Interview with Lita Ford: Relentless in Red Leather

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For a large part of the year, Lita Ford has been touring, playing guitar and writing–tearing up stages from LA to Australia. Soon you’ll be able to sample her high-energy performances on The B**ch is Back…Live, a CD featuring classic as well as newer favorites. If you’re new to Lita, she started in the ‘70s all-girl rock band the Runaways along with Joan Jett, Sandy West, Jackie Fox, and Cherie Currie. Then a successful solo career brought numerous recordings, such as the popular duet with Ozzy Osbourne “Close My Eyes Forever” and melodic, but, in-your-face songs like “Gotta Let Go” and “Kiss Me Deadly.”

PHOTO CREDIT:  Gene Kirkland

Today, she shows no signs of slacking, hitting the stage with a vengeance for tunes “Cherry Bomb” and those from her current CD Living Like a Runaway. With its tasty two-part guitar harmonies and soul-bearing lyrics, “Living” is a truly personal disk for Lita. It mirrors her rebirth in the music business and a sort of mantra for surviving a tumultuous divorce. A scant listen to the distinct guitar intro for “Relentless” [Living Like a Runaway] and you quickly realize why she says, “Someone’s got to be Lita-F**kin’-Ford — the world needs it.” We do want her to be full-on Lita Ford and rock us through our own life storms. But mostly she’s just cool. Shredding on a B.C. Rich, wearing a leather jumpsuit as if it were a pair of comfy jeans and a concert-tee, she’s unlike anyone really. Read more about being the “Queen of Metal” and what’s next!

GGM: How was it working with Cherie Currie [singer from the Runaways] again? You teamed up for a Christmas tune; is it a rocking song, or a soft nostalgic one?

Cherie was a God-send in my life. I never really got to know her in the Runaways, now is my/our chance to become true friends and share something we both deserve the right to share: a bond we have from being in the Runaways. She is a wonderful mother and talent–I never knew this side of her before. Now I am blessed to have her with me on this song. And of course, it’s rockin’ and written from scratch. 

GGM: One of my favorites is your version of Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed.” You add so much feeling to it. What inspired you to cover it? 

“Only Woman Bleed” I heard on the radio at 4 a.m. one night while up for no good reason, and said to my friend, “I have to do this song.” It’s a no brainer. It’s a song a woman could relate to, even more so than a man, but what a challenge to re-record. The intricate guitar parts, I had to make sure they were done 100 percent correct. I didn’t want to let Alice down. With Mike Chapman producing and Dick Wagner as my friend, I couldn’t go wrong. I called Dick on the phone to ask him exactly how to play the parts, he told me over the phone. Every single note on guitar I played, the picking parts in the verses, the metal steel, the solos, the powerful climbing bridge. It was a challenge to sing as well as play it on guitar.

GGM: And the song “Lisa” [Stiletto] I feel could be meant for anyones Mom; if they listen to the lyrics, its highly symbolic. Through the years, youve poured your heart out into songs, how do you translate them on stage and still hold it together? 

Sometimes you don’t hold it together, this shows you just how powerful of a song it really is. I get choked up, too. Lisa was my Mother. She was there when I recorded the video, and I think that was the hardest part. Having to look at her while singing the song and knowing she only had three months left to live. “Lisa” is a magical song, written for so many people who have lost loved ones. I wrote Lisa backstage at a W.A.S.P. concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, kinda weird, but it was a guitar part that came to me spur of the moment. I had to capture it ASAP before I forgot it. My Mother would take it with her to chemotherapy every week, and play the video over and over until she drove the doctors and nurses crazy! She was proud! And what a gift for her, and for me. The ultimate I love you.

GGM: The guitar work on Living Like a Runaway is classic Lita. I love it! How did you approach that recording? You worked with guitarist/producer Gary Hoey…

Gary and I get along like a house on fire! He is a talented man with brilliant ideas. Together we were a Ying and Yang, so to speak. His playing complemented mine and his ideas picked up where mine left off. He is also a whiz with Pro Tools. Although we never cut and paste, everything is played from scratch. Nothing is repeated, which leaves for changes and keeps the mind interested through the entire song. If you start looking around the room, you know you’ve done something wrong, time to go back and re-write it so it captures your attention through the entire song. 

GGM: I am a fan of your Runaways music to Stiletto and currently. Seeing you on “That Metal Show” for the first time after your hiatus from music was uplifting, thank you for coming back.

You’re welcome! 

GGM: Plus, you’ve come back SO strong, what’s it like touring so much and doing the full-on music business thing again? 

This is who I am, this is what I do. Someone’s got to be Lita F**kin’ Ford. The world needs it. 

GGM: As far as doing what you do now versus the ‘80s, is there anything that’s easier or harder?

I never do anything the easy way. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it “blah blah blah” so true though. Just a couple of days ago, a fan came to a meet and greet and said, “Geez, I didn’t know you could play guitar, TOO!” I wanted to say, “where have YOU been buddy?” But shook it off, again, and said: “Oh, yes, I do play guitar, too.” People see it, but it doesn’t always register. Funny.

GGM: Unbelievable–even in 2013? I did a lot of writing during the 1990s. And today, I am proud to see even MORE women and young girls rocking. Journalistically, I hope we’re coming away from the occasional women-in-music-type stories. But if I can ask, what are your feelings on the music/rock landscape out there for women, and men, too? I for one still want to rock! 

I applaud you for this magazine. People can put a man on the moon, but they have to have a separate category for female artists. A man can marry a man, and vice versa, but Guitar magazines are so MALE dominated. Thank you for creating this magazine. I don’t like to be categorized because I am a female. 

GGM: You’ve been a longtime B.C. Rich player, what drew you to their guitars? Are they still your favorites? Do you use others in the studio and elsewhere? 

I have a variation of guitars for different things, some I will use live, some I only use in the studio, some just look good in pictures. But, my favs are my oldies, but goodies: B. C. Rich, my double neck for 1, or is that 2? Although, I do love a great Les Paul. I’m Lita F**kin’ Ford, it’s my signature to play such iconic guitars. Like my black Hamer used in the Runaways. When I play that on “Cherry Bomb” and “Black Leather,” it brings back that Runaways-era. 

GGM: Dean Markley is one of the leaders in the string industry. Why do you prefer using their guitar strings? 

Dean Markley’s are strong, reliable, great-sounding strings. There are a lot of good string manufacturers out there, but I try to stick to the classics. I know they will never let me down. I bend the crap out of them and they never break on me–always keep their tone and quality. 

GGM: Who was your favorite guitar player when you were starting out and why? 

My favorites were Ritchie Blackmore on guitar. And Mick Jagger on vocals. Mick had the attitude, and Blackmore had the feel and the chops. Hendrix, too, he made noise sound good.

GGM: You have a knack for combining rich guitar work and great songwriting. Is that something that has developed along the way? 

Everything I have done has been developed along the way, must crawl before you can run, live and learn. I know what I like! I play to please what my ear wants to hear. Sometimes it takes a lot of patience to get it right, ask Gary Hoey. But when you do get it right, the payoff is huge! 

GGM: Is there anything you do differently playing-wise from record to record? For example, what inspires your guitar playing, style, sounds? 

I try to stick to the basics. Sometimes you can get lost in what you’re doing, or carried away so to speak. I try to stay focused on the moment. Don’t let up until you’re finished, easier said than done. I am always looking for inspiration. It can come when you least expect it, in an elevator, or in an airport, or in your sleep. Just make sure you write it down or sing it into your cell phone recorder. Don’t just say, “oh, I can remember this,” because you won’t. If the idea stays with you, great, but the feel of the idea might change. So, write it down or record it as soon as you’re inspired. 

GGM: How did you approach your new CD The B**ch is Back…Live? Was there a lot of studio edits, will we hear the crowd on it? Is it different than your Greatest Hits live CD? 

The B**ch is Back…Live was recorded in an intimate setting at the Canyon Club in Los Angeles. It has no backing tracks, no overdubs, nothing but true, raw, performance from my band and myself. The audience is heard, but not too loud, because it was a small club. It’s a true live record. The artwork was done by the fans, except the actual cover shot, which was done by the legendary Gene Kirkland. The fans sent in their pictures and ideas, and we used them. There is a list of credits inside the artwork for the fans whose pictures were used. Looks very cool. Sounds high energy and rocking! Like my band truly is. 

GGM: Are there plans for another Lita Ford studio album? 

Yes, I have started on the next CD…so far, so great! I’m excited to tell everyone, but can’t, yet! Sorry.

GGM: What was the toughest time for you in the Runaways? You were just a teenager. I can’t imagine what it must have been like out on the road. Did you have anyone “watching” out for you all? 

Yes, we had Jackie’s mother with us until we were of age. She was a wonderful lady. Minded her own biz and didn’t get in the way of our music. Toughest time? The very first time I went on tour. I was gone for three months. When I came home and my father met me at the airport, I cried like a baby. I felt like I had just come home from war. But…never looked back, just kept plodding through.

GGM: It’s no secret you’re up for a Runaways reunion. Joan Jett seems to be a huge supporter of that time period if you look at her website and her involvement in the Runaways movie, it,s just weird that it’s not happening. Even just for a few shows. What are your thoughts on that?

Ask Joan. 

GGM: Do you talk to her [Joan Jett], email or anything? 

The last time I saw or spoke to Joan was at her show in Ft. Lauderdale when the Monsters of Rock cruise docked. I got off the ship and went to a Joan Jett concert. Otherwise, there is no communication between us. I’m very sorry to say. 

GGM: I read an amazing story about how you were “led” so to speak to a tribute exhibit for Sandy West [original Runaways drummer]. You and a friend were driving down the 405 on a Harley and turned off an exit for no reason. Then stumbled upon this tribute memorial for Sandy created by Cherie…so sweet. 

Yes, what a freaky thing that was, talk about following your heart. My God, I had no idea that the exhibit even existed! Neither did my friend. We were led there by some kind of force. SANDY! I kid you not.

GGM: I’ve seen photos of your two little boys, they are absolutely adorable. How do you juggle life on the road? Do your boys ever come on the road? 

Google “Lita Ford’s Parental Alienation Awareness.” This is what my ex-husband has done to my children. Listen to [the song] “Mother.”

GGM: What advice do you have for anyone in a controlling relationship, marriage or otherwise?

Control is a HUGE word. Another interview perhaps.

GGM: Thank you for your time, Lita.

Thank You!

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