Lita Ford first came onto the music scene in the 1970s as the guitarist for the ground-breaking band the Runaways, an all-girl group that also included Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Sandy West, and Jackie Fox. Then came the ’80s, a time in which Ford reinvented herself as the top female performer in the male-dominated world of heavy metal, releasing a string of successful solo albums. By 1988, Ford was on the same playing field as the other rock giants of the day, as proven by 1988’s Lita, which includes hit singles like “Falling In and Out of Love” (co-written by Nikii Sixx of Motley Crue) and the Ozzy Osbourne duet “Close My Eyes Forever” — Ford’s most successful track to date.
So where did Ford disappear to after that? She took a mid-’90s break to focus on her family but returned 15 years later to a rock world ready for a comeback.
“Longevity, of course, creates legends,” Ford explains, on the phone during a break in touring. “I think coming back from the long hiatus showed strength and showed that I am true to my craft, which is rock ‘n’ roll.”
With her legendary status came interest in an autobiography on Ford’s life. Living Like a Runaway: A Memoir takes the reader through each phase of the singer’s life and career, phases with so many tales and twists that the musician found she had to cut some stories short in order to make deadline. “When you sign a book deal, you sign the deal saying there will be so many pages. You can’t give them 600 pages when they only want 300,” Ford says. “At a certain point, you have to save a few stories for the next book.”
While every iteration of Ford’s career is touched upon within the pages of the tome, for many it is the story of the Runaways that will have them cracking the spine. The band is many things to many people, but no one can deny that they managed to make their mark on the history of rock during their short four-year run. Everyone involved with the band agreed that their ages were part of their gimmick, but Ford says that the very thing used to minimize their importance at the time is the same thing that made them legends later on.
“Without a doubt, the Runaways were trailblazers,” Ford says proudly. “You know, there were more women playing guitar in female rock bands before us, but the difference between them and the Runaways was that we were children. We were teenagers. We weren’t of age yet, so we had to have adult supervision with us when we first started out. We had to take an adult with us at all times, and it was usually Jackie’s [Fox, the bass player] mother, who was a lovely woman that never asked any questions or got in the way. That was the only way we could perform any shows.”
But like so many young performers that have taken the stage, it’s the time not spent performing that can be the most dangerous. Unscrupulous managers have always tried to find ways to squeeze more money out of acts. And the only way the Runaways’ manager Kim Fowley was any different from other shady representatives is that he’ll probably go down as one of the sleaziest. Many involved with the young band’s music felt that there was something unseemly about Fowley’s relationship with certain members, so when Fox recently made accusations shortly after Fowley’s death that the man had raped her, the news was met with more of a sense of sad realization than shock.
When asking Ford about how to best protect young performers, at first she says she hasn’t given it much thought. However, she soon acknowledges that she hopes that times have changed enough in the industry that there are better guardians in place who have young musicians’ best interests in mind.
“I do look at these young girls — not even just young girls, but young bands as well — and I hope the best for them,” she says. “I hope that they don’t get sucked in by some creep that is just wanting to steal their money or make them into something and then empty their bank accounts. I do worry about some of these young bands.”
So as Ford takes the stage at 98 Rockfest and looks out on a crowd of adoring hard-rock heads, she’ll be met with appreciation for the four decades she spent carving out a place in rock music for a female guitarist. “Before, I had to worry about becoming the first female rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman,” Ford says, reminiscing about her beginnings. “I wanted to be the female Jimi Hendrix, where we both had three-piece bands, and the audience could only look at me while we were performing. This way, they couldn’t give the credit to the guy in the band, thinking he was the one actually playing guitar instead of me. Even when they see my fingers on the scale, and they see my hand working the neck, they will always give all of the credit to the guy in the band.”
“So, I got rid of him,” she finishes with a laugh.