THE MESSAGE ON the downtown Detroit wall was brief, and the writer got straight to the point. “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll!” it read, the words scrawled on either side of a large red heart pierced by a sword. After a couple of other song titles, each adorned by a few crude but potent doodles, it was signed with a flourish: “Magic Man.”

If you were looking for the authentic voice of a particular type of music lover in that searingly hot summer of 1976, Mr. Magic Man might have been it. I was a 19-year-old British student on my long vacation from Cambridge, and accepting a friend’s invitation to visit what then was America’s most homicidal city was, frankly, a gamble. As so often happened that summer, I could feel my eyeballs protrude slowly from their sockets, and then slowly retreat again. It was all a long way from the dreaming spires of Cambridge.

A backstage pass to the creation of Heart, its evolution and the revival of its classic hits

But at least we had a car, and the car had a tape deck, and what I chiefly remember as the soundtrack of that long, hot summer was Heart’s debut album, “Dreamboat Annie.” I never got tired of it. The record seemed to have it all: There was Ann Wilson’s voice, for one thing. But the band behind her was just as good, and even cruising down Interstate 75 in a 15-year-old Nova with no muffler, you could appreciate the dynamic drumming and peerless bass playing.

The latter came courtesy of Steve Fossen, I later learned, and even then it was obvious he was one of the masters of his craft, frequently lofting off into melodies rather than just plunking the root notes. Songs like “Crazy on You” and “Sing Child” felt like the most fun anyone could have with four strings.

A few years later, I read that Fossen and his rhythm section partner, Mike Derosier, had left Heart, and some of their story can be found in the pages that follow. After coming to know them, I’m struck by their unfailing cheerfulness and sense of quiet pride in what they accomplished, and the complete lack of anything approaching self-pity.


In Fossen’s case, it was almost as if being voted out of a globally chart-topping band he’d helped start in the first place was just one of those things bound to happen in show business. Whether performing at a sold-out Texas stadium or your local town’s summer fair, he’s one of those musicians who are there because they love to play in front of an audience, not just because they’re under some legal obligation to do so.

In that context, I happened to wander into Lake Meridian Park in Kent one warm summer evening in 2021, and as I got to the top of the hill overlooking the grassy amphitheater, there was an authentic, if miniature, touch of vintage Woodstock about the scene, with people happily sprawled out on blankets or on their feet dancing, the sun setting over the boat-strewn lake behind, and punctuating it all the unmistakable strains of “Crazy on You” soaring up from the stage, where Steve Fossen and Heart by Heart were giving us the old songs with a vitality and passion that matched the originals.

The whole experience was like joyfully stepping 45 years into the past. I suddenly felt about 19 again, even if there had been some unfortunate developments with my hair in the meantime.