By Phyllis Pollack
In an interview about her upcoming eighth solo album, Living Like A Runaway, guitarist Lita Ford made it clear that despite the album’s title, its lyrics and music are very much about the present tense. “It’s so 2012,” she enthuses.
Ford initially became known at just 16, as a seminal member of the all-girl band The Runaways, which lasted from 1975 from 1979.
The group landed itself in a historical place, both in the history of punk, and the history of rock and roll.
Living Like A Runaway will be released on June 19 on SPV/Steamhammer Records.
Ford’s upcoming album is her most autobiographical and personal work to date.
In addition to promoting her new album, Ford is currently on tour, then starting on June 20, she will be hitting the road again as the opening act for Def Leppard.
Ford says the group that she assembled for her new album is the same line-up that she will be touring with.
Gary Hoey produced the upcoming album.
The album will be available in five formats: as a limited edition digipak featuring two bonus tracks and a poster, as a gatefold double LP, a jewel case version, an exclusive iTunes version including a bonus track, and as a download.
Joan Jett and Lita Ford are the only Runaways members that have achieved musical success since the band’s break-up.
While Jett’s music has always been power pop oriented, Ford’s music on her upcoming disc, is blatantly harder, with the exception of her striking ballad work and melodic tracks.
Ford never seems to age, and her voice is stronger than ever on the new album.
One of the album’s inclusions is a track written by Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, entitled “A Song To Slit Your Wrist By,” the ultimate good riddance track.
Ford explains of the album’s line-up, “We have Marty O’Brien on bass. He’s played with Tommy Lee, he did three Ozzfests. He’s a heavy hitter. He’s been around a lot of the metal groups, and I just love his playing.”
She notes, “On drums we’re using Matt Scurfield, who is Gary’s drummer. Gary’s been playing with Matt for like 12 years or so, and he also played on my album. The only people that really played on it were me, Gary and Matt.”
Scurfield came in later, says Ford. “Matt really only came in on the last three days of tracking. We used mechanical drums, and the last three days we brought in Matt to play the real drums. So we actually did all the recording with mechanical drums.”
“Gary Hoey actually played all the bass on the album, and Gary and I both played guitar, so it was really just me and Gary. We just sat in a room for almost a year. Actually, it might be a little bit longer than a year,” she recalled.
“I remember when he first picked me up at the airport, it was the very first snowfall of the year, and when the album was done, it was the very last snowfall of the year. So it had gone one whole cycle of spring, fall, summer, you know, all the seasons and we were back to winter again, and we were just finishing up the album,” she recollects.
“We recorded it at Gary’s studio in New Hampshire,” says Ford. “It was not the kind of place where you could just find a drummer on every street corner, like if you would have recorded it in Los Angeles. But where Gary lives, it’s very remote. We couldn’t find a lot of musicians to play on the record.”
Ford comments, “But we really didn’t want to use a lot of musicians. We wanted to do it all ourselves. The only other people we used on the album were the Uptown Horns on the remake of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back.” They did a really great horn arrangement.”
Ford’s cover version of “The Bitch Is Back” is only available on the Limited edition Digipak version, as a bonus track, she says, sounding almost apologetic.
Even more intense than Ford’s suicide themed duet with Ozzy Osbourne, “Close My Eyes Forever,” which reached the #8 on the Billboard singles chart, is a heartfelt track on her upcoming album.
Ford wrote the emotional song “Mother” as a message to her two children, in response to wrangling surrounding her acrimonious divorce from rock singer Jim Gillette.
Ford says that when listening to the self-revelatory nature of the songs on her soon to be released album, “The only one that’s painful for me is “mother.”
The lyrics are extremely assertive, and the tracks rock hard. In “Branded,” she rebels against being corralled in, and branded for abuse. “I took a little ride on your hellbound train, it was a really bad trip, nearly drove me to my grave, it’s too much time was going by, you’re still here, it’s time for me to fly. You never wanted me to leave, so you had me branded.”
The album’s beautifully executed and produced title track, with its melodic lead guitar work, is another autobiographical work.
In it, Lita sings, “Like the streets of Hollywood, my mind was wasted, I still did the best I could. 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 had to break the spell my heart was under, so I rolled out of town on wheels of thunder.”
On the album, she addresses living on the edge from numerous vantage points.
“Gary and I sat down, and we said, ‘If you don’t cry and you don’t feel the emotion of any of the songs on this record, then they shouldn’t be on this record. If you don’t come away feeling angry or upset or pissed off, You gotta come away feeling some kind of emotion. And if you don’t, then we didn’t do it right,” says Ford.
Ford’s album also has social commentary on her new album. She remarks, “Hate” is a song that I had been working on since probably 20 years. I’ve had it since the early days.”
She says of its long time coming into fruition, “I started writing it with Michael Dan Ehmig. He is my lyricist, and he and I started this song “Hate” years ago, and it started out great. But the problem was, when we were done writing, we were done with the album, and we didn’t really need the song. So we stopped.”
Lita continues to unravel the story behind the song’s many years to be completed. “So when we started writing again recently, I said, ‘Michael, do you remember that song “Hate” we started back in 1985?’ He said, ‘Yeah, of course, I remember that.’ I said, ‘Let’s finish it.’ Because it would be perfect on this album.”
Ford raves, “It’s just so today, it’s so 2012, because there’s so much hatred in the world, you know, together with things like the Columbine shootings, and 9-11, you know, blowing up the World Trade Center.”
“My God,” Ford exclaims. “It’s horrible, horrible stuff. It’s hatred.”
“I just thought the song would fit. You know, a story about someone that is mentally insane, and goes to school, kills people. Then later, you home and hear about it on the evening news,” she comments.
Quoting from its lyrics, Ford states, “You know, like it says, ‘Last night on the evening news, I heard his name, and it turned my head. Something about a local boy, and 15 people dead.”
“It’s just a little too close to home, you know,” she says.
“There’s all this road rage and all this stupid stuff, and on a microscopic level, compared to 9-11, of course, it’s considered like going to the grocery store, being on the freeway in your car, and honking at you, and trying to run you off the world. It’s like goddamn, chill out, dude. Why do you have to be so mean and angry and hateful?” she asks, with strong intensity in her voice.
The hate theme reminds me of something from the past. I then mentioned to Ford that one of my most vivid memories of her was when I had seen the Runaways play at Ebbets Field in Denver. I am almost certain that the year was 1977.
When the group came out on stage, some guy yelled at Ford, “Are you really going to play that thing?” I remember being stunned by the stupidity of it.
I tell Lita that I vaguely remember her yelling something back at him.
“Did that happen a lot back then when the Runaways played?” I ask her.
“Yeah, it did happen a lot,” responded Lita.
With conviction in her voice, she adds, “It just made me better, because it pissed me off. When someone tells me I can’t do something, I try even harder to do it. If a guy tells me, ‘You can’t play guitar, girls don’t play guitar,’ it makes me want to go home and play even harder.”
I then asked her if she saw the readers poll that one of the two major guitar magazines conducted, asking if women play should electric guitar. I noted the fact that there were a lot of people that voted no.
Ford responded, “I haven’t heard of that poll.” Sounding horrified and astonished, she asked, “What year was this?”
I tell Lita that Orianthi already had her first single out, so it had to be in the last two or three years; I believe in 2010. I noted that I was offended that anyone even asked the question, let alone a guitar magazine.
Ford is quick to say, “One of the magazines I have the most difficulties getting photos or articles in is guitar magazines. I have the most difficult time getting write-ups in guitar magazines. They don’t want to do it.”
I then asked her how she feels about some of the marketing in the guitar magazines that use female models holding guitars in a way that indicates the model has never held an electric guitar in her life, let alone played one.
“They’re using women as models, and not as musicians,” says Ford, who signed autographs this year at the B.C. Rich, Dean Markley and Seymour Duncan booths at NAMM this year, and performed at NAMM’s Dean Markley party.
“Well, I’m working on that. I’m working on it,” says Ford. “ It’s one of my pet peeves. If these f***ing idiots can’t put a woman on the cover of their magazine, because we’re women, someone’s just got to break that ice, and I can’t believe it hasn’t been broke yet.”
I tell her that in the last few years, I only remember that Orianthi making the cover of Guitar Player in May, 2010, when her first solo album came out. Bonnie Raitt made the cover in 1977.
“I’ve gotten features, but it’s the covers,” emphasizes Ford. “And even features are hard to get. It’s still hard to get.”
“And it’s a guitar, not anything else,” she says, dumbfounded by the testosterone driven nature of marketing used in guitar magazines.
In the ‘70’s, while the Runaways were at the helm of Kim Fowley, I ask her if she thinks that in 2012, there are a lot of all-girl bands, because women have been treated as such a non-entity in the guitar world by its marketing companies and magazines. Has that had an effect? Are women feeling intimidated about playing with guys?
“I know what you mean,” says Ford. “I honestly never went there in my head. But now that you mention it, I’m sure it’s part of the problem with some women.”
She ponders the vacuous nature of the exclusion of female guitarists in guitar magazines. “I mean, you don’t need a dick to play rock and roll. You know what I mean? You don’t need a penis, unless you’re planning on using it as a slide. You just need to know how to play. That’s all. That’s it.”
She says of those that can’t deal with the concept of a female being a proficient electric guitarist, “They get intimidated. It’s just a chauvinistic sort of thing, I guess.”
It is probably no irony that on the upcoming album, the guitar riff-based song “Relentless” includes the lyrics, “Had every door slammed in my face, told me a girl needs to know her place. I never listened, I proved them all wrong. I rocked their asses from here to Hong Kong.”
I asked Ford if she has ever had to sign any non-disclosure agreements, if there is anything she can’t comment on regarding the Runaways, or any of their related projects.
I then asked her if she felt she was fairly portrayed in the film The Runaways. I add, “If I remember correctly, the film was mainly about Joan, and there was no reference at all to Jackie Fox, or Vicky Blue, but there was a fictional bassist in the movie named Robin.”
“Yeah,” noted Ford. “I didn’t really see the movie, to tell you yes or no. But I know there were a few scenes in the movie I had asked them to take out, because I read the script before it was released.”
“I was like, ‘That’s not right. That didn’t happen.’ Why would they f***ing put that in there?’ And it pissed me off,” she said, feeling that if a film was coming out about a band, it should tell the true story.
“It went overboard,” said Lita. “They went overboard with the bullshit. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be a part of the movie at all. Which is why I’m not in it very much, because I didn’t want to be in it at all.”
“It’s not a Runaways movie. It’s a movie about Joan and Cherie,” stated Lita.
Sounding flabbergasted, she added, “I don’t know how they can call it a Runaways movie.”
I asked her what she thought of the 2005 documentary about the Runaways entitled Edgeplay. “Yeah, I liked that,” Lita said.
I pointed out that the film was very different from the documentary.
Ford says of the Runaways movie, “Yes, I saw the trailers. It was just a little overboard. I mean, it wasn’t how everything really went down. You know, finding Cherie in a nightclub, and the words that came out. They had to add a little drama to it, and this Robin character. It’s like, come on, man.”
She adds, “Whoever was behind the scenes of making this movie, I just feel like they were not doing a proper job, because otherwise they would have had Jackie in the movie, and they would have had me in the movie. I don’t know whose fault it is, to tell you the truth.”
“But at the time,” she explains, “I wasn’t getting along with Joan’s management. And he had rubbed me the wrong way for too many years, a lot of years, actually. Since the Runaways broke up, he rubbed me the wrong way.”
Feeling the bad vibe, she added, “And I didn’t work with him. I knew would portray me in a bad light.”
I comment on the irony that just as Kim Fowley once ran things, now there is another guy in control that comes between her relationship with Jett.
“Yeah there is. There definitely is,” says Lita. Sounding emotional, she asks, “Why can’t I just be friends with Joan? Why can’t I just be friends with my old band mate? Why does there have to be some guy in the middle?
It has been some time since she last saw Jett. Ford, who clearly seems to like Jett very much, says, “I saw her again, and we had a real nice dinner in New York City about a year ago. Since then, I haven’t talked to her.”
A longtime player of B.C. Rich guitars, in keeping with the fact that Ford has re-recorded the song “The Bitch Is Back” for the new album, she will be bringing her “Rich Bitch” Warlock guitar, made by B.C. Rich, on the road with her for her tour with Def Leppard.
Ford says of her guitar arsenal, “I’m going to take the Black Widow Warlock with me, I’m going to take the red F**k The World Warlock, and my double neck Rich Bich, and I’m probably going to take the purple Rich Bitch, the one way back in the “Gotta Let Go” videos.”
She says of her purple B.C. Rich, “That one has been in storage, and I thought, ‘You know what? It’s time to pull this guy out again, because it hasn’t been seen in a long time.”
Lately, much of her focus has been on one particular guitar. “So far, right now, we’re just working on the Black Widow Warlock. It’s just coming out, it’s brand new. It’s something that can be played by a man or a woman. It doesn’t matter. It’s a masculine guitar. It sounds like death, and it’s just a ballsy looking, ballsy sounding guitar,” she maintains.
Ford predicts, “I think it’s something that’s going to be in demand if you like BC Rich guitars.”
Specifically, she says, “We’re talking the original B.C. Riches, because B.C. Rich went through a phase where the original owner died, Bernie Rico, and the company was bought out by these guys that didn’t really know what they were doing.”
Ford explains, “Recently a man named Bill Xavier came in and bought the company, and has re-done everything. Hired all new staff, brought in Pat Benatar’s guitar player, her husband Neil Geraldo. Brought in Kerry King (Slayer) and me.”
“And we’re the ones that played the original B.C. Riches. We’re the ones that know what they’re supposed to feel like, and how they’re supposed to sound,” she states. “We helped them get back on track with the original B.C. Riches. So I think the next batch of B.C. Riches that are coming out are going to be pretty smokin.’”
Having spent long periods of time in various locations, Ford is living in Los Angeles again.
She says, “I had to get off that island. Islands are great for vacations, but live there for a decade and you start to go a little nuts. I’m back in Los Angeles, this is where my managers are, where my accountants are, my bands, my rehearsals. You know, it’s where I work.”
She says, “In Florida, I just had a handful of really good friends, and I just thank God for them. It’s good to be home. L.A.’s my home.”
Just as Ford is direct in giving her opinions, the lyrics on her new album are blunt, as well.
Discussing her upcoming release, she says, “I very much I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. I don’t think there’s too much to figure out on this album. All you gotta do is listen to it. It’s like reading a book.”
With seemingly everyone in metal and hard rock writing a confessional book these days, I ask Ford when she will start working on hers.
“I’ve started it,” she says. “So far, I just have to find the right ghost writer. I’m looking for somebody who is very colorful and visual, similar to the lyrics on Living Like A Runaway. You can see the story when you listen to words.”
She pointed out the song “Hate,” and noted, “It’s so visual isn’t it? You can just see it. It tells the story, and you can see it happening.” She feels it would be appropriately used in a movie soundtrack.
“To me, that song sounds like it should be in a Batman movie,” commented Ford. “When I listen to it, it sounds like a Batman track, with that da-da-da-da-dada guitar riff.”
“It’s just so perfect for it.” She said, “I called my manager to try to hook it up, but unfortunately, we finished it a little too late. So I had tried to get it in the new Batman soundtrack, because I thought it would be so perfect.”
Noting its relevance, she recalls, “While we were recording the song, there was a movie that came out called “Something About Kevin,” and it was a story about a mother and father that had gotten divorced, and their son was turning into some kind of narcissistic sociopath.”
“He became a recluse, and the parents became worried about him. It turned out he was killing people, and had gone off the deep end mentally,” she says of the film’s plot. “It’s kind of like the story about “Hate.”
One of the influences of that song was also the movie Natural Born Killers. Ford quotes more of its lyrics, “He died on an average day at the state penitentiary. They laid him in his grave, the cameras rolled, and the people waved.”
“It’s like you’re more famous when you’re dead,” she added.
What is in store for Ford when the tour with Def Leppard is over? Ford says, “I definitely want to work on the book. I think we’ve got another album to make, and I don’t want to stop writing.”
Given the personal nature of much of the album, Ford says of Living Like A Runaway, “It was a release for me. It was really a release.”
Gutsy as ever, Ford concedes, “I look back at this album, the album cover and the artwork, and I think sometimes, I should have just put one little middle finger on that album cover.”
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