By: Chris Shapiro:
There’s not a female guitarist in the Rock N’ Roll world who can compare to the talents of Lita Ford. Her 1988 hits “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever” are classic examples of what Rock n’ Roll is all about. Her guitar skills and accomplishments must make her idol, Ritchie Blackmore, proud.
Ford’s rock roots go back to her early adolescence. “I actually started playing when I was eleven years old, I got my first guitar and Ritchie Blackmore was my influence, Deep Purple,” Ford said.
For the next two years, Ford learned to play the guitar using guitarist Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple as her main influence. However, her musical life received its calling when she turned thirteen.
“When I went to my first concert, which was Black Sabbath, in 1971, I think it was 71, it completely changed my life,” Ford said.
The experience revealed a new world to the teenage Ford, a world she immediate wished to belong to.
“I had to play like that. I saw Tony Iommi on stage and Ozzy and Gezzer and Bill Ward and I was blown away. It changed my life,” she said.
Ford says the concert experience changed something within her about how she approached music. “I had to make people feel like they were making people feel which was total insanity, people jumping off the rafters, diving onto the stage,” she said.
The imagery of that night still burns vividly in Ford’s memory. “I was just standing there taking it all in you know. I just was taking it all in looking around me. I wasn’t wild. I was watching the band and looking at them and all I could see was black, black hair and black clothes and then these huge silver or gold crosses hanging around their necks,” she remembers.
Ford goes on to say that the band members seemed to have a supernatural quality about them that night. “And to me they looked so untouchable like they were some kind of god or superhuman person that it was from a different world and I wanted to be like that. I saw my future, when I saw them there that night, I saw my future,” Ford said.
The Black Sabbath concert not only made up Ford’s mind that she wanted to be a musician but it also helped her to develop an attitude towards her music. “When The Runaways came along I really wanted to become one of those people and I took my job very seriously,” Ford said.
Three years after her first concert, Ford was asked to join the female rock group, The Runaways. Ford’s path to becoming a member of the group was as magical as her Black Sabbath concert.
Ford recalls that, “there was a band that was local in the area where I lived, at the time, and they were doing a show and this band’s bass player couldn’t make the show so they asked me if I would fill in for the bass player.”
However, Ford was not a bass player, she was a guitarist. Yet, with enough convincing, the band persuaded her to play bass for the show.
According to Ford, word got out about her bass playing to Kim Fowley who was in the process of putting The Runaways together. Fowley contacted Ford and inquired about her playing bass for the group.
“He gave me a huge spiel about ‘you’re going to be a huge super star and tour the world in front of thousands of people’ and I was like, ‘wow but I’m not a bass player. I’m guitar. I’m a guitar player.’ And he say, Kim said, ‘well we need one of those too.’ So I said ‘ok,’” Ford recalls.
Ford says that from the moment of her first audition there was a bond between the girls. She remembers feeling, “completely bonded.” A common love of Deep Purple music helped to seal the bond during that first audition Ford says.
The Runaways went on to record several albums during the mid to late 1970s. In Japan, they enjoyed mainstream success that rivaled Beatlemania.
Ford attributes their success in Japan to, “the fact that we were teenagers, the fact that we were women, females, well we were girls, and we were American and we could really play. It was like Beatlemania.”
According to Ford, the sensation The Runaways caused in Japan was an amazing sight for her.
“It was really great, you had people following you. The whole thing, all of a sudden if you walked by a building, everybody would be hanging out the windows of all the floors, it was unbelievable. It was the coolest thing,” Ford said.
The degree of hysteria that The Runaways caused created a need of serious protection for the group during their Japanese tour dates.
“We had security leave the airport; I mean I’m talking security. It wasn’t one guy with a walkie-talkie. The Japanese security guards created a human fence with their arms and they would hold people back as you walked by,” Ford said.
After The Runaways disbanded, Ford started her solo career. She released a serious of albums in the mid-1980s and in 1988 she released her album Lita to major mainstream success. The album’s hit single, “Close My Eyes Forever,” a duet with Ozzy Osbourne, broke through to the Billboard Top Ten.
Just as with the rest of her music career, the story behind the duet was a spontaneous twist of fate. “Again, it was something that was not arranged it was kind of an accident,” Ford said.
Ford remembers Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne bringing her a house warming gift. Ford says it was a life size Coco the Gorilla from the San Diego Zoo. “I mean it was a freakin’ gorilla. It was huge,” Ford said.
During the visit, Ford and Ozzy started jamming with no intention of writing a top ten, the song just happened.
“Ozzy and I went into this side room where I had a keyboard and a little guitar amp and we wrote ‘Close Your Eyes Forever,’” Ford said.
The single became the first top ten for both Ford and Osbourne.
On the Lita album, Ford also worked with Pat Benatar’s drummer Myron Grombacher whom she met through her producer Mike Chapman.
“Myron is a powerhouse drummer,” Ford said. She goes on to say that Grombacher was a drummer who played with emotion. He could feel the song and that helped to bring it to life. “Even if it was just one note, he would really make it count,” Ford said.
Ford states that other drummers, throughout her career, would come in and try creating the sound she wanted. She remembers that most of them couldn’t “hack” it but Grombacher could. “Myron is just top notch,” she said.
When it comes to music, deep at its core, Ford can sum it up by saying that, “it’s my life. It’s not just my life, it’s other people’s lives. It helps you get through some of the problems in your life.”
She says that what she loves about music is how it helps people recall past memories and how certain songs are connected with particular memories, such as a previous boyfriend or girlfriend.
Ford also loves how music can work as a therapeutic means to help people through difficult times. “Sometimes you’re having a really tough time like you lose somebody in your family, or you go through a divorce or something horrible happens and the only thing that really gets you through is your favorite song. You carry out your emotions into that music. Music just does so much for people,” Ford said.
When she’s playing her music, Ford says she thinks about those things and how music means so much to the people she’s performing in front of.
It’s been several years since her last album but now Ford has a new album, Living Like a Runaway, coming out on June 19th. Ford says that she had a large demand for a new album.
In regards to her new album, Ford spoke about the many changes the music industry has experienced since her early solo days.
“The music industry had gone through such a change with Grunge, came out of Seattle, and hip hop and rap and just everything changed. You know, rock really got buried and now I think it’s coming back again,” Ford said.
Ford believes music to be in an “in-betweens” in today’s world. She likened the music industry to a ladder of creative ideas.
“It’s like being at the top of the stairs, you’re at the top of the stairs, you’re at the top of the ladder, where do you go, now what do you do? You know? You got to turn around and come back down the ladder. It makes sense to me that we just turn around and come back. Go back to basics,” Ford said.
Currently, Ford is on tour with Def Leppard and Poison as part of their “Rock of Ages Tour” and her new album will be released June 19th.
Ford’s advice to future musicians is simple. “Well, you got to have a kick-ass band and it helps to have kick-ass songs. But once you get a kick-ass band and some kick-ass songs, you have to be heard.” Ford goes on to say that, “the internet is good for that and it also helps to do live shows, you know, create a buzz that’s yours so that people talk about it. So, that right there, is a huge direction.”