Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lita Ford Interview: A ‘Runaway’ who became the electric queen of rock and metal



 By Ray Shasho

Lita Ford is unmistakably a modern age pioneer for women electric guitarists. Her amazing hard rock/ heavy metal skills have been respected and epitomized for generations.

Sure there are never-ending debates about which women were the very first rockers to play the electric guitar. At the top of the list could be American blues icon ‘Memphis Minnie’ who was among the very first musicians to touch an electric guitar, musically engaged between the 1920s and 1950s. Minnie co-penned the blues classic; “When the Levee Breaks” which was celebrated on the Led Zeppelin IV album. But since the mid 1970s … no rock queen has triumphantly wailed on an electric guitar like 'Lita Ford.'

Lita Ford was born in London, England but grew up in Los Angeles. At the age of eleven, Lita began playing the guitar and was eventually inspired by hard rock acts Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. In the mid 80’s, Lita was briefly engaged to Sabbath’s guitarist Tony Iommi. She was later married to W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes and former Nitro frontman Jim Gillette. Both relationships ended in divorce.

THE RUNAWAYS: In 1975, while still attending high school, Lita Ford was recruited by record producer/songwriter/ impresario Kim Fowley to join an all-female rock band that he congregated called ‘The Runaways.’ The punk /new wave/rock band’s must successful lineup was comprised of Lita Ford (lead guitars/ backing vocals), Joan Jett (rhythm guitars & vocals), Sandy West (drums), Cherie Curry (lead vocals & keyboards) and Jackie Fox (bass).
*Micki Steele and Peggy Foster both played bass briefly for The Runaways in 1975. Vickie Blue played bass in 1977/78 and Laurie McAllister in 1978/79.
The following year the band was signed to Mercury Records. After the release of their self-titled studio album The Runaways (1976), the group quickly embarked on their first U.S. tour and performed at legendary venues like CBGB’s in New York and the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland. The band headlined a show at the Royal Oak Theatre outside Detroit with Cheap Trick and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers as supporting acts. Later that year, the band launched their first European tour including stops at the Roadhouse in the U.K. and the Apollo in Scotland. Because of the bands teenage stature, the group was dubbed, “Jailbait rock: music’s newest sensation.”
The Runaways second release, Queens of Noise (1977) featured the heavier guitar-driven tracks that The Runaways were most noted for and initiated by their lead guitarist Lita Ford.

 The Runaways became an even bigger sensation in Japan selling-out to frenzied audiences. During the tour, Jackie Fox quit the band and flew home, Joan Jett filled in on bass for the rest of their Japan dates. After returning to the U.S., Vicki Blue became their new bassist and Joan Jett their lead vocalist after Cherie Currie left to pursue a solo career.
The Runaways third studio album, Waitin’ for the Night (1977) was the first featuring Joan Jett as lead vocalist. It was also the final album with Kim Fowley as the band’s manager/producer.
In 1978, Laurie McAllister replaced Vicki Blue. The Runaways performed their final tour ending with a New Years Eve show at the Cow Palace in California.
A clash between bandmates deciding on the bands musical direction led to The Runaways demise in 1979.

LITA FORD SOLO: In 1983, Ford released her dynamic debut solo album entitled, Out for Blood on Mercury Records showcasing her powerhouse rock dexterity. The majority of the tunes written on the album were penned by Lita Ford and Canadian singer/songwriter/musician Neil Merryweather.
In 1984, Ford released, Dancin’ on the Edge. The album featured Randy Castillo on drums (Ozzy Osbourne) and bassist Hugh McDonald (Bon Jovi). Lita Ford’s popularity as a solo artist heightened as she captivated her fans with an ingenious combination of virtuoso musicianship and alluring sex appeal. The album spawned, “Fire in My Heart” (Top 10 Hit outside the U.S.) and “Gotta Let Go” (Reached #1 on the mainstream Rock charts).
Lita Ford became a sought-after concert attraction and toured extensively over the next four years.
Ford recorded an album entitled The Bride Wore Black with Black Sabbath’s legendary guitarist Tony Iommi as producer but it was never finished because of various changes occurring at Mercury Records. Ford immediately signed with RCA Records and hired Sharon Osbourne Management.

In 1988, Lita Ford released her most commercially successful album entitled, Lita. The album generated four commercial hits … “Kiss Me Deadly,” “Back to the Cave,” “Close My Eyes Forever,” and “Falling In And Out Of Love” co-written by Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue. Lita’s duet with Ozzy Osbourne on “Close My Eyes Forever” (#8 Billboard’s Hot 100 hit) is Ford’s biggest hit to date. The album was produced by Australian record producer/songwriter Mike Chapman.
After the huge success of Lita …Ford followed-up with the album, Stiletto in 1990. The release featured, “Hungry” and an awe-inspiring composition devoted to her mother called, “Lisa.” The tune featured an incredible guitar arrangement showcasing Lita’s prodigious guitar skills while justifying one of the most beautiful voices in rock and roll.
In 1991, Ford released her fifth studio album, Dangerous Curves on Spitfire Records. The release featured her chart single, “Shot of Poison.” Guitarist Howard Leese (Heart, Bad Company) and vocalist Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple) were some of the guest artists on the album.
Lita Ford’s release of Black on the German ZYX Record Label in 1995 was the last before a lengthy hiatus from the music world. Lita says …
"I got pregnant at the perfect time and I disappeared and raised my kids to a certain level where I didn’t have to watch them 24/7."
In 2009, Lita returned with the release, Wicked Wonderland. She also began touring the U.S. and Europe. Ford was quoted in May of 2011 revealing …
"A lot of people have told me that they want a real Lita Ford album, and I know what they mean.”
Her fans didn’t feel like they got a true comeback album from Lita Ford.

LIVING LIKE A RUNAWAY: The void would soon be remedied with her latest album, Living Like A Runaway. The album was released in June of 2012 and is co-written and produced with surfer rock musician Gary Hoey. Composer Michael Dan Ehmig also contributed lyrics. Bobby Collin was the executive producer. It’s her first album released on SPV/Steamhammer Records, one of the largest Independent distributors and labels worldwide.

I gave Living Like A Runaway (5) stars! It’s a magnificently engineered album. Lita sings deep from within her heart and soul with rage, pain and forgiveness. Some of the most prominent tracks include … the hard rockin’ rampage of “Branded,” “Hate” is definitely one of my favorite tracks; this tune could easily be a soundtrack to a movie, resembling Alice Cooper …Lita Ford style, “Devil In My Head,” emphasizes Lita’s monstrous guitar riffs, “Living Like A Runaway” is a captivating flashback to Lita’s ‘Runaway’ days, “Relentless” is a hard-driving battle cry, an awesome tune, and “Mother” is a beautiful arrangement of outpouring emotion and sincerity. Lita and 'The Uptown Horns' also do an excellent cover version of the Bernie Taupin penned classic, “The Bitch Is Back.”
Lita Ford is truly gifted … a prodigious guitarist, an enticing songstress and innovative lyricist. …LITA’S BACK!

PRESENTLY: Lita Ford is currently on tour, including several dates with Rock & Roll Fantasy Campers, a ‘Monsters of Rock Cruise,’ several ‘Music Fests’, a performance at the ‘Sturgis Motorcycle Rally’ and overseas shows in Australia, Sweden and Norway. Lita’s complete touring schedule can be found at http://litafordonline.com/tourdates.htm

I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to chat with Lita Ford recently about her incredible solo music career as well as her historic stint with the legendary ‘Runaways.’
Lita had just returned from Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas and was getting ready to embark on the ‘Monsters of Rock Cruise.’

Here’s my interview with the female pioneer of rock & metal electric guitar/singer/songwriter/ and legendary Runaways lead guitarist ... LITA FORD.
Lita did the interview while driving … running errands around LA in preparation for the cruise.
Ray Shasho: Hi Lita, how you doin’? (In my best ‘Joey Tribbiani’ voice)
Lita Ford: “I’m a little crazy right now; you’re going to have to put up with me.”
Ray Shasho: So how was the ‘Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp’ experience?
Lita Ford: “Mad, crazy, insane, exciting, exhausting, and just a lot of fun. We had Sammy Hagar down, Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan and just a bunch of people, it was cool. The campers were all great. I’m exhausted, David Fishof wore me out. So now I’ve got two days off and then we hop on the boat for the ‘Monsters of Rock Cruise.’”
Ray Shasho: Hopefully, you’ll get to chill a little bit on the cruise?
Lita Ford: “There is no such thing. (Laughing) No, I plan on partying my brains out on this cruise, are you kidding me. This is the first time for me; I’ve never even been on a cruise ship.”
Ray Shasho: I hope the cruise goes well and not like the ship that got stranded recently.
Lita Ford: “Don’t even go there. I was on a flight on the way home and I got this stewardess … they put me in the front row and there’s no seat in front of you and you can’t put your luggage under the seat. The stewardess took my purse and shoved it in an overhead bin that was already packed full of luggage and she couldn’t really get my purse in it. So when she shoved it in there it got stuck. She had wedged the door on the overhead bin and then when the plane landed they couldn’t get it open. So I’m standing there and this woman comes by and thinks she knows everything and starts banging on the overhead bin, and I know that it was my purse, because it’s a big leather purse. I thought it was a piece of leather that was stuck in there. I said to the lady, could you wait for the stewardess please, because she knows how to open this. And she looks at me and just sticks her nose in the air and starts banging on the overhead bin again. Nobody could get past row number one where the overhead bin was stuck. So anyway, it was just a nightmare … it’s always something.”

“Then there was a woman behind me with this dog and she didn’t put her dog underneath the seat of the plane. I always put my dogs underneath the seat of the plane because they’re little. And she says, “This is a service dog, it needs to be in a seat,” and I heard the stewardess say, “Let me see your credentials,” and she didn’t have any. The dog wasn’t wearing a jacket and she didn’t have the right credentials, so obviously it wasn’t a service dog. So the stewardess said, “Put the dog underneath the seat.” The lady said, “Oh, ‘Precious’ doesn’t want to be underneath the seat,” and I’d been up for five days … right? I’m tired and ‘Precious’ doesn’t want to go under the seat, and I’m thinking …it’s a forty five minute flight lady put ‘Precious’ under the seat or I will! (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: I’d like to begin by saying that I really enjoyed your latest release Living Like A Runaway …and I gave it (5) five stars.
Lita Ford: “Woo-hoo! … That’s bad to the bone! Gary Hoey and I produced it and we didn’t hand it off to anybody, it was almost like Glen Ballard and Alanis Morissette when they wrote Jagged Little Pill, there was nobody else involved. You know that expression … ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth,’ I believe that’s the case on this album. When we were finished with the record we handed it off to a guy to mix. We only gave him one song, just to see what he would do and he didn’t get the vibe, so we snatched it back real quick and Gary mixed it. Then we handed it off to a guy to master and only gave him one song. He didn’t get the vibe, so we snatched it back real quick and Gary mastered it. So we did everything ourselves … background vocals, keys, I played percussion, me and Gary both played guitar, and we got Matt Scurfield who is Gary’s drummer, he came in for three days and played drums on all the tracks.”

“Then we were finished with Matt and we brought in ‘The Uptown Horns’ to play the horn arrangement on “The Bitch Is Back,” but other than that, it was just me and Gary …we did everything. It really worked out perfect, the guitar harmonies were great and the words were sick …just sick words, we got stuck on lyrics once in awhile and we called in my lyricist Michael Dan Ehmig. That was only when we got stuck and Michael Dan would come up with something insane like the “Devil In My Head.”
Ray Shasho: That’s definitely one of my favorite tunes on the album.
Lita Ford: “It started off being; “The Angel On My Shoulder” but wound-up the “Devil In My Head” (All Laughing).”
Ray Shasho: “Mother” is a beautiful arrangement, and you have such a magnificent voice.
Lita Ford: “Thank you, there’s a video coming out real soon for, “Mother.” It will be out before Mother’s Day.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve been opening your shows with, “The Bitch Is Back” …right?
Lita Ford: “Yea … it’s pretty appropriate. (Lita began singing on the phone)I wanna’ be your Bitch tonight!”
Ray Shasho: I love it! (All laughing)
You’ve got a rather lengthy tour happening including a stop at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota … is it your first time playing Sturgis?
Lita Ford: “No, we always play Sturgis …it’s a blast! I remember the very first time we played Sturgis, we did the gig and waited backstage for the encore and nobody’s clapping, all I heard was motorcycles revving. And I said to my band … Oh, they’re all leaving. My bass player looked at me and said, “Lita, they’re revving their engines, that’s how they applaud, they want you to come back.” I said, Oh really? He said, “Yea, you dumbass!” I thought we were really bad and they were all leaving. (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: Lita, are you playing ‘Runaways’ tunes onstage?
Lita Ford: “I just pulled out the ‘black Hamer’ from ‘The Runaways’ days. It’s the ‘black Explorer’ that I played in The Runaways. I still have it in storage and in perfect condition and hasn’t been touched since 1980. I pulled it out and cleaned it up, straightened up the neck, adjusted the action and intonation, changed the strings and made sure all the electronics were working good … and it sounds like God. I started playing, “Waiting for the Night” and I looked around at the band and said, Geez, this sounds so good, why don’t we do this song. We may work in “Waiting for the Night” but unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll have it by the time we play the cruise. My drummer’s in Tokyo right now so we didn’t have time to rehearse it. We will have it by Sturgis. But we do all kinds of stuff off the new album.”
Ray Shasho: Are you collaborating with any ex ‘Runaways’ bandmates?
Lita Ford: “Vicki Tischler-Blue produced and directed the “Mother” video.”
Ray Shasho: Any plans to collaborate with other ‘Runaways’ bandmates in the near future?
Lita Ford: “Nope. I’m still working this record and I feel it has a ways to go. I did do some rockin’ with Phil Collen on the Def Leppard tour and we’ve got a song in the works, and I’m also back with Gary Hoey and Michael Dan Ehmig. That was just a Godsend.”
Ray Shasho: I think the venues on your touring schedule are awesome, you’re not performing at typical venues … you’re on cruises, motorcycle rallies, outdoor festivals, ‘Mad Monster Parties,’ casinos … How cool is that?
Lita Ford: “My manager knows I’m a workaholic. I said, Bobby, I don’t want any days off. Bobby’s great and he’s the best. He’s honestly the first manager I ever had that truly cares about me as a human being. He asks me if I ate today, because I always forget to eat. Then I find myself not feeling good, and he’ll ask, “Well, did you eat today?” …Oh, that’s what it is, too much coffee and not enough food …first thing in the morning …Starbucks!”

“We’ve also got some gigs that are really out of the way …and I love those shows, because people starve for rock and roll over there. They buy the new album; they know the songs and everybody can sing …Run Baby Run! (Lita singing) You only got to hear it once; it sticks in your head.”
Ray Shasho: Lita, you’re four months older than me, did you graduate high school in ’76 or ’77?
Lita Ford: “I think it was either ’79 or ’80, I didn’t get my diploma when I was supposed to graduate because I was on tour with The Ramones and Runaways.”
Ray Shasho: How did that all pan out … one minute you’re attending high school and in another minute you’re touring the world with The Runaways.
Lita Ford: “I was in a band when I was in school. I wasn’t in the band; I had some friends that had a band. A bunch of guys, they were young and always hung out over my house and they knew I could play guitar. They had booked a gig with their band and their bass player’s girl friend didn’t want her boyfriend to go play the gig. It was a teenage jealousy thing. The bass player ended up not playing, so they were short a bass player. So they called me and said, “Lita, can you play bass for one night?” I said sure, strap it on me. So I played bass at the gig and word got out that there’s a female bass player and Kim Fowley found out. He called me on the phone and said, “We need a bass player.” I said, I don’t play bass, I play guitar, I’m a guitar player. He said, “We need one of those too.” (Laughing)”

“So I packed up my gear and he gave me the spiel of a lifetime… “You’re going play arenas and be rich and famous,” I thought how could I resist this? My mom and dad said … “Go check it out.” So I got my guitar and whatever amp at the time and went up to Hollywood. I walked in and saw Joan and Sandy … Sandy was on the drums, and we jammed “Highway Star” all the way through. Ian Paice her favorite drummer, also my favorite drummer at the time, and Deep Purple was my favorite band and also her favorite band at the time, so me and Sandy, the drummer, really gelled … it was a no brainer just instantaneous. I played that solo for “Highway Star” and that was it.”
Ray Shasho: Do you still talk with Joan Jett?
Lita Ford: “No… we had dinner about a year, maybe a year and a half ago and I haven’t talked to her since. It took since 1980 to get her to have that dinner with me. You know …she’s a busy chick …so.”
Ray Shasho: I don’t know Lita, your tour schedule looks somewhat busier than Joan’s at the moment.
Lita Ford: “I was gone for seventeen years, so there’s a demand to see Lita. Now I’m back and my full-time job is rock and roll, the whole time that I was gone, Joan was out there touring and working. So people have seen Joan play where they haven’t seen me in almost two decades. I went away in 1997 when I got pregnant with my first child, and I was married and pregnant and bored, then the grunge scene kicked in, which was great I loved it, but it really took away from what we were doing as artists and it was time to bow out. I got pregnant at the perfect time and I disappeared and raised my kids to a certain level where I didn’t have to watch them 24/7. Then the music scene died down and grunge went away, the rap has died down and its time now. That pair of shoes I left sitting there in 1997 …they’re still sitting there. So now I’ve walked back at put on my Ruby slippers.”
Ray Shasho: There’s been a lot of speculation and discussions about which women are the electric guitar pioneers of rock and roll. A lot of women guitarist in rock bands had men backup guitarist or never properly showcased their electric proficiency …but not so with Lita Ford.”
Lita Ford: “I would go to shows like Johnny Winter and watch artists who played guitar and sang like Jimi Hendrix. That’s who I was into and I really wanted to establish myself as a female guitarist and the only way to do it was like when I put out Out For Blood, which was my first solo album, it was a three-piece band like Jimi Hendrix, just bass, drums and guitar. So therefore there was nobody else to look at on the stage, so nobody could say …he’s doing all the guitar playing.”
Ray Shasho: Lita, here’s a final question and I ask this to everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams Wish’ like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Lita Ford: “Definitely Jimi Hendrix …Joplin…Bonham …Brian Jones …John Entwistle. I would be playing with spirits which I think I do anyway. But you know what … I love my band that I have now and absolutely blessed to have such a brilliant band. I mean we are badass. I have my dream band right now. The bass player I love, the guitar player and I …it’s like we have sex onstage when we play, the drummer is a f***ing monster. I don’t have keys, don’t have any backing tracks and don’t use anything that’s fake … we do what we do and have fun.”
Ray Shasho: Lita, thank you for being on the call today and for all the great rock and roll and metal you’ve given to us and continue to bring into the future. Enjoy the ‘Monsters of Rock Cruise’ and add some Tampa Bay concert dates real soon.
Lita Ford: “Thanks Ray … Wish me luck on the cruise (All laughing). God Bless!”

Lita Ford official website at http://litafordonline.com
Purchase Lita Ford’s latest release Living Like A Runaway at amazon.com
Lita Ford tour dates at http://litafordonline.com/tourdates.htm
Very special thanks to Jon Freeman of Freeman Promotions.

Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com

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