Lita Ford: Living Like A Runaway
Posted by James Wood
There’s something to be said about royalty. Especially when it comes to music.
Elvis Presley is known as “The King of Rock And Roll”, Michael Jackson is the “King of Pop” and Ozzy Osbourne is considered to be the “Prince of Darkness” in musical circles.
But for metal-heads like me there is only one Queen that we pay homage to:
Picture this: It’s a hot summer day in June of 1985 and I’m walking downtown to guitar lesson with a black electric guitar strapped over my shoulder.
My guitar case had broken the night before and my parents had no means of getting me to lesson but I wouldn’t let anything stand in my way. So I footed it the two miles to guitar lesson in the searing heat with literally a six string on my back.
With sweat dripping down my face and obnoxious truck drivers honking their horns and poking fun at me all I remember thinking was: “It doesn’t get more rock and roll than this!!” I was a metal head in the making.
For more than the heat, the cat calls or the long walk to lesson the thing that sticks out more than anything else for me that day was listening to the song that blared from my Sony Walkman cassette player. The song that I had spent countless hours listening to over and over and loved. The song that I was now finally about to start learning how to play at lesson that day: “Gotta Let Go” by Lita Ford!
To me, Lita was (and still is) more than just a beautiful woman. She is one of the best rock guitarists ever! So for me to be able to learn some of her guitar licks was a dream come true.
I know Lita must have faced plenty of adversity for being a female guitarist but it never bothered me one bit that she was of the opposite sex. All I knew was, she ROCKED! It was the thick of the metal years and her music was universal. We stood together and I felt a kinship with her.
Back when I was learning how to play guitar I faced my own adversity. There were plenty of times where I was berated by siblings and friends for making them endure the sounds of me practicing the same riff, scale or song countless times until I got it right. Or maybe it was my parents bitching up a storm because I brought the guitar to the dinner table. I imagine Lita went through similar situations while trying to make her mark in what was always considered a “male dominated” instrument.
But Lita persevered and continued to tear down walls with her phenomenal playing and songwriting skills. She became my beacon of light. So much so that a few years later I really brought the metal to school. One of my high school music theory projects was to transpose any song of my choosing into an orchestral piece for jazz band.
I recall the assignment was to rewrite the music from the song and change it into something that could be played for everything from trumpets to saxophones. Guess which song I chose?
“Gotta Let Go” by Lita Ford.
Over the years I’ve been an avid follower of Lita Ford. From the songs “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever” (her duet with Ozzy Osbourne) to the guilty pleasure of “Shot of Poison” her music and guitar work never ceases to amaze. Although that grueling summer of 1985 may be a distant memory to many I’ll never forget the day Lita became the Queen to me.
And now, the Queen has returned with a vengeance.
On June 19th Lita Ford will release her latest album: “Living Like A Runaway” (SPV/Steamhammer). Produced by Lita Ford and Gary Hoey (another amazing guitarist) “Living Like A Runaway” is quite honestly one of the best rock albums of the 21st century. To me, it simply is Lita’s BEST record to date.
Whereas most albums usually contain one “hit” song buried within eight or nine other tracks of filler, “Living Like A Runaway” is a true album experience from start to finish.
With contributions by lyricist Michael Dan Ehmig, Nikki Sixx (Mötley Crüe) and Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake) Lita has brought out some “big guns” for this project.
There’s even a bonus track containing a killer rendition of the Elton John classic: “The Bitch Is Back” which features The Uptown Horns.
Lita and Gary Hoey’s guitar work on this album is genuine and nothing short of bad ass. The record contains enough killer riffs, solos and guitar harmony to make even an army of male metal-heads bow in reverence.
In addition to the killer grooves from songs like “Branded”, “Hate” and “The Devil in My Head” the album also takes you on the musical journey of Lita’s life. From her days carrying her own guitar on her back on the title track to the personal song for her children in “Mother”.
Then there’s my personal favorite, “Relentless”; a song that best sums up the will of Lita to not let anything stand in her way and a message we can all take to heart when the odds are against us.
To support the new record, Lita will embark on a tour this summer with Def Leppard and Poison as well as doing select headlining shows in between.
I had the honor of holding court with the Queen and discussing the genesis of “Living Like A Runaway”.
In this amazing interview, Lita discusses the long distance songwriting process she and Gary took creating this new music. We’ll also talk about her early years playing guitar, The Runaways, the origin of her big hit with the Prince of Darkness himself and one of the best “rock and roll” stories ever!
Before I begin, you must understand how much this woman’s music has influenced me. So if this interview comes across to you as a bit biased I make no apologies for it. Lita Ford is one of the greatest guitarists (male or female) of all time.
Interestingly, while I was waiting on hold for Lita I had to listen to some really interesting “elevator music” playing in the backgroundwhich started the conversation off nicely:
goJimmygo (gJg): Lita! It’s Jim. How are you?
Lita Ford (LF): Hi! I’m doing great! How are you?
gJg: I’m great too. It’s so awesome to be able to speak with you! WOW!
LF: Same here!
gJg: I was listening to some funky on-hold music while I was waiting for you and all I kept thinking was: “Man, this is the TOTAL opposite of your new record!” <laughs>
LF: I know, isn’t that funny? I don’t know why they put that music on there. <laughs>
gJg: “Living Like A Runaway” is the BEST record I’ve heard in years!
LF: Awesome! Thank you!
gJg: It’s one of those rare records where every track on it is killer. You listen to the first song and it’s great. Then the next song is just as good and so on. The entire album is an experience!
LF: I am so happy about it!
gJg: For me: It’s like the return of Lita… and a punch in the face thrown in for good measure! <laughs>
LF: You know it! <laughs>
gJg: It’s reliving the metal years again. Everything from the riffs, the lyrics, the way you deliver the vocal. My weakness has always been harmony guitar and this album is filled with it.
LF: So cool. Thank you! I miss those days too and am so glad to bring it back! It’s what I think people want. People miss those times and the heavy guitar riffs. They miss what used to be called “Hair Metal”. Hair has nothing to do with how music sounds. People long for the metal years again and this record gives it to them.
gJg: How is everything going?
LF: It’s going great. I’m just getting prepared for this tour.
gJg; How does it feel to being going out on the road with Def Leppard and Poison this summer?
LF: It’s awesome! The record actually comes out the day before the tour starts so it literally is perfect timing. The whole thing is a Godsend. The new record is just so good and now we have this tour on top of it. So we get to give it a good kick in the ass and hopefully people will respond to it!
gJg: You also have some solo headline dates mixed in with that tour as well right?
LF: Yeah, we’ll be filling in some of the days off in between with shows. It will be busy but that’s rock n roll! <laughs>
gJg: What are you looking forward to the most on this tour?
LF: Well, we’re the opener and it’s a tough slot to have. It’s at a time when people are still stuck in traffic getting there. We have a 30 minute set and don’t get to play much so we really have to make a statement in thirty minutes. It’s a challenge but I’m up for it.
Fortunately, we have the headliner shows in between and at those shows we really get to go nuts! I can’t wait! <laughs>
gJg: What’s it like when you walk out on stage and you see a sea of humanity there to see and support you?
LF: It’s the best. I honestly just want to take everyone in my arms and give them all a big hug. But since that isn’t possible instead what I do is throw my fist in the air and say: “YEAH… RIGHT ON!” and get the response that way. It’s just as good as a hug.
gJg: The guitar work on this new album is phenomenal.
LF: Thank you! Gary Hoey and I do the guitars on this record.
gJg: What’s the genesis of this new album and what was your songwriting process like for it?
LF: It all started when Gary called and invited me up to his studio in New Hampshire to record. I thought about it for a while and decided to take him up on the offer.
So I got on a plane, flew up and the very first song we wrote together was “Love 2 Hate U” which was a duet!
I know love’s a sacrifice – no doubt
It’s something we can’t live without
Yeah, I think I’ve worked it out
Why “I Love 2 Hate U”
We came out of that session and on the way home I was thinking: “Wow, this is a really GREAT song! We need to do another one!” So I booked another flight, flew back to Gary’s and we wrote “Branded”.
From that point on we just kept writing together. We didn’t have a record deal at the time so what we did was put together four tracks plus our version of “The Bitch is Back”. Through that we got the deal with SPV; who have been so supportive and wonderful with this project.
So every two weeks or so I’d hop on a plane to Gary’s and we’d hang out, jam and write. If we ever got stuck we would call up our third songwriting partner, Michael Dan Ehmig. His specialty is lyrics. Michael had a broken back at the time and was in some serious pain. So he was laid up writing all of these really deep, deep lyrics. At the time I had just gone through a divorce so I was in a dark place myself. So tie all of that in with Gary’s arrangements and ideas and we were able to come with this brilliant record.
gJg: I noticed that Doug Aldrich contributes to this record as well.
LF: Yes, “Bad Neighborhood” is a song I wrote with Doug Aldrich.
gJg: Doug is amazing. His playing is like a freak of nature!
LF: Doug is awesome! “Bad Neighborhood” was the very last song we wrote for the album and I remember at the time we were in need of some guitar riffs. So I called up Doug and asked him if he had any riffs up his sleeve. Something that was really “ass-kicking” and “up-tempo”.
Next thing you know he comes back with the riff for “Bad Neighborhood”. It has a “Drop-D” tuning and is the most “attitudinal” (if that’s a word) song off of the album. It’s real cocky.
gJg: Where did the idea for the song come from?
LF: It’s a saying that came from a friend of mine who used to run Narcotics Anonymous. He used to always say: “Get Out Of Your Head, It’s A Bad Neighborhood”… <laughs>
gJg: My favorite song from the album is “Relentless”. I love the guitar work and the message of tearing down walls.
LF: That’s Gary Hoey. He’s playing the solo. I love the solo on that song.
gJg: The song “Asylum” is really deep. Is that about an actual place you stayed at?
LF: Yeah, that’s a pretty heavy-duty song.
We had lived in a house in the Caribbean for ten years and it was like my asylum. When you live on a deserted island for decade you start to go a little bit crazy. I suppose a lot of people have their own “asylum”. Maybe a day at the office is your asylum or maybe going to school. Everyone has their own “asylum” to deal with. At one point in time we all run into something like that we have to deal with.
gJg: Then the album ends with “A Song to Slit Your Wrist By” a Nikki Sixx contribution.
LF: Yeah, he actually wrote that song about his ex-wife 15 years ago. <laughs>
It’s definitely not to be taken seriously though. In fact, I actually have the lyrics for all the songs printed on the album and in my own handwriting I put right next to that one:
“Please Do Not Try This At Home – Or Anywhere Else For That Matter!” – I put the “Lita Advisory” sticker on it.
gJg: Where did you grow up?
LF: I was born in Britain and moved to the US when I was 4. I worked my way from Boston to Dallas and then to Long Beach, California.
I’ve always considered myself a California girl though. You know, growing up on the streets of Hollywood. Just like the song: “Living Like A Runaway”.
gJg: When I listen to that song I actually feel like I’m right there with you. It’s awesome when a song takes you some place and infects you.
LF: I agree. I listen to it sometimes and cry and think: “Why am I crying?”.. Then I realize it’s because it’s so “real”!
One day I left town with just the shirt on my back
And a guitar on my shoulder yeah I wasn’t comin’ back
I had to break the spell my heart was under
So I rode out-of-town on wheels of thunder
…. “Living Like A Runaway”
LF: Richie Blackmore was one of my biggest. I think he’s one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard. Especially the way he would double-pick everything like on “Highway Star”. It was so brilliant. He also used to play the cello. He’s such a brilliant musician.
I was also a big fan of Black Sabbath because their riffs were just so heavy!
gJg: Did you have a hard time growing up being a girl and playing guitar?
LF: I did and I never really understood that. People would see me play and they’d say “But… you’re a GIRL!”. And I’d say: “Yeah, AND??” Truthfully though, that would just make me want to play more!
I love a door slammed in my face
Told me a girl needs to know her place
I never listened, I proved ’em all wrong
I rocked their asses from here to Hong Kong
I’m not invited but I’m comin’ anyway…. “Relentless”
gJg: How did you practice?
LF: I would never put the guitar down. I would walk around with it. I’d sit and watch TV and play. If I went out on a date with a guy I’d go over to his house and I’d sit and jam with him. Of course, he wasn’t too happy about that but that’s what I wanted to do. <laughs>
My whole life pretty much revolved around playing guitar.
gJg: Can you tell me one of your best “rock and roll” stories?
LF: I have so many… Hmmm? Here’s a good one. And this one actually involves my Mother:
One year I was invited to an awards show in New York City for all of these huge celebrities like Keith Richards, Tina Turner and David Bowie. You know, all of these huge stars. I decided to take my Mom along with me because she really loved rock and roll. She also knew everyone and was a great person to have around and help me.
I was having my hair and make-up done and it was taking quite some time. After a while, my Mother got bored just standing there so she decided to go off and start talking to people.
So after a few hours I went looking for her and I found her… Sitting on a sofa next to David Bowie!!
I remember walking up to her and excitedly yelling so loudly that my voice cracked. I said: “MOM?!! What are you DOING?? Do you realize who you are sitting next to?”
She says (in this thick Italian accent): “Oh, Lita! I was just talking to Dave!” So I thought: “Oh this is great! My Mom’s hanging out with David Bowie!”
David looks me over from head to toe then looks back at my Mother and says (in his thick British accent): “Is this your daughter?”
And my Mother says: “Yah Dave, that’s Lita!” And David says to my Mom:”Do you always let her dress like that?”
My Mother replies: “Yah Dave, THAT’S rock and roll!” <laughs>
gJg: That IS rock and roll! <laughs>
LF: It sure is! <laughs>
gJg: What is one of the strangest things a fan has ever asked?
LF: A few weekends ago someone actually asked me to sign their neck. So I autographed his neck and within an hour he came back and showed me it had been tattooed.
Then the guy asked me if I would kiss a napkin for him. When I asked him why he said it was because he wanted to use the lip prints and have them tattooed on his neck right next to my name. He did all of this within a couple of hours. It was pretty unbelievable. <laughs>
LF: I would love to. The girls know that I want to and I think now would be a good time to do it. I’m all for it and told Cherie (Currie) and Joan (Jett). Unfortunately, we don’t have Sandy with us anymore. We’ll see.
In the meantime though… I’ve got “Living Like A Runaway”! <laughs>
gJg: What’s your relationship with BC Rich guitars now?
LF: It’s great! I’ve actually got a BC Rich Signature Model coming out soon: “The Black Widow Warlock”. I’m very excited about it!
gJg: I hear you’re also working on a book now. What’s the status of that?
LF: I’m looking for publishers right now. It’s going to take some time because I want this to be a very visual book; just like the songs are on the new CD. They’re visual. You can actually “see” the picture I’m trying to paint. That’s what I want this book to be.
gJg: I have to ask you: what was the origin of “Close My Eyes Forever”?
LF: That song was kind of an accident really. Ozzy and Sharon came over to the recording studio one night while we were working on the “Lita” record. They had brought me over a house-warming gift for my new home.
So we opened a bottle of wine and were playing pool and after a while Ozzy and I decided to go into a side room where we had a guitar and amp set up. We just started playing and singing and wound up writing “Close My Eyes Forever”.
What’s interesting was at the time I was voted Best Female Rock Vocalist and he was voted Best Male Rock Vocalist.
gJg: How has the reception been for the new album?
LF: It’s been absolutely insane. We’ve actually gotten some really good quotes. One of the best was from a guy in Germany who put it this way:
I fall to my knees and I say: Thank you God for this wonderful album!!
As far as I’m concerned, truer words have never been spoken. Welcome back Lita!!
Article first published as Lita Ford: Living Like A Runaway on Technorati.