Editor’s note: CMT Crossroads: Wynonna & Heart debuts Friday (July 9) at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Wynonna is known for talking about her heart, constantly giving it credit for so many of her decisions, whether it’s her music, her business decisions or her family.
But when she gets on the topic of Heart, the pioneering rock group comprised of sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, she can’t stop gushing.
“Ah, what a feeling,” she says excitedly, recounting her few days spent with Heart, taping the episode of CMT Crossroads. “I mean, that’s one of the highlights of my career, no doubt, just because I knew I was getting away with something.”
With a huge amount of anticipation and sisterhood, she welcomed the Wilsons to her farm outside of Nashville, packing a picnic for them and taking them fishing. Naomi Judd tagged along, this being a family moment.
“We took them back into the heart of the farm, and we hollered,” Wynonna says, “which is what people did back before telephones. That’s why they call it a holler — because that’s what people did. Like if the guy was walking up to pick up his girlfriend on a date, he would holler or whistle to her, and she would know he was coming. Well, next thing I know, Ann is standing in the middle of my farm, howling at the top of her lungs, and we all just did the double-over belly laugh and hollered, and we just became family.”
Heart’s sisterly vibe was also evident “big time” during the actual concert taping, Wynonna says. “There’s an eye contact thing. It’s like when you see birds flying parallel: If one turns left, the other goes with them. They don’t even have to speak. They just do it. There’s a real shorthand going on, absolutely. A nod of the head, the raise of the eyebrow. …There’s just that blood thing that obviously is just so DNA, that bypasses anything we can all understand unless you’re singing with blood.”
Wynonna knows about “that blood thing.” She’s marking her 20th anniversary in country music with a career retrospective tour in the fall. And although Heart’s first hit arrived in 1975, they just released a new studio album, Jupiter’s Darling. Despite their collective credentials, however, all three women had the jitters before taking the stage recently at Nashville’s Belmont University.
“It’s one thing to sing your own stuff,” Wynonna says, “but to step out on that limb — which is where the fruit is, honey — but to make yourself vulnerable in front of a crowd on a dadgum television show and doing someone else’s music … it’s like wearing someone else’s clothes or working somebody else’s job for the day. It spins you around, and you’ve got to really rely on your instincts.”
So, to calm everybody’s nerves, Wynonna reached for the champagne bottle and toasted her heroes.
“I just wanted them to know that I understand family, the dynamics, how tough it is, how hard it’s been and how long we’ve been traveling. My God, they’ve been doing it longer than I’m alive, you know? I looked at Ann and Nancy, and I said, ‘I want to thank you for the opportunity to sing, but more importantly I want to thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your family. And you’re a part of mine.’ And Nancy got tears in her eyes, and we just sort of had one of those moments where it just was a real heavy moment, but it was also really important. We just clinked our glasses and took the sip. Then I took them by the hand and it was just like, ‘Go, fight, win! Get out there and win, team, win!'”
Still, Wynonna admits that she rehearsed more for this show than for anything in her life. “I wanted to get every syllable correct,” she says.
Indeed she stopped the taping at one point to go back to a high note on one of Heart’s songs, the way she’d been rehearsing it. To the untrained ear, Wynonna’s rendition sounded just fine. But Wynonna, who has listened to the duo for pretty much her whole musical life, believed the note deserved more. The second time through the song, she nailed it.
“When I showed up there, I knew every word backwards and forwards,” Wynonna says, “and I was probably over-prepared because, at one point, Ann came over to me and patted me like big sister to little sister, and said, ‘Hey, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Relax. It’s OK.’ And I’m going, ‘Excuse me, Miss Opera Singer,’ you know, ‘Sings from like another galaxy!’ It was pretty intense for a while, then somehow it just clicked, and then it got easier.”
Yet, after the show, Wynonna found herself at a loss for words — a rare thing.
“We’d done all the interviews and all the showbiz stuff, so afterwards I literally could not talk,” she says. “I just sat in the chair, and I was so sweaty and so tired and so elated and so glad that I did what I did. … Make yourself jump out there and be alive, be real. Don’t hide behind your mask. Don’t just hide behind the music. Get out there and show people who you are. It’s so important.”
When she finally composed herself, she checked in on her “she-roes,” as she calls them.
“I went next door and they were having a little party afterwards in their room, and I got to hang out with them and just do absolutely nothing but just laugh and be in the moment,” she remembers. “That’s what life is about.”