Lita Ford might just be the comeback queen of the century. Almost 20 years after dropping from both the rock scene and the public eye, heavy metal’s original bad girl has reclaimed her throne with a slamming album, a tell-all book, and wildly praised live concerts. Lita will be joining former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills this weekend, and I spoke with her to discuss her autobiography Living Like A Runaway (also the title of her 2012 comeback album) and all the stunning rock ‘ roll history she revealed in it.
With a genuine warmth and honest, Lita is at once both gentle and badass, and she recounted many funny and sad moments from her book as well as providing further details on some stories.
Elliot Levin: So I just read your autobiography, which was a fantastic read. Did you write it yourself? There isn’t any co-author listed on the book but it’s very impressively written.
Lita Ford: I did, thank you. I was having trouble finding the right person to be a co-author, and I just decided that I’d basically already written it myself, so I just put it all together and finished it off and it was done. I had help from one girl in Canada who helped me put it together, but she didn’t do any of the writing. So I’m now the proud mommy of a new book. I wanted to get a flow of stories that was truly Lita, and nobody else could have done it except me. I wanted people to feel like they were in the room with me when I was telling the story.
EL: You certainly accomplished that with this book. You write about your first time in Hollywood, and it kind of blew my mind that you grew up in Long Beach and had never been up there before. Did people not travel around LA as freely as they do now?
LF: First of all, I was very young and when I did go somewhere, it wasn’t really far from home. At age 16 my first vehicle was my Aunt Rose’s Monte Carlo, that thing would haul ass. But I never really left the area of Long Beach. I would go to school, or to the mall across the street, and then just go home. But when I got the call from Kim Fowley for the audition to join The Runaways, I had to go up to Hollywood and I didn’t have a clue where the hell that was or how to get there. That meant different freeways that I’d never been on before, there was no train, and different freeways weren’t there that have been built since.
EL: Your love for California is so apparent in the book, do you think you’d be the rock star you are if you grew up anywhere else?
LF: I think that location has a lot to do with becoming famous and successful. I’ve run into a lot of people who want to be musicians, who want to be rock stars, who want to be recognized for their musical abilities, and they live in these far-off places where nobody is going to see them, no one is going to discover them. I think location has a lot to do with becoming famous.
EL: Kim would never have found you if you weren’t already in the area.
LF: I don’t think so. Word got back to Kim that there was a female bass player, and I’d just played bass in the band from high school, and I did this show because the bass player was sick. So they called me and said “Lita, you can play bass.” And I said “No, I don’t play bass.” And they said “But you play guitar. There are two less strings on bass.” And I thought, okay, I guess I can handle it. So I did the show with these people and I really didn’t know them, they were friends of a friend. And word got to Hollywood that there was a bass player that really kicked ass. And Kim Fowley got my phone number somehow, and called me up and said “We need a bass player.” And I said “Great, I don’t play bass.” But when I told him I was a guitar player, he said “Great, we need one of those too.”
EL: You have several funny stories in the book about handcuffs… when did you and the other girls stop carrying handcuffs with you at all times?
LF: That was a typical Runaways thing, it was a must-have if you’re going to be in The Runaways. I handcuffed my manager to the steering wheel of his father’s Mercedes in the middle of New York City rush hour traffic, took the keys out of the car, jumped out and left him. I think when The Runaways broke up, we stashed the handcuffs and never used them again. The handcuffs and Runaways went hand in hand. No pun intended!
EL: What was the very first song you ever wrote yourself?
LF: I actually wrote this little Spanish style piece of instrumental music. I still play it today. I’ve never recorded it.
EL: How old were you?
LF: Twelve, I think? I still play it at soundcheck sometimes.
EL: When did you first adopt the Black Widow name?
LF: I got the idea when I did my first solo project, Out For Blood. I wanted to be dominant over male guitar players, and the female black widow is dominant over her male partners. She kills and eats them after they have sex… basically she just devours the male. I felt that way with my guitar playing when I first started playing as a solo artist. If you look back on my Out For Blood album, you’ll see the little black widow emblem.
EL: How did you feel about the Runaways movie from a few years ago?
LF: You know, I haven’t seen it.
EL: Is that intentional, or you just never got around to it?
LF: Well a little of both. I really have no desire to see it, but I’ve seen trailers just messing around on the computer. But that’s enough, I don’t really have any desire to see the full film. I think they did a great job with the casting of the members. Kristen Stewart and Scout Taylor Compton, who played me, she’s such a great person in real life too. And of course Dakota Fanning, who played Cheri, looked exactly like her. So if I was going to say anything great about that film, the casting was amazing. Otherwise, I don’t know if it’s accurate.
EL: My follow up question was actually going to be if you agree with the portrayal of Kim in the book. You present a different side of him than the movie did.
LF: His relationship with me was a lot different than his relationship with some of the other girls. He said to me right before he passed away, I went to visit him in his apartment. He said to me, “Do you know Lita, that I was always afraid of you?” He never messed with me, he never came onto me sexually, he never pushed me around. He let me just play guitar and be me, he didn’t boss me around as much. He had a vision of these all teenage trouble-making jailbait rocker chicks, and we had to live up to that reputation. It was a lot of fun, people loved it.
EL: And you guys really did live up to that reputation.
LF: We really did. We’d walk into a radio station to do an interview and one of us would grab the fire extinguisher off the wall, and go in there and light it off. We’d stick the deli tray on the ceiling after the show, have a fruit fight. Everywhere we’d go, we’d leave it just trashed. Tampons hanging from the lights in the hotel room… we could only imagine the maids going in and trying to untie a dirty tampon from the light!
EL: You write about hooking up with a pretty impressive lineup of Sunset Strip royalty, Eddie Van Halen, Nikki Sixx and so many more, but i feel like there’s a wildly conspicuous absence of any of the Guns n’ Roses guys even though you talk about a lot of their peers. Did you cross paths with any of them or were they too young?
LF: I remember the first time I met Slash. It was on Sunset Boulevard outside of the Whiskey, and he came up to me and said “You’re Lita Ford from the Runaways.” And he shook my hand and he was a fan. So we were pre-Guns n’ Roses. We were around before they were. But then again, when they hit it big, I would run into Axl at parties, and Duff and now today I’m friends with Steven Adler and Slash still. So it went full circle, even though they were a little late catching up to us.
EL: Is there one guy back in those days that you wanted to sleep with but weren’t able to seal the deal with?
LF: I always wanted to sleep with Steven Tyler and never did.
EL: Did you ever reconcile with Sharon Osbourne?
LF: No. Sharon is the kind of person, when it’s over it’s over. You’re done. For life.
EL: What about with Ozzy?
LF: I don’t think Sharon would like that.
EL: So you’re coming to town in a week or so with Ace Frehley, at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills. You play on Ace’s Wild Thing cover, is it a safe assumption we’ll see you play with him on this tour?
LF: If he invites me, I will! It’s up to Ace.
EL: How did he first reach out to you to record this cover?
LF: He just called me.
EL: I can’t recall you mentioning KISS at all in your book, were they an influence on you at all when you were younger or did you stick with the heavier stuff?
LF: I stuck with the heavier stuff. I was not really into KISS music, although the guys in the band were really cool and I kind of grew up with… The Runaways grew up with KISS. We were friends with Gene and Paul, and Ace was in the band then. I think Peter was the only one we didn’t really know. But I do now.
EL: Are there any newer or recent female-fronted bands that you feel are carrying your old energy?
LF: Well, I know Halestorm blatantly comes out and says they are.
EL: She’s got a crazy pair of pipes on her.
LF: Yeah! Awesome. We’re touring with them too, in April.
EL: Was writing the book a cathartic experience for you?
LF: Doing these interviews is cathartic. And being able to talk about now that it’s out is fun. But while I was actually putting the book together, it was funny at times, and sad at times. And in order to put it down on paper for people to really know what happened and the life you lived, you have to mentally go there and paint the picture for people, and sometimes, it was painful. And sometimes I would just laugh my ass off.
Fans of Lita or even of just ’80s metal in general are strongly advised to buy a copy of Living Like A Runaway, one of the strongest and surprisingly poignant rock biographies to come out in a very long time. Tickets to the March 5 Ace Frehley show can be purchased here.