fisher was asked to leave the band. And although the group made a huge comeback in 1985, they never recaptured what was the essence of Heart.
After leaving Heart, Roger Fisher joined the band Alias alongside mates Steve Fossen and drummer Mike DeRosier. The group’s self-titled debut release went gold. Their biggest commercial hit was, “More Than Words Can Say” climbing to #2 on the Billboard’s Hot 100. The band disbanded shortly after.
Roger Fisher still plays gigs here and there with his former Heart buddy Steve Fossen. He’s even joined Queensryche onstage recently. Roger’s latest endeavors include a great new version of Heart’s, “Love Alive” and a new single called, “Dear Friend” that will be included on an upcoming album. He’s also got a movie project in the works about his life. Roger is back living in his home state of Washington after an incredible journey in Prague, Czech Republic.
Roger and I became Facebook friends and had the opportunity to speak with him last week before his morning bike ride. Here’s my interview with Heart’s founder, songwriter, guitar virtuoso and pioneer … Roger Fisher.
Ray Shasho: Good morning Roger, it’s really cool to be able to set up an interview with a Facebook friend. You’re living in Monroe, Washington?
Roger Fisher: “Yea, it’s right outside of Seattle.”
Ray Shasho: Talk about living in the Czech Republic.
Roger Fisher: “I lived there for a year. It was really great and really difficult at the same time. The reason I moved over there was because I loved the people so much. I married a lady from Czech Republic and was very close with her family. Living over there was really an adventure. I was hanging out with the country’s most popular rock musician, and he was also the head of Parliament in the brand new Czech Republic when they split from Czechoslovakia. When Vaclav Havel helped overthrow communism back in 1989, he was a playwright. And just because he cared about doing things right for the new country and had the best ideas, he was pushed into the presidency. He didn’t really want to be president but he accepted the job because he wanted things to be right. So a playwright as the new president had to elect his Parliament and choose all the people who would surround him. So it ended up being a bunch of artists and rock musicians, actors and actresses. So my friend was one of the heads of Parliament. So I got to meet Vaclav a few times and hung out with him, and I was very fortunate.”
Ray Shasho: I took a peek at some of your Facebook photos from over there and it looked like a charming country.
Roger Fisher: “Oh yea, it’s a beautiful place. We had a flat in Prague and we had a house in the second largest city Brno. I had such strong feelings for Prague; it was like a second home.”
Ray Shasho: What made you move back to the U.S.?
Roger Fisher: “My wife and I had been together for eight years and we realized we’re not supposed to be together. It just didn’t work. So we decided to get divorced and I decided to move back. I had met up with my brother and sister on a trip to Norway, and while we were up there in the midnight sun, I expressed to my brother that I had the desire to work with him again on music and he said he’d like to also. So that was part of the reason for moving back too so we can do that.”
“Shortly after I moved back and met a lady in Seattle who I fell in love with, I wrote a love song to her. And at a family gathering I played this new song and my brother heard that and it tipped him over the edge to say absolutely we need to be working together again. So since then we finished two songs and a couple of music videos. The two songs are now available on iTunes, and the first one is a remake of Heart’s, “Love Alive” and the other song is called, “Dear Friend” and it’s a really good love song.”
Ray Shasho: I really enjoyed the video you created called, “The making of Love Alive.” And you did an excellent job of developing such a wonderful and diverse remake from such a great tune.
Roger Fisher: “The intro and the outro are completely new music. I really don’t like it when people do covers of songs and do them pretty much exactly like the original. So I made sure to put a real obvious music spin on the song and I’m happy with it.”
Ray Shasho: Are those (2) new releases going to be part of a new album?
Roger Fisher: “Oh yea, the new album is called, ‘All Told’ and it’s kind of an overview of a really big project that we’re doing. But once the album is finished and out you’ll be able to go to our website and see what we’ve got going on and have an idea what it is. But what we’re doing has never been done before by a rock group and it’s pretty big. So we’re really excited about it.”
“But each song on the new album is going to have a music video with it. And that’s a lot of work. (Laughing) It’s funny because it’s one thing to be a musician, you’ve got to put in a lot of time and work just to be a musician, but if you’re going to be the audio engineer and in charge of your own recording, and your own videographer and video editor, then it’s really a lot of work. But I think these days it’s going more towards the norm where the artists are wearing so many different hats.”
Ray Shasho: I’m certainly glad that you’re back in the circuit and we’d definitely like to see Roger Fisher on the road again, especially making a few stops here in Florida.
Roger Fisher: “I get emails from people all over the world asking, why don’t you come and play, and I sure want to, and this is the year. As soon as I get this album done we’ll be setting up tour plans.”
Ray Shasho: I followed the original Heart since its beginnings. The first performance that I saw was actually at a club in Baltimore called The Hollywood Palace in 1976. Then within a year or so the band was selling out almost 19,000 seats at the Capital Centre near Washington, DC.
Heart was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year but somehow didn’t make it. So naturally I was disappointed. Why do you think Heart was snubbed in 2012?
Roger Fisher: “I know that was kind of an odd deal. I have a feeling of what goes on is that they want to keep one of the more popular groups out and then hold that for next year to create controversy. And to make sure that there is a bone of contention to draw people there next year. It kind of makes sense if your part of the process.”
Ray Shasho: Well I hope they know what they’re doing because there are tons of bands that aren’t even considered for the Hall yet and they should’ve been inducted a long time ago. Then there are bands that I think shouldn’t have even been considered. I think the first bands in should be the pioneers of the genre. I think Heart was somewhat of a pioneer band, in that you had two multitalented women backed by rock and roll virtuosos.
Roger Fisher: “The thing about Ann and Nancy is that they were more into like folksy rock and my brother played a large part in Heart’s direction before we ever started recording. And he really insisted that we go hard rock. So that was one thing having two beautiful women fronting a really hard rock group, but they had such incredible depth in their lyric writing, their songs were so good, and I think that’s what made it so groundbreaking. They were really high quality songs, but done with angst and energy that was unprecedented. It really did open a lot of door for female vocalist.”
Ray Shasho: I think many of the early Heart fans were drawn to the stage presence of Ann and Nancy and their incredible songwriting, but they were also equally drawn to that hard rock presence of some amazing and talented male musicians that became the bands roots. I never really felt that the guys in the band got their fair share of credit, especially you Roger.
Roger Fisher: “A lot of people have said that we never got enough credit and I think that’s true, but who deserved just as much credit as any of the guy members was my brother. He was behind the scenes; we played nightclubs four and five days a week, five and six hours a night and my brother would come back and give us input all the time. And a lot of that input we didn’t want to hear, it was not easy to get told what you’re doing wrong, but it really made us grow, so Mike Fisher was a really big part of what made Heart so good. It was the result of playing clubs so much that we had a well-oiled machine by the time we went out and toured. The band was really good but the crew was really good too. We would go into a place… do the show… and tear down more efficiently than any other rock group out there. It was a great team.”
Ray Shasho: What was it like signing your first recording contract with Mushroom Records?
Roger Fisher: “Signing with them was interesting because Mushroom Records had been turned over to Mike Flicker and Howard Leese who had moved up from California. It had been turned over to them to run the studio. At first Mike Flicker only wanted to sign Ann and she refused because she insisted on the whole band being part of the signing. The only people being signed was Ann, Nancy, Steve Fossen and myself. It was really difficult finding musicians up in Canada; we were living in Vancouver, British Columbia at the time, but difficult to find musicians with just the right vibes that we were looking for. So a mutual friend in the Seattle area said I know a drummer that you guys may like… you should audition him. So we all went down to Seattle and auditioned Mike DeRosier and within twenty seconds of listening to him we all knew he was the guy. He sounded so much like Bonham and we loved Led Zeppelin.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve always known that Ann and Nancy were heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin, is that also true about you?
Roger Fisher: “Jimmy Page and myself have interesting parallels. I used a violin bow and a Theremin before I knew he even existed. And I’m a real pioneer of guitar techniques. These days there are several guitars you can buy with Piezo pickups in the bridge, so you can use the Piezo pickups and the magnetic pickups. But that’s only been within the last ten years that that’s come out. But I was using that setup in the 70’s. There’s just a lot of little things about changes in guitars that I’ve pioneered back then, which brings up the point …soon there will be a Roger Fisher signature guitar. And there’s also going to be a Roger Fisher signature guitar amp. And to me, it’s the best guitar amp design in the world. I started making prototypes in the 80’s. It’s designed to sit at the front of the stage like a vocal monitor and aim right at your guitar, so you get that excellent relationship of air moving strings. Instead of some sort of electronic attempt of getting better sustain you’ve got the vibrations from the speaker coming right up your guitar to move the strings. That’s the most pure kind of sustain you can get. It sounds just fantastic! The amp is going to be put out by Jet City.”
Ray Shasho: Roger, do you do all your recording from your home these days or travel to the studio?
Roger Fisher: “My recording has a real interesting history. In 1993, we finished a really nice studio in my home in Woodinville, Washington and used that for seven years. But before and after that I’ve been recording in various studios, but I amassed over one hundred songs, and most of them were pretty much finished as far as being recorded. So what we’re doing now is drawing on those forty years of recording and carefully putting together four albums of this material. Its part of a four- album package called, ‘One Vision.’ The cover art from each album fits together to make a single big picture. And that big picture is a website portal that takes you through the history of all the work that I’ve done. So it’s a really unique way of looking at reinventing a musical project. It should be out in May.”
Ray Shasho: What came first when creating all those classic Heart tunes, the melody or the lyrics?
Roger Fisher: “I think it was different for each one, in the case with Ann and Nancy they were really big on lyrics so they would really pay attention to those. I think it was different for every song. I remember when they were writing, “Crazy On You” we were living in an A-framed house in Point Roberts, Washington and Ann and Nancy were working on this song and they said, “You know Rog, we’ve got this acoustic guitar part that goes like this… we want something on top of that, what would you do?” So I listened to them play it. And I said here… this is what I hear… and I played (Roger started singing to me his famous opening guitar lick to, “Crazy On You”). (All laughing) Just like that. So that’s how we would write, they would come back from a writing trip where they would get together with their dear friend Sue Ennis, and they would have a song or two or three to present to us and then we would take those and give them our treatment. In some cases when our treatments turned out to be a very key element of the song, I was fortunate to be co-writer to a lot of that stuff which translates to … royalty checks!”
“In the case of a song like, “Barracuda” now that’s a turnaround where the guitar licks came first. Actually it was at the same time, we had met this guy in Detroit, Michigan who was the record companies A&R guy, our liaison with the record company in Detroit. And he really insulted the girls, and Ann was so pissed off that she went up to her hotel room and started writing, “Barracuda.” And right at around that same time me and Mike DeRosier were doing soundchecks everyday and getting there before everybody else so we’d have some time to practice. And we were playing the “Barracuda” lick and my brother came up and said whose lick is that? I said that’s mine and he said you guys should make a song out of it. And if he hadn’t said that we would have just gone by it like so many other licks. But we said okay and so we started working on this music and then Ann is all fired up and she hears that guitar lick and says this is perfect … it’ll be a great song.”
Ray Shasho: It’s amazing how the pieces began to fit together like a musical puzzle, and then… voila there’s a hit song.
Roger Fisher: “When we were in the studio recording that, it was getting closer and closer to being perfect. The band is running over it and running over it, changing a little thing here and there and the risk is that you work it to death. You take it beyond its original inspiration to the point where it’s no longer fresh and live but it’s beaten to death, it’s lost its spirit. But with this one, we kept going and going, because it was like we were riding this train that was out of control. We knew that we had to do it as best as we possibly could because it was such a strong song.”
Ray Shasho: “Magic Man” was written about your brother Mike right? There were so many silly rumors regarding that song.
Mike Fisher: “Yea, that’s a love song to my brother Mike.”
Ray Shasho: Another classic tune that you were instrumental in its creation was, “Minstral Wind.”
Roger Fisher: “That’s another one of those songs that was born at soundcheck, me and Mike DeRosier coming up with great licks. That opening guitar line was Nancy’s creation, and then when it kicked into that high energy click in the middle… that was my creation. The music is really special but the lyrics are so great!”
“It was a beautiful marriage of musicianship between Ann and Nancy and I. Ann and I stayed in touch via email since the late 90’s. Just the other day I reminded her of the incredible synergy that she and I had together in Heart.”
Ray Shasho: Why did you leave Heart in 1979?
Roger Fisher: “It kind of boiled down to the fact that with the help of a certain someone that we won’t name, they found out that I was unfaithful to her and she was crushed. When that happened her very protective older sister was infuriated obviously and so we broke up. During the breaking up process I was really depressed because I was in love with Nancy in a very deep and spiritual good way but I was also entangled with her in a very indulgent way and a kind of addiction. Many of us are with our significant others and we don’t necessarily know it, but as we get older I think that gets less and less. I was completely entangled with her on every level. To break up with her and to still be on tour with her was so incredibly difficult. It was just a bad scenario and I had to leave the group. I was voted out on Halloween night 1979 by the rest of the band. I think there was only one band member who didn’t vote that I should be out. But it was a mercy decision, because I think if I would have stayed in the band, I don’t think I’d be alive today. I was on a course that was not healthy. At the time when I got the call from Ken Kinnear our manager I said wow thanks! It was a huge relief. And I’m really glad things happened the way they did because Ann and Nancy were raised by a Marine Core officer father, but their mother was more the opposite. They were taught to take charge and to take power and to be in control and that’s the way they were raised and that’s the way the band started to be run. And I didn’t like that because decisions were made for not the right reasons. I remember very clearly the first time I saw that happen… I felt the band was finished and that was way before I got voted out.”
“So now the work that I’m doing is representative of me and all my projects and relations with other musicians and I’m completely democratic except the final decision is mine. But it’s a really fair working situation. I’ve encountered so many other artists that are arrogant a-holes and I vowed many years ago that I would never become an arrogant a-hole. I can’t stand that.”
“And another thing about the musical situation that I’m part of, people will say, “So what do you want on this part?” The first thing I’ll usually say is I want you! The reason you’re here is because you are who you are and I want to hear musically what you bring to the table. I don’t want to hear an extension of what I want. But generally, I like the artist to be the artist, and don’t do what I want, do what you want. Because of how good they are that’s usually a really good thing to do. So that kind of attitude was quite different than what we were experiencing in Heart and I didn’t like that.”
Ray Shasho: Would you ever consider rejoining Heart if the opportunity was there?
“I’ve toyed around mentally with the idea of the possibility of Heart getting back together and right now it’s just way more important to me to be working on my own stuff. Right now, Heart would be a big distraction. I would want to do it but there would certainly be things holding me back.”
Ray Shasho: Roger, thank you so much for the interview. For me …Heart has always been Roger Fisher on lead guitar. I look forward to your latest endeavors. See you on Facebook and …Happy Birthday!
Roger Fisher: Thanks Ray, I’ll keep you updated on my latest projects.
Roger Fisher official website www.rogerfisher.com
Roger Fisher’s great new singles, “Dear Friend” and “Love Alive” are available at iTunes.com and amazon.com http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/love-alive-single/id484820759
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COMING UP NEXT An interview with GREG LAKE of Emerson, Lake & Palmer
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