LITA FORD – Pin-Up Parlez
Metal Forces, Issue 2 (1983)
American rock music has had more than its fare share of hype and spectacle. In 1976, a five-piece Californian rock group hit the headlines. It wasn’t the fact that the band in question, The Runaways, were an all-girl outfit, it was how young the members of the band were that prompted the blaze of publicity… five innocent looking young ladies of 16 and 17-years-old, brought together by Kim Fowley – a man with a dirty imagination.
The lead guitarist of Fowley’s jailbait (wet) dream throughout their short but controversial lifespan was London born Lita Ford, a stunning blonde who had been recruited over the phone. I found it very hard to believe then when I found myself sitting in the offices of Phonogram Records interviewing the girl who, though only three years older than myself, had been my number one pin-up when I first really started to take an interest in hard rock music all those years ago. So, what did she think the reasons were for The Runaways’ comparative failure to become a huge success and a musical force?
“Well, they were very young girls and didn’t really have much musical experience, and when we got together we were only 16-years-old. How brilliant a musician can you be when you’re only 16? I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 11, so it took a while to develop any sort of, other than amateur, type of musical ability. I mean, like Girlschool to me are just like The Runaways!”
Have you heard the Rock Goddess song ‘Heavy Metal Rock ’N’ Roll’? It sounds just like a heavier Runaways. “No, I haven’t heard them at all, but that’s great.”
Would someone like Kim Fowley be able to get away with a similar sort of stunt now? “Mmm, I don’t think so. There’s too many all-girl bands around now, so it’d be no big deal – it wouldn’t be anything new.”
So, what did you do when The Runaways finally called it a day? “I put together a band and tried to learn to sing, because I never really sang when I was with The Runaways. I rehearsed every night with my band till I got a voice. It took me two years to develop some sort of a voice decent enough to the point where record labels would listen to me. When you try to get a deal in the United States the first thing they listen to is your voice, and so if you don’t have a good voice you obviously don’t get a record deal.”
I’d heard that you recorded an album with Neil Merryweather that was never released a long time before you did the Out For Blood record? “We’ve only done Out For Blood. Neil and I were always in the studio doing demos here and there, but we never did a record other than the one we have released.”
Do you think your relationship with Neil floundered because of what he thought was best for Lita Ford, rather than what you yourself thought best for Lita Ford? “I don’t know, maybe, it’s hard to say with him. He says I fired him, but I didn’t fire him, he quit. Maybe he quit because he thought it would be best for me and for him, I don’t know? He’s a very different person when it comes to things like that.”
What sort of a deal were you looking for before signing to Phonogram? “What sort of deal? Well, the best deal we could possibly get. Isn’t that the sort of deal any band looks for? You need a record label who are willing to back, promote and really believe in the band. Phonogram to me did all that. Perhaps one reason I signed was because I was with them when I was in The Runaways. So it sort of feels like home, y’know?”
Do you feel Joan Jett’s success had anything to do with Phonogram signing you? “No, I don’t think so at all. Joan’s success hasn’t made my guitar playing any better – I’ve been working on it!”
Is the BC Rich better than the Harriers used in The Runaways days, do you feel? “Yeah! I do now!”
At the time our chat took place, Lita had just completed a European tour opening for Rainbow and Black Sabbath (in Germany), and her solo career had really taken off.
Are you pleased at the measure of success achieved both here and in America? “Yeah, I am. I’m very pleased. The Rainbow tour was for six weeks and we finished in Helsinki. We got a lot of exposure; the venues were all sold out and the overall response was very pleasing, really good. We played in Germany, Scandinavia and the UK, and the record company was really pleased in all the different areas. It’s been very rewarding to do those dates.”
Who is in the Lita Ford band now? “My bass player is Randy Rand and my drummer is Randy Castillo… he used to play with The Motels. Whilst Randy Rand played with Doug Fieger from The Knack for a while.”
So they weren’t really brought up on heavy rock, but are they good heavy rock players? “Oh yeah, they can play anything those guys!”
Lita achieved some sort of minor fame in the UK for a now defunct Los Angeles punk / metal band called The Stepmothers, due to her appearance on one track on their 1981 album.
What was the story behind your involvement with The Stepmothers? “Those guys! I tell ya, my then drummer Dusty Watson knew them and he asked me if I would go and play on one of their demo tapes. All I did was play a couple of guitar leads on one song ‘American Nights’, which was a cover of the old Runaways song, and that was it. I really only did it as a favour to Dusty as I didn’t know The Stepmothers that well.”
Well, the only reason it sold here was because it was sort of advertised as “Featuring Ex-Runaway Lita Ford”! “See, I didn’t appreciate that at all. I just went in and did it and that was it.”
Because of her immense popularity as a Runaway, I asked Lita how she felt being regarded as a sex object? In the late seventies she was the centre of many a teenage male’s desires (I had to admit to her that I had her picture on my wall!), and because of her success with her own band the whole thing is being repeated with a new generation of fans.
“Am I a sex object (looking embarrassed)?! It’s very flattering! If that’s what people think of me, that’s wonderful. I mean, Mick Jagger’s considered a sex object and I’ve got his picture on my bedroom wall (laughs).”
Did Lita mind journalist Sandy Robertson’s stories and comments on the rumours and (possible) true stories whilst she was in The Runaways? “The only thing that I’ve read that Sandy’s done on me recently was in Sounds with that full page colour article. I thought that was a great write up. It wasn’t all completely true, but it was a real good rock’n’roll article! As for your question, there’s nothing really wrong in it, it’s just fun… it’s rock’n’roll!”
How did the current heavy metal scene compare to when she was first starting out? “I think it’s changing. It’s not better or worse. I’m getting a little tired of the studs though! I’m trying to stay away from that sort of thing. I’m a real person and a real musician, not a poser! I like dressing up, but I’m no longer interested in covering myself with leather and studs and neither is the rest of my band.”
Any young US bands you feel are possible stadium fillers of the future? “None!”
What bands do impress you? “Most of the British heavy metal bands seem to be my favourites, like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. Heaven And Hell is one of my all-time favourite albums, but I don’t like the new one (Born Again). I love The Scorpions too. I even like Culture Club. I listen to a lot of things!”
So, to the future. Lita is now hard at work on her second album, which she obviously feels will be much better than Out For Blood (she prefers the UK sleeve by the way – “It’s much classier”). One of the songs destined to be on the new record is ‘Dressed To Kill’, which isn’t an old Runaways number as has been reported.
Speaking of The Runaways again. Had Lita met up with former Runaways bassist Vicki Blue whilst she has been in the UK?
“Yeah, we had sushi together on her birthday. I saw Vicki on September 16th, we played London on the 17th and 18th, then on my birthday, the 19th, we were in St. Austell in Cornwall, which is a really beautiful place.”
Well Lita, I wish you luck in your continued success and have made a note of the fact that you’d like one of the legendary Metal Forces skull t-shirts once we get things together. But please try not to play on the same night as Bryan Adams next time!
Looking ahead, I can see Lita being more successful than Joan Jett. The reasons for this are that whereas Joan plunders her own back catalogue and other artists as well, Lita keeps to hard rockin’ originals. Lita is also a much more friendly person to her fans than Joan is, and doesn’t have a good guitarist like Ricky Byrd – the ex-Susan member – to overshadow her on stage. 1984 looks like being a great year for the neon angel.
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 2 (1983)