Lita Ford on Her Rock 'n' Roll Legacy
Photo by Dustin Jake
For a lot of hard rock and metal bands, the Eighties was about baring it all, in terms of both skin and bad behavior. During those aggressive days Lita Ford, fresh off her stint as lead guitarist of the Runaways, was no exception. But decades later the former wild child is more interested in baring her soul and sharing her wisdom as an icon — and survivor — of rock’s testosterone-fueled heyday, having finally gotten recognition as a rock 'n' roll pioneer.
In her 2016 autobiography, Living Like a Runaway, Ford laid bare her sometimes horrifying, just as frequently hilarious, and always heartfelt experiences as a determined guitarist in a world that wasn’t always welcoming to her. On the heels of her latest album, Time Capsule, she’s touring with Pennsylvania rockers Halestorm, who are in many ways carrying on her legacy. She spoke to the Voice from the tour bus on the way to play Webster Hall tonight.
Village Voice: Time Capsule is just that — your previously unreleased songs, with guests like Gene Simmons from Kiss and the guys from Cheap Trick. How did this come about?
Lita Ford: They’re songs from the Eighties that I did when I had some downtime. [The record company] didn’t want them, because they had not been produced by a "real" record producer. But here we are, so many decades later, and the record company is jumping up and down, they love the tracks so much. [They] don’t care it was produced by a female.
We transferred the analog to digital and remixed, but we didn’t change one note of the original songs. We left it completely as it was. [Engineer] George Tutko and I did these songs with all these wonderful musicians who were just friends of ours, hanging out. They were walking by, or using the studio next to us: Rick [Nielsen] and Robin [Zander, of Cheap Trick] and I were writing songs at the time and they ended up in the studio singing on the “Killing Kind.” Dave Navarro was in the studio next door. Billy Sheehan wasn’t doing anything, and I asked him to come in.
You don’t pull any punches in your autobiography. Do you have any regrets about it now that it’s been out for a bit?
There were some difficult hurdles. I wanted to talk about [Black Sabbath guitarist] Tony Iommi but I didn’t want to upset fans. Although I was one of those fans, one of those people who worshipped the ground he walked on, and when I found out what I was dealing with, and what kind of person he was…I don’t know if he still is like that, I doubt it, because he’s sick [Iommi was diagnosed with cancer in 2012] and older. Hopefully he’s not like he was back then. People are mad at me for speaking out, but I was the victim in this case...nobody was more upset than I was. Nobody.
And are you in touch with Iommi?
I tried to contact his camp, HarperCollins tried, and we got no response. So no one’s heard from him, even after publication. And of course, my children, their father [Ed. — former Nitro vocalist Jim Gillette] has put up a huge block between me and my children. I don’t know where they are, I don’t know if they’re OK.
You’re on tour with Halestorm, whose vocalist, Lzzy, is a very powerful singer and persona. The Runaways and your own solo career have helped pave the way for bands like this. Was feminism part of the band?
In the Seventies, we didn’t think of that. We were just trying to fight our own battles. The Runaways were really, really before their time. We broke huge in Japan and Europe, but in the States people looked at us as a gimmick, which we were, but we were also trying to put out music and get people to look past the fact that we were underage females. Back then, it was an unheard-of thing. But I think we did pave the way. We did a festival yesterday, and a lot of the bands on the bill were fronted by women. Even the moshpits are filled with women. It’s pretty cool.
Do you feel you command more power in the music industry now?
Everything has come full circle. When I stand on a stage next to Lzzy Hale, playing an almost identical guitar, I can see the influence [of my career] and how things have come full circle — finally. It’s really beautiful.
After his death, Kim Fowley, who managed the Runaways, faced rape allegations from original bassist Jackie Fox. You spent time with Fowley at the end of his cancer battle. What was that like?
[Runaways singer] Cherie Currie and I had hooked up after decades of not seeing each other, and Kim wanted to write some music for Cherie. I think Kim wanted her blessing, [because] he knew he was going to die. Cherie told me she’d been invited to his apartment and asked [me to go] with her. When I walked in the door uninvited, Kim looked at me and his face went blank. His jaw dropped.
But we sat down and he said to me, "Do you know I was always afraid of you?" I always stuck up for myself, I never let him push me around, and he knew that I knew he wanted Cherie to come over [so he could] make up for the damage he’d done. He didn’t want to live in hell. I asked him if he would write me a song, too, and he wrote me the most incredible lyric. I have not put music to it yet, but I plan to put it on the next album. I think a lot of the lyrics he wrote me are from his heart, and he showed me he did have a heart. It’s something I’d never seen before from him.
Was the lyric about you, or him?
I told him about my boys and about my ex. I said he’s a con artist, and Kim said to me, "Is he better than me?" I said, "Oh, yeah. Way better." Kim looked at me like he was upset; he wanted to be the biggest con artist. It was insane. He wrote this song called “Bleed.” When you read it, you can see he’s writing about my kids and me, but also about himself.
With Time Capsule and your book, it seems a chapter of your life is closed. What’s next?
I feel I’m surrounded with a lot of positive energy, and that’s what keeps me happy and keeps me going. I’d like to have my children with me. I would never take them away from their father, but I want to see them and have them come on tour with us. That’s first on my list. Another album in 2017. And I think there’s a movie in [my book] too. But [we] have our hands full with this album, book, and tour.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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