On January 22, the 2021 She Rocks Awards — founded in 2012 by the Women’s International Music Network — will honor “trailblazing women from all areas of the music industry – from educators, to label execs, manufacturers, non-profits, media, performers, engineers, and more.” For this year’s virtual ceremony, award recipients include Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson, the Go-Go’s, former Runaways singer Cherie Currie, international percussion icon Cindy Blackman Santana, Amy Lee of Evanescence, comedian Magaret Cho, and more. Two signature bestowments this year will go, respectively, to Wilson, who will receive this year’s “Legend” award, while the Go-Go’s will be honored with the “Icon” award.
Wilson, calling from her Northern California home, says she’s pleased to be recognized in this way. “I think the She Rocks award is pretty significant. I just feel so honored and thrilled to be singled out,” she says. On another call, from her home in Austin, Texas, The Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine agrees that it is important to be a She Rocks honoree, though she says when she got the news, “I wasn’t surprised. I mean, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God, why would they choose us?’ We’re the fucking Go-Go’s! Why wouldn’t we be chosen for an award? That’s the way I look at it,” she says.
It’s probably true that nobody should be surprised about Wilson and Valentine being honored in this way, considering their track records. With Heart, Wilson has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the band selling more than 35 million albums thanks to hits such as “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” “Alone,” “What About Love,” “These Dreams” (on which Wilson sang the lead vocal), and many more. And The Go-Go’s were the first all-female band to top the charts, notching up numerous hits including “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation,” “We Got the Beat,” and “Head Over Heels.”
Both Heart and The Go-Go’s were founded in the 1970s, which makes Wilson and Valentine pioneers because that was an era when it was still unusual to see women in rock bands. Valentine recalls that she started learning to play guitar without realizing it could actually ever be a career for her.
“There weren’t any females in bands and so it didn’t occur to me I could be in a band,” Valentine says, “but then I saw Suzi Quatro when I was in England visiting and I was fourteen [years old]. It was 1973, and it was the first time I’d seen a woman in a band, and that’s what I decided I wanted to do. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know I would have thought to do it.” She went on to join The Go-Go’s (switching to the bass guitar in order to get the job) in 1980.
Wilson, who growing up in the 1960s had to look to men for her original role models, recall that she and her sister Ann (who went on to become Heart’s vocalist) first got inspired by watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. “It was the lightning bolt that struck us: ‘Okay, must have guitars, must start a band, must write songs.’” Their goal, she says, was to “be The Beatles. Not marry The Beatles, but just be them somehow. We felt empowered by how cool they were and how fun they were and how sexy they were.”
Exactly 40 years since The Go-Go’s released their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, Valentine is unsure if women in rock have progressed to true equality with men. “It depends what ‘progress’ is,” she says. “I think there’s more women that choose to have careers in the music business, so there’s that kind of progress. But I don’t see a lot of all-female bands. I don’t know if that’s progress or not progress.” And, she adds, “I still don’t think there’s been very many all-female bands that have had the kind of achievements that would have been nice to see – long-term bands that have careers like the Foo Fighters or Green Day or U2.”
Wilson seems more optimistic about women’s progress, pointing out Phoebe Bridgers, Taylor Swift, and St. Vincent, in particular. These women, she says, are taking music in “all kinds of really cool new directions. They really command attention and respect for the good music they’re making. There’s just a lot of cool stuff coming up. It used to be so unusual. Like, ‘That’s really a strange thing to see a woman fronting a rock band – I’ve never heard of such a thing!’ So I really love to see the change is coming.”
This change, Wilson says, is another reason why the She Rocks Awards are so important. “It celebrates women, and the power women have in the [music] industry,” she says. “It’s just a really positive message to send out there. There’s a lot more women picking up guitars than men these days and forming bands these days, so [She Rocks] is right in step with what’s happening in the culture.”
Nancy Wilson’s legendary career will be honored this Friday at the annual She Rocks Awards
Both Wilson and Valentine agree that it’s still important for girls and young women to see women leading the way in bands, and Valentine lists Lzzy Hale of Halestorm and Hayley Williams from Paramore as two women she believes hold that position currently.
“I think that [The Go-Go’s] represent a legacy. I think that we represent possibilities, still. I think that our success is an example of what’s important to make it, and I think the basis of that [are] songs. We have great songs that are timeless. They don’t sound any less of a good song in 2021 as they did in 1991 or 1981. They don’t sound like they’re particularly from an era. They are classic. I think that’s the basis of everything.”
Wilson agrees that the songs are the most crucial aspect of any band – though she admits it took Heart a while to get people on board with the wide range of styles they played. “When we first started out, a lot of our fans would be like, ‘Wow, I really love your big rockers, but why do you have to do those wimpy ballads?’ Then the other half of them would say, ‘I love those ballads, but why do you have to turn it up so loud for those rock songs?’ Eventually I think the balance came together [so] that people would accept the strength and the softer things about our capability of being so versatile. There’s room in the heavens for all the stars, and there’s room in a rock band for all of the feels,” she says.
Valentine and Wilson’s respective bands have continued to draw interest through touring and releasing material through the years, and last year, The Go-Go’s, a documentary about the band, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, then played on Showtime to much critical acclaim; it will be released on digital formats on February 5.
They have each done notable work outside their bands, as well. Valentine’s autobiography, All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir, was published last year. “My book has been very-well received. It was in the top music books [lists] in Rolling Stone, Washington Post, and Forbes for 2020, so that was a pretty big accomplishment,” she says. She also did the music for the audiobook version. “Basically, it’s like a solo record, but it’s more of a soundtrack to the book. It was super creative and I did everything myself.”
Based on that good experience, Valentine says she plans to do more work like this. “I’m very interested in the endeavor of and the intersection of storytelling with songs, music, and prose, so I’ll probably do more of that,” she says. “It’s just really inspiring and fun, and it’s something I can do that not everyone can do. Not every writer can write songs. Not every songwriter can write books. So when I see something that’s a specialty that I can do, it seems smart, strategically, to do it.”
Wilson is readying her own solo project – a new album, You and Me, set for release in April. It features guest appearances from Sammy Hagar, Duff McKagan, Taylor Hawkins, and Liv Warfield. “So many people have asked me, when are you going to do that?’ For a really long time, it was like, ‘Yeah, someday I will,’” she says, “but because of the [pandemic] situation now it’s the perfect moment.”
There’s also already tour offer on the table for Heart for next fall. “Which we hope we can do, of course,” Wilson says, because she and her bandmates miss the “thrills you get on a big rock show stage where you’ve got colored lights and people are there cheer you on.”
Until then, though, Wilson and Valentine are looking forward to the She Rocks awards ceremony on January 22. As Wilson says, “It’s time for women to be hailed and to be encouraged and to come forward and be strong and powerful in the culture.”