Lita Ford on Rediscovering Her Creativity and Sticking With Her "Ballsy" Guitar

Lita Ford first came to prominence in 1975, as the guitarist for the Runaways. Ford was born in England but grew up in Long Beach, California, where she was exposed to late-'60s and early-'70s rock and roll, inspiring her to learn to play electric guitar. Though Ford was sixteen when she joined the Runaways, her chops and forceful yet graceful style stood out and gave the band a musical respectability that transcended manager Kim Fowley's gimmick of an all-female “jailbait” rock band.

After the Runaways split in 1979, Ford spent the '80s establishing herself as a respected guitarist and songwriter. Along the way, she rubbed shoulders with the rock giants of the day. Her friends included Eddie Van Halen, Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe, the members of KISS, Cheap Trick and numerous others. She had a tumultuous relationship with Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and was married to Chris Holmes of WASP. Ford didn't just make rock-and-roll music; she very much lived it.

In 1988, Ford released her highly successful album Lita, which garnered her hit singles in “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever,” a duet with her then-manager Sharon Osbourne's husband, Ozzy Osbourne. Like many of the hard-rock musicians of the '80s, no matter how talented or worthwhile, Ford found her fortunes waning in the music world around the same time that she remarried and departed from music for more than a decade.

Ford's return to music wasn't exactly her idea — and thus 2009's Wicked Wonderland didn't sound like something she would have come up with on her own. A 2011 divorce and much soul-searching and personal turmoil later, Ford returned to form with 2012's Living Like a Runaway, which is also the title of her recently published memoir, in which she outlines her colorful life in and out of music. Currently on tour with an album of re-recorded material, Time Capsule, Ford has emerged from her dark years to take her rightful place as a guitar hero and rock icon. We recently caught up with Ford via e-mail regarding her book, her rediscovery of her creativity and her enduring love for the B.C. Rich Warlock guitar.

Westword: Your memoir is refreshingly frank and open about so much, but also very focused. Did you grow up writing stories or documenting your life in some way in a diary or journal?

Lita Ford: I had help with research on the timelines and the chronological order and putting everything together, so the book has a flow to it when you read it. Otherwise, I literally wrote this book myself. I never kept a diary as kid. I don’t think I ever owned one.  So I had to start from scratch.  I sat in my bathrobe day after day, hardly took it off until the book was written and delivered. I also interviewed other people who were in my life along the way. They helped me to remember great stories. 

When you came back to music, do you feel like you had to prove yourself again as an artist/musician to anyone other than yourself? 

Of course I did; artists always do, no matter who you are. 

What sorts of things did you do to get back to making the music you felt authentically came out of your own creativity? 

When I started writing by myself, alone, without anyone breathing down my neck, [and without] disturbances or chores; when that was gone and out of my way completely, I could focus on the music. It flowed out of me like blood. I hope the next record [will] be the same.   

Sometimes when you're away from something creative long enough, it can be a bit of a process [to get back into it], and you have to rely on intuition.

Definitely! For me, I was being brainwashed and bullied for listening to music, so it was easier not to listen to it and bury it deep down inside of my heart, where only I knew where it was — something I truly loved, something I am and knew one day I would eventually come back to somehow. It was like learning how to walk all over again. Thank God for the Internet. I watched old videos and interviews. I looked at myself as though I was someone else, but when I thought about it, I realized, “No...that's you — Lita! That is who you really are. Now go do it.”

What is it you like about the B.C. Rich Warlock compared to other guitars you've played, beyond the obvious look of the instrument? 

[The “sound''] of the instrument is so Lita! It’s ballsy. It sustains like there is no tomorrow. It growls, and it also has a sensitive side. They don’t make them like that anymore, so I stick with my vintage guitars — my old faithfuls. 

Lita Ford with the Babys and the Sweet, Sunday, June 26, 6 p.m., Hudson Gardens, Littleton, 303-797-8565, $34 for adults / $24 for children ages 5-12 (free for 4 and under), all ages.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.