When Lita Ford took the music world by storm in 1975 with the all-female rock group, The Runaways, she didn’t have female role models to look up to. “I had seen a Black Sabbath concert when I was 13, and it changed my life,” she says in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “I looked up to Ritchie Blackmore and Johnny Winter. I didn’t have any females to look up to other than Janis Joplin and she was dead. So that didn’t do me much good.”
Ford and The Runaways rocked the male-dominated music industry until their breakup in 1980. Today, at 54, she’s again rocking that world, which she still recognizes as male-dominated. Her latest album, Living Like a Runaway came out in 2012 and today she has returned to a hectic performance schedule.
Ford’s obsession with rock ‘n’ roll began when she was 11 years old. Her mother bought her an acoustic Spanish guitar, which was sweet, but not what the hard-rocking preteen was after. “I said, ‘Mom, this is great, thank you. But it’s not exactly what I wanted,’” Ford says. “I told her I wanted something with steel strings. So, she went out and bought me another acoustic and I said that’s not what I want either. When I was 14, I told everyone I was 16, and got a job. I saved $375 and bought myself a chocolate Gibson SG. That’s what I wanted.” She went to work learning her favorite tunes.
In 1975, Ford was on the L.A. scene as a hot, young guitarist, but that wasn’t what got her noticed. Another band needed a bass player on short-notice and called Ford for the job. She learned the parts in a day and played the show. Record producer Kim Fowley called her days later asking if she’d be interested in playing bass in an all-female rock group bound to take over the world. Ford gently informed him she was a guitar player, not a bassist. “We need one of those too,” he said.
“I just couldn’t resist the offer,” Ford says of the opportunity to audition for The Runaways. “I packed up my guitar, auditioned, and played the guitar solo to ‘Highway Star’. There was no other female around that could touch me.”
Ford admits it was a struggle to be in a group of young females, controlled by male managers, especially when fame hit so quickly. “The Runaways grew overnight,” she says. “We were huge in the blink of an eye because we were unique and special. Rebellious teenage jailbait troublemakers—and we loved it.” After the breakup of the group, Ford continued as a solo artist for 17 years, releasing six albums, touring extensively, and solidifying her place in the world of rock.
Lita Ford: “I got bored and my kids were getting older and I wanted to rock and roll.”
She married former Nitro vocalist Jim Gillette in 1994 and became a mother in 1997, an event that brought her career to a halt for a time. “I got pregnant, hung up my guitar, and wanted to be a mom,” she says. She, Gillette, and her son James, moved to a deserted island in the Caribbean. Ford had another son, Rocco, in 2001 and remained secluded until 2008, when the rock itch started up again.
“I got bored and my kids were getting older and I wanted to rock ‘n’ roll,” she says. And so, Ford is back and her sound is just as rough, tough, and ripping as ever. Her lyrics are poignant and real, talking about her painful divorce with Gillette and what life was like on a deserted island. Her musical energy had built up long enough that, when it finally came pouring out, it manifested itself into the deep, intense Living Like a Runaway, which Ford calls a “survival record.” “It’s a journey,” she says. “You want to listen to it in its entirety.”
Rock ‘n’ roll lives on for this rocking mother, bandleader, songwriter, and role model for women and girls striving to break the mold and rock on. “There are two types of people in the music industry,” Ford says. “Leaders and followers. The leaders are the ones that create their own style and their own sense of creativity. When somebody starts telling you, ‘Don’t play it like that,’ that’s when you don’t listen. Stick to your heart and follow your dreams and don’t let anyone steer you in an opposite direction.”
Currently Ford is busy preparing for the Monsters of Rock Cruise, a five-day floating concert where she shares the bill with Cinderella, Tesla, Queensrÿche, and more. She’s energetic, real, and it’s obvious how touching it is for her to be a role model to so many women around the world.
She throws in one last reminder that captures her attitude and personality to perfection. “Just one more thing: everyone should listen to Living Like a Runaway because it’s one bad ass album.”