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Heart’s Nancy Wilson Remembers Chris Cornell: Exclusive Interview

Heart‘s Ann and Nancy Wilson have long been intertwined with the Pacific Northwest music scene, including and especially bands associated with the grunge movement: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.

Throughout the years, the latter band’s late singer, Chris Cornell, frequently came into Heart’s orbit. Not only did Cornell induct the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with an incredibly detailed and complimentary speech, but he teamed up with the Wilsons for a cover of the Rolling Stones‘ “Wild Horses,” during an era when the sisters were performing as the Lovemongers.

Nancy Wilson, who’s now touring with her new band Roadcase Royale, talked to Ultimate Classic Rock about Cornell’s unexpected death last week.

I wanted to offer my condolences about Chris Cornell. I know you were close with Chris, and he loved your band. What stands out to you about the friendship that you shared with him over the years?
It’s so funny with Chris. He was always an oddball, a brilliant, incredibly talented, tortured kind of artist. His relationship with the musicians of the Seattle explosion was so deep, and those guys had such a beautiful brotherhood with each other. Like, Temple of the Dog and everything. It was such a beautiful thing about the time in Seattle, that being from Seattle like we were, made us so proud to have guys like Chris Cornell making the city musical and bringing the ethic of the community spirit out in the music of Seattle the sound of Seattle.

Chris, I always felt that he was kind of standoffish, until right before … I mean, we’d be around together a lot of times, and I guess it turned out he was nervous, because he was a big Heart fan! I didn’t realize that he was kind of nervous to be around us. Later, when he inducted us into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his incredible speech, the day before that, we were doing some interviews. I was like, “Wow, you never told me! I just thought you were just a little too cool!” But he’s like, “No, I was just trying not to gush!” It was such a cool thing that he ended up doing that, and we ended up being tighter as friends, because he sort of admitted that he was just nervous to be around [us]. [Laughs]

It’s like, “It’s just us! You don’t need to be nervous!”
Oh yeah, it’s like, ‘You’re the cool one! We’re not cool anymore!” [Laughs]

Watch Chris Cornell Induct Heart Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I re-watched that speech, and it was so gratifying to see how specific and detailed he was talking about your guitar playing and Ann’s singing. You could tell that he really paid attention to Heart’s musicianship. I had read some other interviews with him where it was the same thing. I think that he maybe didn’t get enough credit for the way he was such a student of music over the years.
Yeah, he’s a little serious about it, which was so great. His whole family was very musical — his brothers and sisters. They all were incredible singers and really studied. They were very studied musicians and very knowledgeable, and just a very interesting family.

It was just really hard to feel that Chris finally kind of succumbed to his own …. He’d always been very tortured and felt things extremely … . He was an extreme emotionalist about everything. So I don’t think there was any middle ground with him. It was either all the way up or all the way down. It’s too bad that finally came back to take him. Because he had so much to give the world, musically and personally. It was really a sad day, and I had a hard time with that. I’m still kind of wobbly.

It’s so shocking.
Yeah, it’s just so wrong and so …it shouldn’t happen. That stuff shouldn’t ever happen. But there it is.

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