Steve Fossen The Original Bassist
April 13, 2020
Steve Fossen, the original bassist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member of the band Heart spoke to us from his home just outside of Seattle. He talked about his time in Heart, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his current band Heart By Heart. The band features Fossen and original Heart drummer Michael DeRosier, vocalist Somer Macek, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Lizzy Daymont and guitarist Chad Quist. The band’s mission according to Fossen is to “perform the classic Heart music as faithfully as possible.”
Greg Drugan: Hey Steve, where are you calling me from today?
Steve Fossen: Near Seattle, Washington.
GD: How are you and Somer holding up during this crazy time?
SF: Actually we are enjoying it. We are getting to take care of some projects that have been sitting on the back burner for some time because we’ve been so busy with Heart By Heart. We go for walks and explore the neighborhood like we’ve never done before. Last night I took out my camera and took some pictures of the moon. We’re doing a lot of cooking and trying out new recipes. We are staying busy and positive! We hope to get back to gigging in June, July and August.
GD: Are you playing and writing any new music?
SF: We always sing and play. We are working with a songwriter and a producer but they are out in LA so it’s hard to coordinate in that respect. Everybody is going through hell to make sure there’s food on the table and paying bills. We are listening to a lot more music. We played here in Seattle back in February and we hired a guy to take pictures of us. He also set up a video camera with an audio recording device and he’s been able to separate out the songs and get us the whole set with mixes on them. So that’s been fun sorting out all that stuff.
Somar and I are going to do a live broadcast at some point. We’ve seen some real crappy ones and some good ones. We want to make sure it sounds right and looks right.
GD: I got to see Heart By Heart two years ago when you played in western Pennsylvania, and you guys were great! Tell me how you put the band together and how long you’ve been doing it?
A few months later we played a gig for the Susan G. Koman Foundation and raised a lot of money for their cause. At that gig, the general public got to see us and then some booking agents got involved and started booking us. Then we got a website and people on the east coast saw that we had a band. Then pretty soon we were flying and playing gigs all over America.
GD: That’s awesome! I like that you guys play some deep cuts like “Devil Delight” and “Mistral Wind” in concert, do you have a favorite song to play live?
SF: I’ve always liked “Magic Man.” “Magic Man” was the very first song I ever recorded for Dreamboat Annie and “Magic Man” was the first song that I heard on the radio. That’s always a big thrill the first time you hear yourself on the radio. That’s one of my favorite’s to play but they’re all very good. Every song puts a smile on my face. “Mistral Wind” is very fun to play and I think we do a good job playing it.
“Straight On,” “Barracuda” “Crazy On You” I mean what’s not to love? (laughs) All of this music is music that Mike and I helped write in the studio and help arrange. We all were involved in the mixes. They are songs that are like our little babies and we like playing ‘em.
GD: You guys do a great job playing them! I also enjoy that you throw a couple of Heart songs from the ‘80s that the sisters don’t even play live anymore.
SF: Yeah, there was one point where we did a half an hour of songs from the ‘80s. We kinda enjoy the older stuff more. The ‘80s stuff is fun. There’s a certain audience (for those songs) because they were popular on MTV and they know all the words.
GD: I’m based out of the Cleveland area, do you remember playing in Cleveland during the early days and did you ever stay at Swingo’s?
SF: Yep! We did play in Cleveland in the early days and we did stay at Swingo’s! I’ve been back to Cleveland several times to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Somer and I have some very good friends who work at the Hall of Fame. We are looking forward to attending the induction that was supposed to be in May but has been postponed until the fall. But we will be in Cleveland and Mike’s coming too and that will be his first time seeing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
There’s people who hate the Rock Hall because their band’s not in or whatever. But from what I know, the people that work there are very dedicated and they are doing the best that they can. I mean, you can’t put every band into the Hall of Fame. It’s not a perfect organization but their heart’s in the right place and they’re trying to do the right thing. I really love it. Of course, I was a detractor before I was in it! (laughs)
GD: I don’t blame you. It took awhile for you guys to get in. I think you should have gotten in a little sooner!
SF: It would have been nice. Once Mike, Rog and I left the band. Rog left first, then Mike and I left a couple years later. Then Howard (Leese) and Ann and Nancy had a band for a number of years. Then they didn’t do Heart in the ‘90s. I used to work retail, not that I needed the money. But they used to play Heart music on the radio and during the day, people I worked with would look at me and say, “there you are on the radio again!” They (DJ’s) would announce “here’s another one by Ann and Nancy Wilson.” Wait a minute, it wasn’t called Ann and Nancy Wilson, it was called Heart. For a while, it seemed like the guys were put in the background. But when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominated not only Ann and Nancy, but also Howard, Roger, Mike and I. All of a sudden, people said “yeah, that’s my favorite version of the band.” It gave Mike and I, as far as Heart By Heart, a little shot in the arm. We had a hook for people to come out and see us. I really appreciate it and our contributions were great, as far as I’m concerned.
GD: That is undeniable. Looking back on your career, who were some of your influences growing up?
SF: The biggest influence for me personally was Paul McCartney. Bill Wyman was also a big influence and John Paul Jones of course. Those were the big three that influenced me early on. Then Chris Squire came along. Then of course James Jamerson, back in those days you didn’t know who played on the Motown stuff. There’s been tons of songs and individuals that have influenced me. It’s an attitude about playing the bass.
GD: Who was the first artist you saw in concert and how did that impact you?
SF: (laughs) It’s hard to remember the first. I think it was The Kinks. When I saw those bands back in the early days, you saw five or six or seven bands in one concert. They played twenty minutes to a half an hour each. I saw The Kinks, The Beach Boys, The Seeds. All of the bands- Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Grassroots. You see all of these people and you look at them and think, they’re trying to make something cool and good. Live music is what really got a hold of me.
It’s the sound in the room. You know those new in-ear things? I don’t use them. To me, the sound of rock is the sound in the air. It’s not the mix of the song in your ear, it’s in the air! The whole band playing together and everybody working off each other. That’s rock to me.
GD: You formed Heart early on with a couple of other guys, how did Ann and Nancy Wilson end up joining the band?
SF: Rog (Fisher) and I started the band with a guy named Don and a guy named Ray. We started Heart back in 1969. Don and Ray quit and Rog and I had some other members, but we were definitely Heart and we were a popular band. Then Rog and I hit hard times and it was just the two of us and we were crashing in people’s backyards. We had some debt, so we said “why don’t we put a band together?” So we put an ad in the newspaper for a singer, a guitar player and a drummer. Ann was one of the singers who answered the ad. We changed the name of the band to Hocus Pocus. We played around Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho and we toured for about nine months. Rog and I saved every penny we could to pay off our debts. During that time, we had met Nancy but she was in college. We knew Ann and Nancy had a musical relationship because they were sisters. She was fun to be around and she was good looking. Ann had fallen in love with Roger’s older brother, Mike. He lived in Vancouver. When Hocus Pocus broke up in 1971, Ann wanted to move to Vancouver to be with Mike and Rog wanted to be with his brother and I wanted to be in a band that was successful. So we put together a band up in Canada and we got a couple of Canadian musicians, Brain and John and we started playing around Vancouver. Within six months, we were one of the top bands in the area.
In 1974, Nancy had finished college and decided to play with us. Soon after that, we came to the attention of Mushroom Records and producer Mike Flicker. They asked if we wanted to record an album and that album became Dreamboat Annie.
GD: Wow! When you were making Dreamboat Annie, did you know that it was going to be the hit that it became?
SF: We were a very successful band and we packed the places when we played. We knew it was going to be good because” Flicker was such a good producer. He kept saying to us “You better do this right because you’re going to be playing if for the rest of your life.” We were all ambitious, driven people. Especially Roger, Mike, Ann and I. We knew we weren't going to take no for an answer and we weren’t just going to gloss over things. We were going to do things right. Of course Ann and Nancy being sisters, she (Nancy) caught the bug from us too. Mike Flicker was also very driven.
One thing led to another and we released it up in Canada and the first single was “Magic Man.” In Canada, they have a thing called Canadian content. If you meet the requirements, you qualify to be Canadian content which means radio stations are obligated to play a certain amount of Canadian content. Since we qualified, we automatically got in the running to be played. Since it was good, we got more play. Pretty soon, the album started selling and we got played all across Canada. Then those pesky radio waves don’t recognize the border between Canada and America so it just kept going into America. Audiences in Buffalo, Detroit and Chicago heard us because those stations could be heard there. Then they arranged for us to open up for Rush in Detroit and St. Louis. So thanks to our friends in Rush, they gave us a nice shot to get our nose under the tent, so to speak. Then other artists heard about us, they asked us to open for them. We were so experienced from playing all those clubs in Canada. We were such a polished act, we had no fear.
GD: Heart played two of the biggest shows in 1978, the California Jam and the Texxas Jam. What do you remember about those shows and did you watch any of the other acts on the bill?
SF: Oh yeah! It was really something to hang out backstage with Steven Tyler and Foreigner and Ted Nugent. It was wild!
GD: Were they just one day events?
SF: Yep, they were one day concerts.
GD: What was it like playing in front of 300,000 people?
SF: You looked out and just saw a sea of people. I don’t even know why the people in the back would want to be there. It was so far away. In those days, it was kinda a phenomena. Our road manager Dick Adams said, “You’re playing in front of 250-300,000 people. But if you think about it, you’re just playing for one person at a time. If you do your best, and concentrate on that one person, everyone else is going to have a good time.” We didn’t really think about it. You were knocked out by the enormity of it, but we just went out and played our gig.
GD: After recording Private Audition in 1982, why were you and Michael dismissed from the band?
SF: Have you ever heard Private Audition?
GD: No, actually that’s the one Heart album I don’t have.
SF: Well, we weren’t knocked out by the whole situation of recording that. We kind of, especially Mike, was worried about the direction the band was going. We were creating waves, and it’s the kind of waves where you know that something’s got to give. So we were dismissed, like you say. At the time we thought, “Oh god, what a relief. We don’t have to worry about that any more.” Thinking back on it, I wish we could have worked it out and weathered the storm. There was way more potential and way more songs in us to do. It was what it was. But everything worked out.
GD: We mentioned that Heart finally got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. You guys actually played together, what was it like playing with the original members after waiting so long?
SF: The day before, we had a private rehearsal. We were all told we were going to play “Crazy On You” and that’s all we were going to play. Ann and Nancy wanted their current band that they called Heart, to play “Barracuda.” It was an odd decision in my opinion because Roger and Mike are co-writers of “Barracuda” and they were there, at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, ready to play “Barracuda” and Ann and Nancy wouldn’t let us. But they did let us play “Crazy On You” and we were grateful for that.
In this private rehearsal, out in LA, the very first time we played it, it could have been filmed and recorded and it would have been done. It was all muscle memory and we did it that well. I think we went over it maybe four times. Ann and Nancy are very concerned that they are the only ones responsible for the success. Nobody is taking anything away from them, they were a part of it but we were a part of it too. Mike Flicker was a part of it too and so was Mushroom Records for putting us out there.
They really couldn’t open up and be that friendly to us because their narrative is this and our narrative is that.
GD: Was there any talk of the original group getting back together and touring after the induction? I think that would have been fantastic!
SF: Oh yeah, I talked about it. Then I got shot down about two seconds after I opened my mouth! They said Ann and Nancy aren’t interested. It would have been hard to get all the guys on board. We wouldn’t have been salary guys, we would have gotten a percentage. Ann and Nancy don’t want to share because they’ve established lifestyles of needing money that they can’t really afford anything than to hire people that they work with. That’s one way to look at it. It’s not how I would look at it. That’s not how Heart By Heart looks at it either. We are all equal people and we all share ideas and talents with each other and we share the money that we make.
GD: Wow, just like a band should.
SF: Exactly! Any band that is successful. Look at the Rolling Stones! Keith and Mick get the lion's share of the writing credit, but when they play live, it’s pretty much a split.
GD: Are you in contact with Roger and Howard today?
SF: Howard, yes. Roger, not so much. Roger and I met in junior high school. We had bands for years and years and then we kinda drifted apart. Howard, he has Raiding The Rock Vault in Vegas. We go down and see him. Unfortunately during those fires a couple of years ago, Howard lived in Malibu and lost everything. He doesn’t really talk it up but it was tragic. I really admire Howard because he never cried about it. He’s like, it is what it is. I’d be crying still!
GD: When things calm down, do you still plan on hitting the road with Heart By Heart? We’d love to have you here in Cleveland. There’s a huge Heart fanbase here.
SF: I know! We keep talking to Shelby (at the Rock Hall) to do something at the Rock Hall. I love the history of Cleveland. It was the banking capital for a number of years. Cleveland was quite the rich place for a while.
GD: Steve, thanks so much for your time. I got a little history lesson and learned a few things today!
SF: You’re welcome! When we get closer to figuring out our plans, I’ll give you a call!
For more information and to watch video clips of Heart By Heart click here.