Nancy reflects on 25 fantastic years as an entertainer and how her position has enabled her to extend help to a number of worthy causes. David Nathan reports.
DESPITE the fact that, by her own admission, Ms. Nancy Wilson feels somewhat tired, she's up, witty, sharp and ready to talk.
She's tired, understandably, because she's in the midst of a cross-country tour — the longest she's undertaken in several years — to celebrate 25 glorious years as an outstanding entertainer; and on this particular day, she's tired because she had to tape a television programme at 5.00 am in the morning — "and I woke up at 2.30 am and didn't get back to sleep last night! So I've been up nearly twenty-four hours, I guess!"
However, that doesn't stop the attractive and vivacious lady who has brought much musical delight to many, many people over the years from talking about some of her favourite subjects — like her career, her family and the 'other' Nancy Wilson — the lady away from the public limelight.
She reflects on her silver anniversary: "I guess those years have been extremely kind to me. I consider myself very fortunate, truly blessed and although I took my time to do the right thing at the outset of my career, it seems that everything I ever dreamed of has fallen into my lap.
"I've done just about everyting I ever imagained I could do — travelling across the world, singing everywhere, having people appreciate my records, my music. So everything that's happening now is just the icing on the cake."
Nancy recalls that "I discussed getting into a singing career with my parents when I first decided that was what I wanted to do and we talked about all the negative parts! I knew from the start that there was going to be no glamour in it — the media has painted that picture but, believe me, it ain't easy!
"It's like all the travelling. Sure, when I was in my twenties, it was great. But as you get older, it begins to take its toll — you get tired of packing clothes every other day, getting on and off planes. Now I'm just into my forties and it isn't quite so easy to do all that because your body naturally slows down. But I can't say that I'm sorry about choosing this career — it has just been so rewarding in so many ways."
Not only through her excellent in-person performances but through her thirty albums, Nancy has reached many admirers throughout the world.
"I've spent quite a bit of time in Japan, for instance — I make the trip about every fifteen months — and it's great to know that people love your records, hear your music. I feel satisfied with my albums but I don't know if we'd had all the promotion we could have on some of them," Nancy states. "I guess everyone knows I can sell a certain amout of records and no one tries too hard to take my sales beyond that.
"But I'm always looking for changes. It's like we may have a hit single for the first time! Nancy Wilson with a hit single, imagine that!" she laughs. She's referring to "I'm Gonna Let You" the first single pulled from Nancy's latest Capitol album, "Music On My Mind" produced by Clarence McDonald (of Emotions, Bill Withers fame).
"Working with Clarence was incredible," says Nancy. "We had a list of about three producers but as soon as we met, we hit it off. And what really knocked me out was that he wanted to record the album live with the whole orchestra, rhythm section and me! And that's exactly what we did and I loved it.
"You see, when I first started recording, it was unheard of for people to overdub everything, it took away that special creative spark that comes from having everyone there at the same time. On this album, we had 30 pieces playing and we did the whole thing in about four or five sessions. Everyone had a ball, because we were working with musicians I've known for years and the respect that was generated just helped so much — it was a lot of fun.
"And we had some great people there — people like Bohannon and so on. And the material is great. Deniece Williams wrote a tune under a pseudonym, I wrote a song myself ('Let It Flow') and Clarence co-wrote quite a few of the rest. I truly feel great about the whole project."
We quipped that with "I'm Gonna Let You" doing so well, Nancy might find herself with a giant hit and we enquired how that would change her career. "Well, you know, I really do not know! It's not something that's ever really happened that much but one thing I do know: I'm not going to be out here working forty weeks a year if it happens!"
And Nancy has four specific reasons why she wouldn't spend that time out on the road. They are husband Rev. Wiley Burton, son Casey (now 16), daughter Samantha Ivey (three) and her newly-adopted daughter Sheryl (just two).
"The family unit is so important to me, I can't stress it enough. And I dislike being away from them for more than two or three weeks — I start to go nuts! I think it's very important for a mother to be with her children as much as possible. Of course, they know that I'm out there singing and you should see Sam — she's really getting into singing and dancing too! She's picked up all her mother's moves!" Nancy says, as she demonstrates the sassy stance that her lovely daughter now emulates.
"Now if she decided she wanted to be in the business, to be an entertainer, I'd probably discourage her — or at least tell her all about the hard parts, the difficulties, the sacrifices. I wouldn't push her to do it but if she really wanted to after all that, she'd have my blessing.
Nancy's involvement with children extends beyond her own family, since she is constantly working with health programmes for children (dealing with malnutrition etc.) and she has her own radio show on taking care of babies which is broadcast across the States. In addition, a special scholarship has just been founded bearing Nancy's name to mark her contribution to child care and welfare.
"My feeling is simple: if the gift is given, it should be shared, I don't feel I have a responsibility as 'Nancy Wilson' but just as a human being. I'm constantly amazed that I'm asked to do so many things in regard benefits for worthy causes and the feedback I get from the public is that a lot of time, other entertainers don't take too much interest in such things."
Nancy admits that being a 'public personality' has "helped me to do a lot of things for such programmes but I don't feel that I necessarily 'owe' it to the public. My feeling is that what I owe the public is the best possible performance I can give on stage and in performance."
Although Nancy does perform quite frequently, she does spend as much time at home as she can. What does she do when she's there, we enquired gingerly?
"Well, have you ever tried to raise a family with three growing children? Believe me, that takes a whole lot of time! And then there's all the community work. No, I don't really get much chance to see other entertainers although there are some that are close to me. Like Dionne Warwick — we're good friends and whenever we can, we get together and play cards, stuff like that.
"And I used to be really close with Nat 'King' Cole and Cannonball Adderley. But it's hard to really be that close to other entertainers because we're all so busy and it's hard just catching up with each other."
Nancy may not get a chance to see too many of her contemporaries but one thing's for sure: over the years, as a top vocalist she has influenced a whole lot of other singers. "Yes, I hear traces of me in a whole lot of people and it's great — it's a compliment really."
And we should add one more compliment because Ms. Wilson certainly doesn't look as if she's been performing and entertaining for 25 years which indicates that she's really been taking good care of herself. So what does the future hold, we wonder?
"Well, I just want to continue to let people hear my music. I set a certain time for my continued visibility in front of the public and after that, it will be time to lay back a little more. I'd like to be able to just give those special concerts every now and again and I must say that as much as I dig what I'm doing, I still want to give more time to my 'other' side, the Nancy Wilson with family at home!"
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.