Pleasanton's Firehouse to host "spinoff" band Heart by Heart
By Lou Fancher
It's not easy to sum up the calculus of Heart, the classic rock band begun in the mid-1970s that was welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
Back in the day, Ann Wilson belted out the lyrics of "Barracuda," "Crazy On You," "Magic Man," and other iconic hits while her sister, Nancy, tendered harmonies and wielded a fierce guitar. There's no doubt that the presence of two females in the rock star spotlight influenced more than one teenage girl to pick up a guitar or do something wild like form a girl-led, lip-sync band called "The Electric Bananas," an autobiographical example. Even so, the rate of change in the male-dominated rock 'n' roll industry remained -- and remains -- minimal.
This isn't to downplay Heart's male counterparts. After all, string royalty bassist Steve Fossen and guitarist Roger Fisher established the band known as The Army that morphed into Whiteheart then shortened into Heart and eventually included Michael DeRosier tap dancing mercilessly on drums and guitar/keyboard player and nuanced musician Howard Leese.
On the upside of the female rocker equation, without the Wilson sisters, there may never have been a Sheryl Crow, Orianthi, Grace Potter or Taylor Swift, to name just a few 21st century artists. And there certainly would not be Heart By Heart, a band led by original members Fossen and DeRosier coming April 8-9 to the Firehouse Arts Center.Emerging like a sonic incarnation that surpasses a tribute band by establishing it's roots in original renditions of Heart recordings, Fossen and DeRosier are joined by lead vocalist Somar Macek, guitar/keyboard player/vocalist Lizzy Daymont and guitarist Randy Hansen.
Fossen says everyone understands the meaning of "tribute band" but doesn't believe the term is accurate for HBH, his nickname for the band formed in 2015. And calling themselves "spinoff" created a tough educational hurdle. Fossen grabs at an opportunity to use the phrase "part of an evolution" and says faithfully producing the music as it was written is primary. Macek and Daymont don't attempt to impersonate the Wilsons: it's musical authenticity, not acting, that they offer.
Fossen admits to being moved to tears upon first hearing the women harmonize. "Somar has the right voice and a personality that's easy to work with. When I saw Lizzy perform, she knew all the pushes and breaks in every song."
Improbably, Seattle-based Macek dropped her original plan to become a professional singer and switched from a vocal performance major to study biology at Central Washington University. Now a clinical researcher in a urology lab when she's not performing or on tour with HBH, she admits, her idol when she was a teenager wasn't Nancy Wilson.
"I wanted to be the next Whitney Houston. She had that giant voice," says Macek. "I wasn't an Ann Wilson worshipper. I just fell into it. I have respect for her voice."
The respect built as Macek performed with a Heart tribute band, then found footing when Fossen invited her to join him to perform a few Heart songs at a rock star reunion. "I was scruffy, from hiking. Not into music," Fossen recalls. "I wasn't slick, but I could still play the bass. We became friends."
Gradually, asked to perform at parties and small gatherings, their relationship developed. "We met February 21, 2008, and eight years from the day we met, we married," says Macek, about their now one-month old nuptials. The band formed in a similar, organic way, with increased requests and the clincher -- finding Daymont.
"We tried out people -- most didn't work out, due to personalities," says Fossen.
Daymont has been a Heart fan since age 17, when the band indirectly affirmed her career choice. "I was a serious player before I became a fan, but seeing and listening to Nancy Wilson, a female rocker, solidified it," she says.
Macek says the hardest part of singing the Heart set list isn't matching the power Wilson put into the notes or capturing the nuances of her pronunciation and delivery. Instead, the hardest part is stepping into the legacy. "Everyone's looking at me, thinking, 'Can she pull this off?' I can't fill Ann's shoes, but I can portray the songs as they should be and how they were written."
Heart By Heart's 90-minute set list consists entirely of Heart songs. The only exceptions are a Led Zeppelin or Donna Summer tune thrown in for an encore -- "to shake things up," says Macek. The band plans to write new songs eventually, but for now Fossen says building the Heart By Heart legacy keeps them with the same lineup and formation: a solid rock 'n' roll band fronted by two seasoned female rockers.