Lita Ford is back. After a ten year sabbatical living on an island and raising two sons, who are now fifteen and eleven, Ford has just unleashed Living Like A Runawa
y, a soul-diving expose’ with enough sharp edges and guitar shreds to leave no doubt that the woman in the black leather pants is back on the metal scene. Starting her career at sixteen in the Runaways followed by a rollercoaster ride of popularity with her self-titled album in 1988, Ford eventually took a step back to be a mom and a wife. But the itch grew more intense as her boys got older, culminating in the new album which features such rockers as “Branded”, “Mother”, “Devil In My Head” and the Nikki Sixx-penned “A Song To Slit Your Wrists By”. Currently on the Rock Of Ages tour with Def Leppard and Poison, Ford is having a great time.
Calling in just prior to the start of the tour, Ford was relaxing with her two “travel-size” companions – her two Chihuahuas, who eventually told us it was time to wrap up when nature was calling. “They do rule the roost,” Ford laughed.Lita, how do you feel about being back in music full time again?
Oh God, it feels great to be back. It’s been a while since I did a real Lita record and I missed it. It’s in my blood and I missed it. But I just wanted to be a mom for a while. I had two beautiful boys and I just wanted to spend my time being a mom. The music industry had changed and grunge kicked in and it was a good time to just go away and be a mom for a while. But it’s like a drug: once it gets in your system you can’t get it out.Let’s talk about your early days. What were you like in high school?
Originally, I went to Long Beach Poly High School. My parents had moved to this area and wanted me to go to Lakewood High School and it was full of football players and cheerleaders and I hated it. I just did not fit in. I asked my parents, although Lakewood High School was close to my house, I asked my parents if I could get on the bus and go down to Long Beach Poly High School. It was in not a real great area and the high school was known for rioting with Compton High School. As a matter of fact, there are songs out about it. But the high school was kept behind bars. You had to have a school ID to get on the school campus. You had to go through the metal detector to get on school grounds to make sure kids weren’t carrying any firearms. That’s the school I wanted to go to. All my buddies were there, all my musician friends were there. I was not into football players in high school. That was not my cup of tea. I wanted to be with the musicians.
So I used to get on a bus and travel across town and go to Long Beach Poly High, which is where I ended up graduating from. My father went and got my diploma for me because I was on tour with the Ramones when it was time to graduate. So that was cool. But the teachers all knew me and they all knew that I was going to do something with my life so they gave me the credits that I needed to graduate high school. Although I really didn’t earn them because I wasn’t there half the time, they knew I was still up to something that was good and it was going to amount to something and they were proud of me.
But I would ditch school and I would go and hang out with all the musicians and we would find somebody’s house to jam at (laughs). It was a lot of fun. I had one white drummer friend of mine - the rest of my buddies were black guitar players – and they all used to come over to my house and my mom would cook everybody food and we would just sit around and jam (laughs). I was the furthest thing from a foufy poufy girl. I couldn’t even play guitar if you dressed me in pink (laughs)When did you realize that your heart lay with playing music?
Well, I started playing when I was eleven and I really loved it. It came natural, it wasn’t something that I had to really work at. Singing was something I had to work at. Singing was a challenge to me. I really struggled with singing. I had to lock myself up in a warehouse and try and get myself to sing and play guitar at the same time. It was just really difficult. I could do one or the other but not both at the same time. So I had to teach myself. After the Runaways broke up, I couldn’t find a lead singer. So I thought, well, that old saying comes along where if you want something done right, do it yourself. So I thought, well, I’ll be the lead singer. The only problem is, I don’t know how. So I rented this warehouse and started teaching myself how to sing and I got a vocal coach and she started helping me. I took all the frets off of my guitar board, my guitar neck. I took all the dots off my guitar neck so I didn’t know where I was. And even if I looked at my guitar I still didn’t know where I was. That helped me to play without looking, you know what I mean. Rather than staring at your guitar to see where your fingers are going I had no choice other than to stare at the audience. And it worked (laughs)
But it’s difficult, a whole new ballgame. I look up to people like Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter because they did sing and play at the same time. They didn’t stare at their guitar necks. They were able to make their fingers go where they needed to go without staring. And then you get these guitar players that all they do is stare at their fretboard. They don’t even acknowledge the audience at all. They just stare at their fingers and that drives me nuts. I don’t know what it is but it’s just one of my pet peeves. It’s like, “Dude, look at the audience. Don’t look at your fingers. They’re there, they’re not going anywhere.” (laughs) When was the first time that you sang in front of an audience?
I think it was the Out For Blood
album and I think it was 1982. Cause the Runaways broke up in 1980 and I just played guitar and sang background vocals in the Runaways. Then I took a couple years hiatus to try to figure out what I was going to do next. So I probably started Out For Blood around 1982, giving it time to be written, recorded, finding the producer, who at the time was Neil Merryweather. He made me my outfits, he handmade the gauntlet that’s on my hand on the Out For Blood photograph. He created all that, he made all that stuff by hand. He was a really talented guy. He sang the high vocals on the record, he produced the record. He was great.I guess that helped when you were doing all this pretty much by yourself, not having the other girls with you.
I just came into my own. You know, the Runaways were sort of trial and error. You were with a bunch of raging hormones and nobody really knows who they are and you have to find your own personality and your own style. You have to find your own style of creativity and it takes time. You don’t just pick up a guitar and say, I’m going to be this or I’m going to be that. Everybody goes through their phase where, “I’m going to be Marilyn Manson” or “I’m going to be Joe Perry”. They all go through this phase where they look up to somebody and for me, I looked up to Ritchie Blackmore. I looked up to Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter. I loved their playing and I loved the fact that Jimi Hendrix could sing and play at the same time and channel his music and not look at his fingers. He would make his guitar like this secondary limb of himself. And Johnny Winter did the same thing. Johnny Winter was pretty much blind anyway but still at the same time he would walk around on stage playing and singing and he would never look at his neck. He was always on the audience.When did you start writing songs?
I always had these things that I’d noodle around with. When my mom was alive and before the Runaways days I would write stuff, like little Spanish pieces and little intricate guitar parts. I really didn’t consider them a song but I guess they were. They were pieces of songs. Then not really until the Runaways did I really finish writing a piece.Speaking of the Runaways, what did you find was the hardest thing about being in that band?
The hardest part, honestly, was just trying to get across to the girls that we need to pay attention to the business side of things. We need to pay attention to what are we getting paid tonight. You know, we never saw any contracts, we never knew what was collected at the shows. All we knew was what they would give us. They would give us a few hundred bucks here and there and I would think, you know what, we just did four sold out shows at the Whisky. I’m sure we got more than a hundred bucks. It just didn’t seem right and I would cause a scene about it. I would get mad. I would ask the manager and then they would turn it on me and they would say, “Oh, look at Lita, Lita is just being a bitch.” And I would be like, you know what, I’m not being a bitch. I want to know what is going on. I want to know how much we’re getting paid. Where is our money and who is it going to? I want to know. And that was tough. I never did find out, which is even worse.
And nobody seemed to care except me. I think our bass player Jackie Fox was maybe the only other one that would try and figure out what was going on and who was in charge. We didn’t even know who our booking agents were. We were just out there rocking and having fun. So as long as we had a beer and a stage we were happy. But I wanted to know the details and I wanted to know where everything was going and coming and who was involved. And people were getting upset with me and they were using it against me. I’m like, “Dude, I just want to know how much we got paid tonight. Where’s the money? Show me the itinerary, show me something.”What were you doing before the Runaways?
I think I was like sixteen when I joined the Runaways. When I had my first album out with the Runaways, I was seventeen. Before that, I had played bass, just filled in for somebody. This one band was playing a show in some club and the girl, whoever it was that was playing bass at the time – I honestly don’t remember her name – she couldn’t make the show so I got a phone call and they said, “Lita, would you play bass on this one show?” And I thought, well, I don’t really play bass but they said, “Come on, you can do it, you can play bass” and I just went, “Ok, I’ll do it.” I went down and played bass in this band and next thing I know I’m getting a phone call from Kim Fowley. Kim had heard about this band and he said, “You’re a bass player. We need a bass player in our band.” And I said, “No, I’m not a bass player, dammit (laughs) I’m a guitar player. I don’t play bass. I don’t even really know how.” So he said, “Well, we need one of them too” (laughs).
So I went down and I auditioned for the lead guitar player for the Runaways and Sandy West knew “Highway Star” from Deep Purple and I knew “Highway Star” from Deep Purple and we played the guitar solo and as soon as we played that, her and I both clicked. We were on it together. We were like, whoa, this is awesome. Then Cherie Currie came in as the lead singer, Joan Jett was already in the band, and the bass player at that time I think was Micki Steele, who ended up being in the Go-Go’s. She didn’t quite cut the Runaways. It was just a different style of music and it didn’t quite work for her. So she didn’t last for very long in the Runaways and then we got Jackie. Jackie was good.What was your first guitar?
My first guitar was a Spanish style, plastic string, acoustic piece of shit (laughs). I hated it. I was like, Mom – cause my mom had bought it for me cause she knew that I had a great love for guitars and she wanted me to play guitar – but I didn’t like this one guitar. It was really weak and it just wasn’t what I wanted. So I told her, I said, “Mom, this isn’t really the guitar I was hoping for” and I said to her, “I wanted something more electric, something with steel strings.” At the time I really didn’t know what I was talking about. But she went out and bought me an acoustic guitar with metal strings. It was the weirdest thing. So I went from having a Spanish guitar to a metal guitar, an acoustic with metal strings. And that wasn’t it. That wasn’t what I wanted either.
At the time, I’m like, I can’t really put my finger on it but this isn’t the guitar either. I was fourteen at the time and I had just seen my first concert, which was Black Sabbath at the Long Beach Arena, and I had a job working at St Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach and I wanted a guitar like Tony Iommi’s. I saw Tony Iommi’s guitar and I was like, THAT’S what I want. So I saved up some money working at this medical center and I had lied to the people there. I told them that I was sixteen when I was really fourteen and I was too young to be working there. But because I had big boobs I got away with it (laughs). So I got a job, I saved up $375 and I bought myself a chocolate Gibson SG, and I brought it home and I plugged it into my father’s Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder and I learned Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. I would play “Highway Star” and “Paranoid” and (singing) “I’m going through changes.” Oh God, I would learn all those songs and I taught myself how to play guitar through my dad’s Sony reel-to-reel and this chocolate SG.What happened to that guitar?
I sold it for the same price I paid for it. I sold it to a roadie. I don’t know if he still has the guitar but I asked him at one point, “Would you mind selling me that guitar back?” and he said no.Since you loved Sabbath so much, how did it feel to sing “Close My Eyes Forever” with Ozzy years later? Was it like a dream come true?
Yeah it was but at the time I didn’t really think about it too much. I just kind of plodded through life and I really didn’t think about the fact that I’m standing next to Ozzy Osbourne (laughs). It didn’t really dawn on me. Now, when I look back, I guess I think about it more. But back then I didn’t. I just kind of kept going and didn’t really think about the fact that I was engaged to Tony Iommi for two years and later on did a duet with Ozzy Osbourne and they were the first band I ever saw live. They were so larger than life when I saw them play. I never thought that I would have anything to do with them. They seemed so untouchable, like some kind of superhero gods or something. But growing up in the Runaways, you were around it all the time. You were around Alice Cooper, you were around Queen and you were around all these bands and it was second nature so I really didn’t think much of it.When was the moment that you realized you were now famous?
I think when I came off the island in 2008, 2007 or whatever it was; and I came off the island after living on that island for almost a decade and I went to Rocklahoma and there was this vibe in the air – somebody is here from a higher power or a higher level and I don’t know who it is. Nobody’s talking about it. It’s like wow, I wonder who is here? And I walked around and was looking around trying to see who was here. I went inside and took a couple of the promoters aside and I said, “You guys, who is here that everyone is talking about?” And they looked at me and they went, “Lita, it’s you” and I went, “What? Are you kidding me? Me?” (laughs). I mean, I just felt so at home and while I was gone for those ten years, I had missed a lot and I didn’t really realize how much I’d missed until that night I played Rocklahoma.
I spent the ten years on the island homeschooling my children and raising my sons and that meant more to me than anything in the world. But coming off the island and walking back into rock & roll, it was like when I left thirteen years ago I left an empty pair of shoes sitting there that nobody could wear. And when I came back fifteen years later, those shoes were still sitting there unfilled.
Nobody had filled those shoes yet. They were still waiting for me (laughs)Now that you’re back and you’re going out on tour with Def Leppard and Poison, that must be an exciting feeling.
Oh it’s very exciting and I’m very honored to be a part of that tour. They’re great guys and I love their music. I think it’s going to be a perfect match and a great tour.Something that I noticed when I listened to your new CD was how great your voice sounds. I think that fact kind of got lost in the shuffle at the time of the Lita album because everyone was focusing on your guitar playing and your looks. But that was something that really jumped out at me on Living Like A Runaway.
Thanks. I think the 1980’s were a time when the vocals were high-pitched vocals and the higher the better; like Judas Priest with that “waaaaaaaa”, you know. We tried to outdo each other. Everybody was always trying to outdo: “I can sing higher than you. I can hold that vocal pitch higher than you.” I mean, it wasn’t really so much about the songs, it was more about how high can you sing, how fast can you shred that guitar. When we did Living Like A Runaway we put all that aside. We didn’t think about any of it. We just closed the door and didn’t think about who we were trying to compete with. We just wrote the songs as they came naturally and went with the feel of each song.
Like with a guitar part or guitar harmony, we just went with what felt right, what sounded right, the arrangements of the song. We paid close attention to the feel and I think in the 1980’s you tended to go for other things. The high pitched vocal was more popular back then whereas now you can get away with a monotone vocal, like in “Hate”. “Hate” has (singing) ‘He was born on an average day, look like any other baby’. It’s so hard to sing in the monotone voice and still put attitude behind it. It’s unbelievable how hard it is. So that’s something I did do on this record and it came across great. And each song tells a story. I don’t think there’s a bad song on the record.Was it hard to write these particular songs because they are so personal to you?
Some of them were and some of them weren’t and some of them I had an overflow of lyrics. Some of them were like, I have like four or five pages of lyrics. I had to pick the best ones out and the ones that made sense, like “Devil In My Head” and “Bad Neighborhood”. Like “Devil In My Head” goes ‘love don’t come easy for a lonely soul like me. I find myself in trouble on a road of misery. I try to do the right thing but I’m easily misled. I’m drawn to the dark side and the devil in my head.’ It’s like, whoa (laughs). I hear that lyric and I just go, that is some heavy duty shit. Because that song originally started out, ‘the angel on my shoulder’ and it wound up ‘the devil in my head’. You know how you have an angel on your shoulder and a devil on one shoulder and the devil is telling you, “Do it, do it” and the angel is telling you, “No, don’t do it” (laughs) and you’re just thinking, who do I listen to here? So that song was a real trip to write. And we got stuck on it. We weren’t sure what the heck we were doing but it did start out ‘the angel on my shoulder’. Then we called in Michael Dan Ehmig because it was not going in the right direction so we called in our lyricist Michael. He was just amazing. He came up with the greatest lyrics. Oh my God. He would help us when we would get stuck.
But songs like “Mother”, that was something personal. That was something I had to write on my own. I couldn’t do it with anybody else. It just wasn’t going to work. That had to come from me.Why did you decide to put a couple of songs by someone else on the album instead of adding in a couple more of your originals?
We got “Bad Neighborhood” on the bonus track and that was written by myself and Doug Aldrich. He came up with the guitar riff. I told Doug, “I need a slamming riff, you got to give me a slamming riff.” So he came up with this and we just built around the riff.
“A Song To Slit Your Wrist By”, honest to God, that song appeared on my desktop. I don’t know where that song came from. I don’t have any Nikki Sixx/Motley Crue, any of those kinds of songs saved to desktop and one day I was sitting at my computer and that song popped up and it said Nikki Sixx. I looked at it and I thought, I don’t know this song. So I listened to it and I thought, holy shit, this song needs to be on my new album (laughs). The words are perfect. So I sent Nikki an email and I said, “Nikki, what is this song? Is this something you used with your book? What is this?” And he said it was from the 58 version. So not even knowing what the hell that’s from, it still appeared on my desktop and I was like, where did it come from? Who sent it to me?
At the time, Nikki didn’t have my email so it didn’t come from him. I emailed him. I got his email address and emailed him and asked can I have this song. I don’t know where it came from but can I have it? And he said yeah. He said, “This is a song I wrote for my ex-wife fifteen years ago.” And he said, “How cool, my ex-girlfriend covering a song I wrote for my ex-wife fifteen years ago.” He thought it was very funny. I asked him, “Well, if you were to do this song, what kind of vibe would you give this song?” And he said, “Well, I’d give it like a Nine Inch Nails vibe, something industrial.” So we took it in the studio and we played around with it and we came up with this Nine Inch Nails kind of vibe, which is why it does sound a bit different than the rest of the tracks.What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
We are focusing on the tour. I’m sure after the Def Leppard shows are done there will be a few more Lita Ford headlining dates. Then in September/October, we’re going to do a rock & roll fantasy camp and then I’ll probably start writing the next record. You know it took me a year to write this record. I don’t like waiting too long in between so I think we need to get the next record started and I’d like to get it going.What is your philosophy on life now?
My philosophy on life is my kids. I just live and breathe for my kids. Before I had kids, it wasn’t something that was important to me. Now that I have children, I just find it hard to not be with them sometimes and get by on everyday life without my kids is not right. My philosophy in life is be good to your kids and make your kids your priority.Next week, join MY ROOTS as we talk with Def Leppard’s Rick Allen not only about drums but about his digital art as well.