Still running hard

By Paul Rigg

Lita Ford is a British-born American rock legend.  

Ford -"heavy metal’s leading female rocker" according to Rolling Stone - was lead guitarist for the Runaways in the late 1970s before starting a solo career that saw her co-write the hit ´Close my eyes forever´ with Ozzy Osbourne, among many others.  

Her shoot-from-the-hip autobiography ‘Living Like a Runaway’ was a critical and commercial success.  She has also established an organisation to combat Parental Alienation (a form of child psychological manipulation during separation); acted in films; and competed on the reality TV show ´Chopped´ to raise money for charity.

Guitars Exchange hooks up with Ford while she is relaxing between gigs on a glorious sunny day in Los Angeles.    

Guitars Exchange: You have had a hectic schedule recently - what have you been up to?

Lita Ford: We have played a lot of shows and I regularly go out running with the ‘Weekend Warriors’- it is insanity and a lot of fun.  I have also been song-writing with Gary Hoey, the producer and co-writer of ‘Living like a Runaway’.  Ever since that album he and I have been working together on this next one.  I'm very excited about it. I hope to release it next year sometime.

G.E.: What inspired you to write an autobiography among everything else?

L.F.: I have always loved writing music but when Guitar player magazine and Marshall amplification dubbed me the 'first lady of rock guitar', I thought ‘I've got to write a book, I've got to put it out there’, because I went through things and I had to do things as a woman in a man's world that no other female really did before.  There were artists out there before me like Suzi Quatro and Fanny , but I don't think they were anything like the Runaways, with such good stories to tell.  I wrote it without any assistance and it took forever, but I am very proud of it.

G.E.: What do you mean by ‘You went through things a man doesn´t have to’?

L.F.: Well it is a battle trying to get people to listen to you. -men especially. I know what my guitar is supposed to sound like, I know my tools, I know my game, I know my volumes for the room, but then some guy comes along and says: 'No, you need to do this' and it is those words that really get me  When I hear those words come out - that's it, you are done! Yes I do know what I need, if you don´t understand then you are the wrong person for my team.  I've got a great team now, and they never ask me that question.

G.E.: You present a glam image - was that entirely your choice?

L.F.: Yes. I enjoy it because I am a female.  There are male artists who put on a glamorous image as well, like Steven Tyler, for example, his clothing has been made for him in a certain style and he uses it on stage.  I know I do -I know the scarf is going to fly around with the long hair, and it just gives me a certain image.  It is sexy and it turns heads; when I walk into a room and jaws drop, it's wonderful.

G.E.: Do you think. female guitarists’ style has changed since you started?

L.F.: Yes, things have changed.  I think many female guitar players are very Steve Vai oriented these days ..I mean I love Steve Vai, don't get me wrong, he is awesome; but I grew up with the riff, with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple , Richie Blackmore, and the solos.  That seems to be the main difference in style since I started.

G.E.: Looking back now to the Runaways period, do you have any new perspective on why the band broke up?

L.F.: We weren't happy with what we were doing.  We weren't a team. Joan (Jett) and Cherie (Currie) were very much a team and Joan and I tried but we really didn't click musically.  I wanted to play heavy metal and Joan wanted to play - well, her first hit was 'I love Rock n Roll', which was very pop rock and it took off and did great; whereas I released 'Out for Blood'.  We were going in different musical directions.

G.E.: However, you got together with Cherie a few years ago - are there any plans for a reunion of the Runaways?

L.F.: Cherie and I tried to get Joan to work with us.  We had dinner, we called her and we sent her emails, but we never really never got any response.  I think most likely it was her manager who didn´t want her to do it.

G.E.: Would you and Cherie still be interested if Joan called you one day?

L.F.: In a heartbeat.. I'd love to do it . We miss Joan.  

G.E.: How did you come to meet Ozzy Osbourne?

L.F.: His wife Sharon was my manager and one day they came to visit me in the recording studio. They brought me a gift which was so kind but Sharon got bored and left the studio.  Next thing I know Ozzy and I are playing pool and drinking wine and we came out with 'Close my eyes forever'. It was really an accident - what a great accident!

G.E.: Did you try to recreate that ambience again with Ozzy?

L.F.: Ozzy and Sharon had a lot of problems at that time and it was affecting me, so I had to let Sharon go as a manager.  It broke my heart, but she needed to deal with her family issues with Ozzy - you know, family come first, always.

G.E.: What do you feel about Ozzy, Sharon, and your hit song now?

L.F.: I wish Ozzy would get his arse up on stage again and play it with me. .It was his first top ten hit single, but I think maybe Sharon thought we were having an affair.  There were so many drugs at that time in Ozzy´s life - and me too, I was no angel. - But Sharon and I would go out to shop and we would buy clothes and go to different stylists and I loved it.  That was more fun to me than staying up all night snorting cocaine.


G.E.: I’d like to turn to your childhood now: when did you start to play guitar?

L.F.: I began at 11. I just really wanted a guitar, so I asked my mum for one for Christmas.  She wanted to surprise me but she didn't know anything about guitars and she bought me one with plastic strings: Mariachi type, a 12 dollar guitar.  When I opened the box I said to my parents 'this is great, you guys are the best' and then I went in the other room and I said to myself 'Oh no!'. 
I actually learnt a lot of Black Sabbath riffs on that guitar, but it didn't sound right.
  So when Christmas came around again I asked for a guitar with steel strings, but they bought me an acoustic with steel strings and I thought 'Oh no, this is not what I wanted either!', but it enabled me to play 'Stairway to Heaven´, and it started me on a different style of music.   When I turned 14 I went for a job so I could buy my own guitar. 
In California you had to be 16 to work, but because I had big boobs people thought I was older.  My mother even helped me by stuffing my bra with tissue paper. I worked in St Mary's medical centre , saved 337 dollars and went out and bought myself a chocolate Gibson SG - Suddenly I had the sound I wanted and I was rocking.  I started playing in clubs and then joined the Runaways at aged 16.

G.E.: What is your favorite guitar model? 

L.F.: It is an old 80s B.C. Rich.  Bernie Rico passed away in the 90s and he made the most incredible guitars and I was his girl.  So anything they developed and created I would play because it was absolutely what I wanted.  They were original, they weren´t a Telecaster or a Stratocaster copy - not that there is anything wrong with a Strat or a Tele because I have both, but I wanted to be a leader, original and unique and Rich gave me that opportunity. 

One day I wanted a white double neck but the Rich Bich double necks were so big I couldn't reach the bottom neck so. they made me a smaller version of the same guitar.  It is a protype, unique.  It has a pre-amp in the bottom neck.  It is a beautiful instrument.


G.E.: Which records should every guitarist listen to?

L.F.: Wow, there are so many. Let’s say Pink FloydThe Dark Side of the Moon; Led Zeppelin's first album; and Jimmy Hendrix’s ‘Are you Experienced’.  

G.E.: Which artist dead or alive would you most like to jam with?  

L.F.: Definitely Hendrix.  That is something that eats away at me, that I never got to meet him.