In repose, she looks angelic, like the classically trained pianist she once was. But put her onstage and plug her in, and the young guitarist explodes into a ball of fire, long tresses flying as the diminutive diva rips it up fronting her blues-rock trio the Steppin Stones.
Hilton Head, S.C., native Hannah Wicklund started her career early. Inspired by her dad, a local rock hero who forsook drumming for guitar when she was born, Wicklund took up piano at the age of 3. But after she saw her brother, who got his first guitar for Christmas, piano lost its luster for her.
“My dad had gotten my brother his first guitar and I was probably like 7 or 8, and I thought it was for me,” she says, giggling. “I’m all excited looking at it, then I realized that my big present was a pogo stick. So I think when my dad saw my face that morning, that was my exchange. ‘You have to get rid of your trampoline cause of insurance, but here’s a guitar!’”
Chafing to bust out of classical mode while still being classically trained on piano, Wicklund had learned 60 Beatles songs by the time she was 7.
“I was definitely aching for more rock and roll, so for me, piano was more like practice and use your metronome, whereas guitar was like waaaaahhh,” she says imitating the roar of an electric guitar.
The 21-year-old started her first band at 9, covering the Stones, AC/DC, Janis Joplin and Tom Petty. After graduating high school two years early, right after turning 16, Wicklund started touring, initially in the Southeast, expanding worldwide as she got older.
Wicklund brings it hard and heavy, her vocals as powerful as her guitar riffs. The singer/guitarist admits to being mesmerized by Grace Slick and especially Etta James.
“She was a strong, feet-on-the-ground, planted kind of woman,” Wicklund says of James, who she says she listened to on the bus to school for a large chunk of time. “She’s very decisive — that’s a good way of saying she knows what she wants.”
Wicklund is pretty clear as to what she wants from her sound and how to get it. She has an endorsement deal with Tom Anderson guitars, which she has been playing since she was 9.
“I’m endorsed by them, or I endorse them — I still don’t know which way its supposed to go,” she says laughing. “Yeah. We endorse each other.” She favors them as her road instrument. “Touring with my Andersons is a dream because I’ll open up my case, and it’ll still be in tune even if it’s in the middle of summer and it’s been sitting in the hot van.”
Even though she praises them, she still has a suggestion to help her operate it even better.
“I’m a fairly short girl. I’m like 5’ 3’’, and my right arm sometimes gives me problems, so I was thinking it might be cool one day to do a guitar with Tom Anderson that’s just slightly shorter so that it fits a woman’s body without being a “woman’s guitar,” but something a little bit shorter so that my shoulder frame can relax a little bit.”
Wicklund’s latest eponymous record, released in 2018 and produced by Jason Isbell guitarist Sandler Vaden, is packed with blazing rockers, but she also shows a more quiet, (for her) introspective side on “Looking Glass,” with a Tom Petty feel. Wicklund grew up going to see Petty with her family, and admits to being a die-hard fan. The last time she saw Petty, in 2017 at San Diego’s KAABOO Del Mar festival at which she also performed, was very emotional for her.
“I’ve never been one where music-brought-me-to-tears type,” she says, “but when I was watching Tom, my parents were supposed to be out there, because they love Tom. (They) were gonna come support that show.”
Her parents had just moved back into their home after six months of reconstruction when it had been flooded for the second year in a row.
“So I was really bummed at that show and that whole other slew of (stuff) that comes with being in the music business and being a young woman. So I’m watching Tom, and he goes into ‘You Don’t Know How It Feels to Be Me,’ and I just start crying and I’m like, ‘You’re right Tom, nobody knows what it’s like.’ That was the most connected I’ve ever felt to Tom — it was really special.”
But Wicklund is not one to sit at home and cry about her situation. She keeps on the move, a dedicated road dawg.
“I’ve really found a home on the road,” the singer/guitarist says. “The road is a really great place for me, ‘cause I’ve got so many friends who have turned into family, so it’s really just like a big reunion every day. Every day on the road, I get to see people I love.
“So I love touring, hanging out with bands, talking to people about music, and being reminded that my music means something to some people is amazing, so touring is my favorite part about all of this.”