Lita Ford on Lemmy, Bowie and the Time She Could Have Joined Led Zeppelin
It’s an Aerosmith morning for Lita Ford. “Pink, it’s my fave-or-ite color,” she sings in Steven Tyler’s drawl over the phone. The 57-year-old singer/guitarist is reveling in all her favorite things these days, even 1997 hits. That’s about the time she left the music industry to raise her sons on the remote British island territory Turks and Caicos, about 600 miles southeast of Miami.
But Ford’s exile was all but idyllic. In her new memoir Living Like a Runaway, Ford explains how a ubiquitous Grammy-nominated artist went from rocking out with Joan Jett in the Runaways and duetting with Ozzy Osbourne on a Top 10 hit to utter isolation. Ford might not have made it back at all if it wasn’t for a chance encounter with her hair metal counterpart, Dee Snider, who visited the islands on a family vacation. The “Kiss Me Deadly” singer, who is touring with Halestorm this summer, spoke with Rolling Stone about living with the erratic Runaways creator Kim Fowley, her tumultuous relationship with Tony Iommi and the time Robert Plant asked her to replace John Paul Jones in 1975.
Hair metal wasn’t exactly a welcoming genre for female musicians and life on the Sunset Strip is portrayed as a boys’ club. How do you reflect on that period of your life?
I was pretty oblivious to the fact that I didn’t have a penis between my legs. It never dawned on me. All I knew is that I had fingers and I had the lust for hard rock. I wanted to play it and that’s what I went by. I never thought, “Oh, I’m not a dude and chicks don’t do this.” A lot of people in the industry thought it was wrong and didn’t want to accept the fact they were producing a female artist. Even some of my bandmates I had trouble with. They would think, “If she can do it then I can do it.” They’d come back a few years later and say, “Do you still need a guitarist?”
Taylor Swift at the Grammy Awards spoke about men in the industry taking credit for her work. Does that ring true for you?
All the time. Mostly in the earlier stages of my solo career, during my first solo album, Out for Blood. As things went on, it seemed to get better. … The only people that accepted me as a musician was other musicians. People like Edward Van Halen, Billy Sheehan — true musicians like them accepted me.
What did you learn from working with Runaways manager Kim Fowley?
Kim Fowley was a huge influence. The girls can bag on Kim all they want but he really showed us how to have our own individual personalities [on stage] and how to have our own musical styles. He said, “Go ahead and copy your peers and heroes, but you can’t be them — you have to be yourself.” And he had to scrape, scratch and grovel for his own life growing up. He had his little Kim-isms like, “Let’s do the dog dance,” which meant lets go out and rock. Without Kim, there may not have been a Joan Jett. There may not have been a Lita Ford.
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