When the phone rings and the person on the other end happens to be a living legend you listen. When that person introduces herself as “Lita Fuckin’ Ford” it starts to sink juuust a little further in. Lita Ford is not only a certified rock star and guitar icon but also the object of fanboy crushes since at least the mid-70s when she and the Runaways burst on the scene. I was most surprised and pleased to talk with Lita about her latest album, incidentally called “LIVING LIKE A RUNAWAY”. As a fan of ALL of her solo albums the most insane thing about the album is not only how much better it is than her last album but that it might be her best yet. She’s gone through well-publicized drama in her personal life and seems to have come out better as a result of it all and it’s clear she channeled a lot of her emotions into the album. Lita’s been kicking ass as part of the Def Leppard/Poison tour, she’s focused, she’s driven and she talked to us about all that and more. Read on….
Editor’s note: This interview, as well as all of our Runaways related interviews, is dedicated to the memory of drummer Sandy West, Rest in Peace.
LRI: Thanks so much for talking to us Lita. Your new album blows me away, before I get into that I wanted to ask you an unrelated question since you really are the most preeminent female hard rock guitar player legend. It’s been 30 years, this year, since Randy Rhoads passed away. You’ve worked with Ozzy and guitar legends from tons of bands. What do you think about Randy Rhoads loss all these years later?
Lita Ford: Randy was definitely a great guitar player who had his own style and his own look. He influenced a lot of people. Ozzy’s always had great guitar players, they’ve always been smokin guys, Randy was just the crème of the crop. He was just a great, great, all-around person and guitar player. He’s so very missed and I just think his death was so tragic. They were up in the plane, playing around and it was just a stupid accident. It wasn’t cancer or any of the other things that cause someone to leave us too soon, the fact that it was an accident makes it that much more tragic and senseless.
LRI: In all of your years “Living Like A Runaway” how many friends and bandmates have you lost and how does that affect you?
Lita: Gosh, it’s unbelievable. There’s been a lot of people who have died in the past 5 or 6 years for all kinds of reasons. Randy Castillo had throat cancer. He was older than a lot of people realize though, Randy Castillo really aged well. He was always very handsome but as he got older he kept his looks. Kevin Dubrow, Jani Lane…. Sandy West….god damn…..
LRI: Does a loss like Jani or Kevin kind of put in perspective the whole idea of taking care of yourself and appreciating each new day no matter how difficult the circumstances?
Lita: Yeah, I mean, you always wanna take care of yourself no matter what. That goes for everyone, whether you’re a celebrity or just an everyday person working at a bank, you’ve gotta look out for yourself. I’m 53 now and people will tell me things like “Lita, you look better than you’ve ever looked” and to tell the truth I usually cringe because some days I feel like I’m 53. Some days I feel like I’m 13 though, so it goes from one extreme to another but it does really help just going to the gym.
LRI: I am a longtime Lita Ford and Runaways fan but I will admit that I had no idea you had THIS good of an album in you and part of me thinks “Living Like a Runaway” had to benefit from your personal problems. How much differently did you approach this album than your last, “Wicked Wonderland”?
Lita: I honestly had hardly anything to do with the last album. It was really out of my control. This album I worked on for literally a year and I remember that Gary Hoey (producer) picked me up at the airport when the first snowfall came in New Hampshire and when we were done it was literally the last snowfall of the following year. It took that whole year just going back and forth writing material, we wrote stuff that we got rid of and went back and wrote more. We didn’t want any filler on this album, we were really focused on the whole album being great.
LRI: It sounds like something cliché an artist would say or it sounds like I’m kissing ass but it’s easily your best album yet. Did you spend a lot of time on pre-production?
Lita: No, we didn’t, it was really weird. Gary called me and asked if I wanted to use his studio and said he had a really nice studio. He invited me over and I took him up on his offer and when I got there I already had in mind to start recording the track “Love 2 Hate U” which was the first song we wrote together. We recorded it at his studio right off the bat and it came off amazing and we were so happy. I got back on the plane and I flew back to Ft. Lauderdale where I lived at the time and I was just grinning from ear to ear thinking “Wow, this is really good”. So later on, I called him back and said “Gary, I’ve got another couple of ideas for songs, can I come back?” and we worked out our schedules and I went back into the studio and we worked on some of those ideas and wrote “Branded” and I was again amazed at how great it sounded. So we just kept going. When we got to “Asylum” I knew we were on to something special and amazing so I said to him “You know, if we get a few more songs together I think we will have a really strong album, I should go shop a deal”. So we put “The Bitch is Back” along with “Love 2 Hate U” , “Branded” and “Asylum” and did just that.
LRI: I’m a KISS fan and to me this strikes me as a reaffirmation of everything Lita Ford is good at just like the “Revenge” album was for KISS. The level of aggression and passion is similar too. Everyone is well aware of the drama and shakeup in your personal life, is it wrong to read all of that into this album’s lyrics or are they as point-blank as they seem?
Lita: They’re point-blank (laughs). Need I say any more? (laughs). They really are. It’s everything that was going on in my life, during one of the darkest moments of my life and it’s all right there for you to hear man. I was able to channel everything that was going on into this record and it also tells a story that I think a lot of people can relate to in general. There’s aggression but that could also apply to someone who has a pile of paperwork or homework that they just wanna burn up rather than do. There’s also a happiness in the album due to the fact that there’s a twist of humor in some of these songs. There’s also a bit of cockiness and restlessness and I think these are songs that a lot of people of all ages could relate to.
LRI: It’s hard to imagine someone like yourself ever being compromised even in your personal life but judging by the lyrics it sounds like you feel that was the case.
Lita: Yeah, I was. I was compromising myself because I was being controlled. I was being controlled and I couldn’t function. I couldn’t breathe. That was not something I could tolerate and I did tolerate it for too long.
LRI: I’ve spent a lot of time these last few months on The Runaways interviewing Victory (Vicki Blue), Jackie and even Cherie’s sister who wasn’t in the band but has her own take on things. I spent over four friggin hours on the phone with Kim Fowley and I have no idea where to even begin with writing that up. Some have implied that he was controlling others have insisted that wasn’t the case at all, what’s your take?
Lita: Really? (laughs). Holy shit (still laughing). Four hours…wow. Well, I wouldn’t say control was an issue with Kim was at all. He’s very eccentric and you have to take Kim with a grain of salt. He has this weird way of trying to explain things that are very difficult to understand so it can get a little confusing at times but he’s just got his own way of going about things. I really did pick up a lot on the business side of things from Kim though. He really taught us things that weren’t necessarily things that we considered or were concerned about like choreography for instance. He would tell us “Don’t just stand there and play….move around!!!” and I was like “Well, ok….how?” (laughs). How are you supposed to move around while playing and singing? He would tell us “Lift your leg up like this, stick your butt out like this”. I’m sure you can picture Kim trying to be sexy and show us these moves, demonstrating them…and at the time, we were looking at him like “What an idiot!!! What are you doing???” but then I got it. I understood what he was trying to teach us, he’d be like “Shake it…move around, be like Mick Jagger and shake your arms, whip your hair through the air” and it actually made a lot of sense. The Runaways later on actually ended up getting ahold of Kenny Ortega who was the first official choreographer we worked with. Kenny ended up being really famous and did all the High School Musicals and worked with Michael Jackson but he taught me a lot back then. A lot. I was voted best female performer onstage for the better part of a decade back in the eighties and early nineties and I really think a lot of it is due to the things I learned from Kenny. The fact that I was best female performer for that many years in a row was absolutely as a result of Kenny’s help and guidance and I think that what Kenny taught us was the same thing Kim was trying to get across to us. He would tell us really important details like “Hold your micstand like this” and he’d look like a complete moron with his weird look, weird clothes and funny faces he’d make but he was RIGHT! Kim Fowley was absolutely dead on. He knew what would translate to the audience and it wasn’t new but it was new to us. He just had a vision.
LRI: It’s been a long time since The Runaways split but the band continues to mean something to people. Movies including Victory’s documentary have been made and books are coming out. The story continues to be told but in a sense it’s still being written. Will the Runaways story continue to live on?
Lita: I hope so. I really hope it’s told correctly too and maybe it will be up to me to see that it’s told correctly, I don’t know. I’ve been in the process now of trying to regroup the girls. I got on the phone with Cherie Currie who I hadn’t spoken with for a long, long time prior to this. Joan Jett actually put me in touch with Cherie and gave me her contact information and email and all that. I sent out an email to Cherie and she was very happy to hear from me and we had dinner together which was really nice. Then my manager reached out to Joan’s manager and Joan and I had dinner together in New York City and that was also really nice. So, to be honest, I’m trying to reach out to everybody but unfortunately Sandy West (drummer) is not with us any more. I just think if we got a really kick ass rhythm section we would be okay with just me, Joan and Cherie if we can get Joan to commit to it at some point. I know she’s busy and I’m super busy right now with this record but hopefully by the time this is done and I’m ready to move on to the next project the other girls will be ready as well.
LRI: You talked earlier about the pressure to look good and some of the people I’ve spoken with about The Runaways have mentioned that it’s kind of unfair the expectation put upon you as women to somehow live up to the pictures you took as teenagers. No one expects Motley Crue to look how they looked in 1981 but somehow people feel they need to talk shit about female acts in the same situation. Do you understand that on any level? Is that sexist?
Lita: Women are supposed to look good but it’s harder and harder to look good as you get older. It’s easy to look good when you’re a kid but when you start getting into your fifties and you begin to show crow’s-feet around your eyes or whatever but I still have the same figure because I work on myself. I’ve been able to maintain my weight and get a little sunshine on my skin and wear some nice clothes and so have the other girls. There’s no reason why we can’t get together and make some more music, there’s no age limit in rock and roll. There’s no fuckin age limit. Look at the Rolling Stones for god’s sake, they’re going on their 50th anniversary.
LRI: I love them and they’ll probably die onstage.
Lita: Right???!!! What a fuckin way to go. That’s fine!!
LRI: Back to your new album “Living Like a Runaway”. The artwork and the packaging is fantastic. What was your inspiration as far as the cover art goes?
Lita: I’m so glad you like that. We wanted the album art to match the music. We didn’t want a polished, really pretty looking image of me with lots of makeup on the album cover. We wanted it to look like the music sounds. My photographer Mark Weiss and I were pretty much done for the day and had shot lots of photos when we saw those railroad tracks. All of a sudden you could almost see the lightbulb go on over both of our heads and we thought “Ohhh, railroad tracks” and we stopped and did a few shots on the tracks and that wound up being the album cover and it’s amazing. There were syringes and old, dirty condoms laying all over the railroad tracks. If you look at the picture you can see that’s actually what I’m looking at in the photo! It just matches the album title and the music for “Living Like a Runaway” perfectly. I wasn’t all dressed up, I had on some old torn up jeans and the black and white film and grittiness of it just works.
LRI: Was it important to you to actually release the album on vinyl? To me the sound is totally warmer and different and packaging is just way better. That’s the copy I always buy.
Lita: I think it’s cool that it’s something that people still want and that there’s still a demand for it. Its still an option and that’s important to me in of itself. You’re right about the sound too, although I’ve moved on to digital there is something completely warmer and different about the way the actual record sounds. Somebody recently asked me in an interview, “Why do you have so many different versions of the release and all these different options with various different bonus tracks?” and I just said that people like different things and multiple options. Some people may want more Lita Ford than others and I think it’s a good thing that the record company has made all these different versions and put so much emphasis on getting behind the project, they’ve given me so much support. I think it’s cool that you want it on vinyl and you can get it on vinyl…that’s a good thing. I’m honored that you’d want that version. It’s a really cool package too, with double red vinyl albums and the big double gatefold, it’s really cool. It really turned out nice.
LRI: Well, thanks again for talking to us. Hope to see you on a headlining date. My wife and I will be the ones up front yelling for “Waiting for the Night”.
Lita: Right on!!! Well thank you and I hope to see everyone out there when we come around. We are doing headline shows when we’re not out opening for Poison and Def Leppard so it’s really going to be great to be able to stretch out and play a lot more of the old classics and the new album as well. Take care!