Singer-guitarist Lita Ford joined the Runaways when she was just 16. Now, at age 56, Ford is still going strong and rocking hard. Two years ago, she released Living Like a Runaway, an album of highly personal songs about her bitter divorce. She embarked on a summer arena tour with Def Leppard and Poison. And last year, she released the live album The Bitch is Back ... Live.
While it's common knowledge that Ford wanted to learn to play guitar after hearing Deep Purple when she was only 11 years old, hearing her talk about the band's influence, it's apparent the group still has a hold on her.
"They were bad to the bone. There was nobody like Deep Purple," she says via phone from her Los Angeles home. "They were true musicians. They were the best of the best. The drummer Ian Paice and Jon Lord on keyboards. He was so aggressive on that Hammond B-3. He made them what they are today. People still go, 'Oh my god, it's a Hammond B-3.' That came from Jon Lord. There was nobody like Ritchie Blackmore. Nobody could play that snake charmer kind of slinky, sexy, almost pre-Edward Van Halen-ish music. He still had that double picking thing going on. Oh, and the vocal range of Ian Gillan! Goddamn, could he sing. Holy crap! And then Glenn Hughes who took over vocals. Nobody can sing like that. Even people like Rob Halford, who is a beast on lead vocals, doesn't have that vocal range. And they smoked cigarettes. How do you do that? They were the best of the best. They were what made me tick. Sabbath too. They were the riff masters."
Ford didn't have to wait long before getting the chance to show off her own skills on the six-string. Famous for songs such as "Cherry Bomb" and "Queens of Noise," the Runaways became an overnight sensation before imploding in 1979. Band members would go their separate ways and find success in the wake of the band's dissolution. Does Ford think the band should be inducted into the Rock Hall?
"Absolutely," she says. "Without a doubt. There is no chick band like the Runaways. One thing is that we were girls. We weren't women. We were girls and that's what makes us different from other females out there before us like Suzi Quatro. We were girls but we also had an edge. We had a nasty, sexy, attitudinal punk vibe to us that we created. We deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. The problem is that we need to come together as one. That's the difficulty. We'll see what happens."
Former Runaway Joan Jett, who has just become a Rock Hall inductee, would exploit the band's punk impulses, and Ford would harness the hard-rock sound on her solo debut, 1983's Out for Blood. She had a huge hit with 1988's Lita, an album that features "Close My Eyes Forever," a duet with Ozzy Osbourne that's still a staple in her sets even though Osbourne isn't there to sing his parts.
"It really comes natural, especially with the help of the audience," she says when asked about singing the song live without accompaniment from the Prince of Darkness. "What's Ozzy going to do, tour with me? He can't. Nor can anybody who does duets. Someone else in the band could sing it, but I don't see anyone else taking Ozzy's place except the audience."
She also regularly plays "Can't Catch Me," a song she wrote with Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister after they went on a three-day bender.
"Lemmy is a riot," she says. "He's just a great guy. He's a great human being. When we first met, we hit it off right away as friends. This particular night, we ran into each other at the Rainbow [Bar & Grill]. He lived close by and we rolled down the hill to his place where he was living at the time. We had a few drinks and partied all night. And the next night. And the next night. We ended up writing this song. It was like a week later when I realized we wrote the song."
Ford recorded Bitch is Back, a hard-rocking album that commences with a cover of Elton John's "The Bitch is Back" that finds Ford snarling, "I'll be your bitch tonight" at the song's conclusion. She recorded the album in Los Angeles after she had come off the arena tour with Def Leppard and Poison.
"It was just a well put-together night," she says. "The band was hot after coming off the tour. It was good timing."
The album features several tunes from Living Like a Runaway, Ford's best album in years.
"I think I channeled a lot of my aggression, heartache and pain into my music on that album," she says. "At the time, I wasn't aware of what was going on in the music industry, nor did I care. I'm Lita Ford. I don't have to sound like anybody. I can do whatever I want because I'm Lita Ford. I thought, 'I am going to write this album about what I feel in my heart.' That was more important and stronger than anything else. I wrote what was in my heart and not what is supposed to be on the radio or on someone's record player, or stereo, I should say at this point."
Given that Living Like a Runaway was such a personal album, how does Ford think she can follow it up?
"It's not going to be easy," admits Ford, who's also just put the finishing touches on a tell-all autobiography due out in 2015. "Emotions like that don't just disappear over a period of a year or two or three. They don't just disappear. A lot of that is still in me, especially the pain I have from not being able to see my children. I have a lot to write about. I have wonderful things in my life too that have come about for the last few years. My fans are still there and I love them for that. I have a lot of good people in my life now and they are all my angels."