Lita Ford is a woman who needs little introduction. Through the years she has not only established herself as a true force to be reckoned with in the ever-changing music industry but has also remained undisputed Queen of Metal. She blazed a trail for generations to come as the lead guitarist for the legendary all-female rock band The Runaways and launched a successful solo career, delivering a plethora of high-tensity albums to the masses. Along the way has remained driven, outspoken and dedicated to her craft. Most importantly, Lita Ford has never lost her razor-shape edge. Four decades into her career, she continues to rock audiences around the nation and is currently hard at work on creating her next highly-anticipated studio album. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Ford to discuss her journey as an artist, the lessons she has learned along the way, the status of her next studio album and the cause closet to her heart.
Music has played an undeniable role in your life. What does rock ‘n’ roll mean to you?
It’s my life! It’s who I am! I don’t know how the world would go ’round without it. Rock ‘n’ roll saves lives and helps people through good times and bad. What would the world be like without it?
How did you find your voice, creatively speaking, as a young guitar player?
As you know, I started in The Runaways when we were in our teenager years. I was the oldest of The Runaways and I was 16 years old at the time. By the time the first album came out, I had just turned 17. Joan Jett and I are three days apart in our birthdays, so we were very close in age and the oldest of the group. That was the beginning of my musical career, at the age of 16. Being in The Runaways was kind of like going through college to learn how to be the real deal! It was like going to medical school to become a doctor or something like that! [laughs] That’s how I like to put it. When The Runaways broke up, it was an amicable breakup, because we wanted to play our own musical styles and channel our own musical influences. We had been clashing and I liked heavier rock. The other girls liked what they liked and wanted to play what they wanted to play, while I wanted to play what I wanted to play. That’s when I started the “Out For Blood” album, which was a shocker to a lot of people for many reasons. First of all, it was a 3-piece band; a guitar, bass, and drums with a female fronting the band and doing vocals and guitar. People didn’t do that back then. It was just completely unheard of! Plus, I reinvented my look. I chopped off my hair and gave myself the Motley Crue shag. Actually, Nikki [Sixx] cut my hair for me, so you couldn’t get much closer to Motley than that! [laughs] My bass player, who was amazing with leather work, had made me a leather outfit that consisted of leather gauntlets, a leather G-string, a leather bustier and there wasn’t really much else to it except for a pair of high-heeled shoes! It was bad to the bone! It was just smoking hot and caught everyone’s attention. I was signed to my own record label in three months.
It all sounds so easy in retrospective. Did you have any reservations about going solo?
No. It’s what I wanted. It was strange but at age 13, I hadn’t joined The Runaways yet, my cousin was a big rock fan and had taken me to my first concert. That concert was Black Sabbath at the Long Beach arena in California. When I walked in the door to the Long Beach arena, which holds about 10,000 people, it was packed and everyone was smoking stuff they don’t allow today. It changed my life. I looked at these figures on stage that were dressed in black and all you could see was the glimmer of the crosses around their necks. You couldn’t help but feel the power of the music. I saw my entire life flash before me and I thought, “That’s it! That’s my future. That’s what I’m going to do with my life!” Sure enough, I came out of there being engaged to Tony Iommi for two years and I had my first top 10 hit single with Ozzy. It was pretty bizarre!
That’s pretty awesome! You wrote an autobiography last year titled “Living Like A Runaway.” Now that the dust has settled, what do you feel you might have learned about yourself in the process?
I think being in an all-girl rock band at such a tender age is something not many people get to have. They are either in school or their parents don’t allow or support it. The one thing I had was extremely supportive parents. They allowed me to play as late as I wanted to. My mother would always encourage me and my father would come to ever show with his six-pack of beer. [laughs] My mother would say, “Oh, Lita, Lita! Play me the Black Sabbath! Play me the Santana!” She was just a big fan. They both were. I think that’s what makes you have confidence in yourself. You need that confidence in order to get onstage and control the audience and do what you really need to do as a frontman and a lead singer. I wasn’t a vocalist back then. I didn’t know how to sing, so playing guitar was a gift from God. I was a child prodigy on guitar, but being a lead vocalist was something I had to learn. I had to teach myself how to play guitar, how to be a frontwoman, and still front the band and entertain the crowd at the same time. It’s a lot to do at the same time, ya know? I started going to different concerts and picking up little things from Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, and other people who played guitar. They were very influential in my life.
You have brushed shoulders with some truly unique artists through the years. Who has had the biggest influence on you creatively?
A lot of people did. We all grew up together and they were very, very supportive of me. They never looked at me as a female. Well, the only one who really gave me crap as a female was George Lynch. He says to me, “Girls don’t play guitar!” I thought, “Ya know, it’s people like you who make me want to go home, practice, and make myself better so I can blow you off the stage later!” [laughs] He was the only one! Everyone else was very supportive. Like Edward Van Halen, who gave me words of confidence. Ritchie Blackmore was my idol. I absolutely adored Ritchie and everything he did and played. He was such an incredible talent and I worshipped the ground he walked on. Tony Iommi’s riffs were so dark and heavy. They weren’t very commercial and didn’t get a lot of airplay at the time, whereas now they would. Back then, it was absolutely forbidden because it was too satanic! [laughs] Which is ridiculous because they aren’t into that. I had a lot of great people in my life who were inspiring. I think vocally my greatest inspiration was Mick Jagger because it was more of an attitude than a proper, brilliant, operatically trained vocal performance. It was attitude that he delivered when he sang a lead vocal that made the songs so special and different. It’s very much like David Bowie or any of the other greats!
Making a living in the industry you have seen your fair share of ups and downs, but you have pushed on and continued to be very productive as an artist. What fuels your creative fire?
I am a leader, not a follower. [laughs] I do what I want to do. I do what feels right and I try not to let other people tell me how to play, what I should wear, or what I should or shouldn’t be doing. I like the shock factor! When people tell me, “Lita, get your hair out of your face.” They go to reach for my hair to brush it away from my face and I just want to say, “DON’T…TOUCH… MY FACE! This is my hair. This is the way I look. Leave me alone.” If it bothers you, that’s even better because then I know I am rubbing you in some sort of way, be it irritating, annoying, or even if you like it…whatever the case may be. It’s that shock and awe factor — you gotta have it!
Absolutely! Well, you are certainly a woman who always has a few irons in the fire. What can you tell us about this new album you are currently working on and everything else you might have your sights set on?
We are working on a really killer new record. I’m very excited because “Living Like A Runaway” was a pretty bad to the bone record and to follow up that album is no easy task! The pieces of the puzzle are coming together very nicely and I’m very happy so far with what we’ve done. I would also like to do a major motion picture, not like “The Runaways”, more along the lines of “Sleeping With The Enemy” or “The Bodyguard.” I want to do something more like a dramatic film than a documentary.
When it comes to this new record, did the autobiography have any impact on what you wanted to do musically?
No. Actually, one had nothing to do with the other. What really triggered the idea for the new record was the last record and not the book. The book goes through so many different stages of your life from starting off as a kid, where you grew up, where your parents came from and on and on. All of that had nothing to do with my music. I think writing such a hard-core and true record, one that is true to me and true to my everyday hustle and bustle, “Living Like A Runaway” was it! A lot of people could relate. It’s a dark record, ya know, but it has some killer guitar parts in it that people go, “Whoa! That is bad to the bone!” I was very happy with that and now I just have to follow it up!
You recently worked with Phil Soussan, who also wrote ”Shot In The Dark” for Ozzy Osbourne. How did you cross paths?
The weird thing about Phil is that I have known him since the early 80s. He is a dear, dear friend. He was in Ozzy with Randy Castillo. Randy was my drummer before he was Ozzy’s band. When Randy was in my band he became friends with Phil. The two of them hung out and ended up in Ozzy’s band. Long story short, he started writing me a song a few years ago and we never finished it. Sometimes songs get to a point where you don’t really know where to go with them from that point on. For example, one of the songs off “Living Like A Runaway” took me 15 years to write. I wrote the lyrics but I didn’t know what to do with the music. I didn’t want to give it a hard ass riff. I wanted it to be the right riff that really fit the song. If it took waiting 15 years for that thing to come along, it’s worth it. It’s kind of like getting married! You don’t want to marry someone just because they are there and they’re cute! [laughs] You want to marry the right person, make it work and have it last forever. That’s how music and songs are put together. The song that Phil wrote, of course, is nothing like Ozzy would sing but it has a lot of attitude to it and it took him 2 years to put together, so it’s quite a song!
There are a lot of musicians out there, your peers, who have been putting out some of the best work of their careers over the past few years. Your previous record is a great example as well. Do you feel these albums are getting the attention they deserve from the rock press?
A lot of the mainstream rock press is from a different generation. I honestly don’t pay that much attention to it. Some people just don’t get it but there are a lot of people who just missed out on a lot of things in music. Music is not all about what happens digitally. There’s a lot more to music then pushing a button and playing along to a click track. We first started we didn’t have click tracks. We had feel and had to play along to the feel of the song. If the song slowed down during a certain part, then that’s what you had to do in order to make it feel right. A lot of of today’s generation needs to remember that, because it takes away from the song when it becomes too mechanical. It’s like you said, a lot of bands are coming back and it’s good to see. A lot of us have been through World War III and back! [laughs] We are survivors and we’re still going at it which is good to see. We have new records, old fans and new fans! There is a lot going on. Rock is not dead and we’re not going to let it die!
You have seen the music industry go through many changes over the years. What are the positives of being a working artist these days?
I think the positives are being able to get in touch with the younger generation and connecting with the fans. It’s great to be able to get people excited about what you are doing because what I do is not just for my old fans, but for younger and newer fans as well. For people who really want to be musicians, it’s great to be able to learn the current technology but you can’t forget the old stuff because that’s what made the new stuff happen! When it comes to today’s young musicians, it basically boils down to having support from their family, their parents, a good friend, or someone in your band who you can lean on and say, “Dude, does this sound right? I don’t know but it sure feels right!” It doesn’t have to sound right as long as it feels right, and I’m a real touchy-feely person when it comes to things like that! It doesn’t have to be politically correct as long as it feels right! [laughs]
You lend your voice to a lot to great causes all-around the country. However, I also know that you have a cause that is very close to your heart that doesn’t get a lot of attention — Parental Alienation. What can you tell us about it?
That’s awesome you asked that. A lot of people are afraid to asked that question and I can completely understand why but this is something we need to bring out of the closet. It’s one of those things that’s so evil and horrible that it needs to be brought out of the closet and into light. We need to find a way to stop parental alienation because it’s destroying our future generation. The family legal system is ripping us off and is basically getting away with murder and in some cases, literally. We are losing our families, our homes and our children. It’s disgusting and it needs to stop. If you go to Lita Ford’s Parental Alienation Awareness page on Facebook, you can read a little bit more about it. For those of you who do not know what it is, you don’t always know the correct terminology for it. There are a lot of places you can go to for support and you can learn about it there. If you just want to unload and tell your story, you are welcome to on that page. The thing is that we have to stick together and bring it out of the closet, just like so many other things have been brought into the light in previous years. We have the Amber Alert now and so many other things that help our children. Our children need help and need a voice. Unfortunately, when kids are young they don’t have much of a voice, and what voice they do have, the legal system can take away for money. It’s disgusting! I’m seeing now, in airports, signs about child trafficking. Child trafficking is a terrible thing but the fact that they are now putting up signs and billboards is an awesome thing! They are bringing to the attention of the public and making people realize this isn’t just something that happens on television. This is a real day to day horror that happens to children and women all over the world. It has to stop and it’s evil. It’s definitely a sign of the devil.
It’s really cool to see you speak out about it. I’m sure it isn’t easy but it’s definitely inspiring to see you use your powers for good, so to speak.
Thank you. We’re going to try and work a little harder on that. We have some ideas and plan on bringing them out down the line. We’re going to do some TV shows and give it a big push. The legal system fights back, so they will try to can this or ban that or say you can’t let that out. We just need to stay focused, stick together as a team on this and fight it!
You still have a lot of life left in you, Lita. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
I always tell people to follow their heart and never let people discourage you from being yourself. Whether it’s wearing too much makeup or playing the wrong note on guitar — if it feels right to you, do it! Follow your dreams and follow your heart!
I appreciate your time today, Lita! I looked forward to hearing the new album when it’s ready and we’ll be out here spreading the word on everything you do!
Awesome! Thank you so much!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.