By Jeb Wright
Photos by Mark Weiss
Lita Ford has been through living hell over the last several years. Her fairytale marriage to rocker Jim Gillette ended badly. Her Cinderella life, living on her own private island, came to and end. She ran away from an allegedly abusive relationship, fearing for her life, to the point she had to leave her two sons with their father.
Her long awaited comeback album in 2009, Wicked Wonderland, failed miserably, as the music was as convoluted, out of place and painful as her marriage. Since that time, Lita has taken a lot of time to rebuild her life and her career. She teamed up with guitarist Gary Hoey to write and record her new album, Living Like a Runaway. The result is an emotional album where Lita recounts the truth behind her supposed perfect life on the island.
The music on Living Like a Runaway is 100% classic Lita Ford. This album is truly her return to hard rock. With this album, Lita is ready to reclaim her title as the Queen of Metal, and the songs are good enough to pave the way to her throne.
In the interview that follows, Lita discusses her painful family situation, as well as the songs on her new album. We also discuss the movie Rock of Ages and how Lita was glad to lend a helping hand to the cast and crew.
The interview was conducted on my wedding anniversary. I have to give my wife kudos for allowing me to spend an hour talking Lita on our special day. I am truly a lucky man!
Jeb: The last time we talked was when you and Jim had split up and you were formulating this album in your mind. It was after Wicked Wonderland, which I called a “Jim Gillette record featuring Lita Ford on vocals.”
Jeb: I was thrilled to see you working with Gary Hoey on Living Like a Runaway. He is not only a great guitar player but he is a great guy.
Lita: Yes, he is. We really worked well together. It was a match made in heaven. It was strange how it came about because I really didn’t know Gary. We would say hello in passing but we never really hung out or talked. One day, I got a phone call from Gary and he said that he had a studio and that if I was interested in using his studio I was more than welcome to come use it. I was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at the time. He lives in New Hampshire. I don’t know why, but after I thought about it, I decided that I needed to take him up on his offer. I got on a plane and flew up to Gary’s house and I remember, as I landed, it was the first snowfall of the year. I hadn’t seen snow in a long time, living in Florida. I thought it was very serene. All there was, was snow, Gary and his studio. I ended up staying there for a year. We started recording and writing and it really came to life. I couldn’t believe the chemistry between the two of us.
Jeb: I am a big fan of Gary’s. He is so creative…
Lita: He was able to wrap his head around my ideas. He didn’t change my ideas and he didn’t say, “Lita, that is no good.” He took my ideas and he brought them to life, which is what a real record producer should do. I was shocked because I really had no idea how good he was. When we got into the studio he really started bearing down on arrangements, guitar parts and vocal harmonies. I am very happy with him and I couldn’t have made a better choice.
Jeb: Was he your first choice to produce the record?
Lita: It was a shot in the dark; I didn’t know what to expect.
Jeb: Living Like a Runaway is an album of redemption. Do you agree?
Lita: Yeah, I have risen from the ashes. My girlfriend called me and said I was like the Phoenix. She said she was going to buy me a tattoo of the Phoenix. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I Googled it. When I learned what that was, I related to it because I really did have to dig myself out of my situation and rise again.
I am very happy with the record. My manager, the record company and everyone that helped me with the record is happy, too. I can’t wait to start playing these songs live.
Jeb: How important was it to you to make this album sound like you?
Lita: I had to make it sound like me because I had to bury the last album. The only way I could do that was to make a true Lita album. Gary brought the best out of me, on guitar and vocals. I didn’t have anybody squashing me down saying, “No, you’re doing it all wrong. You’re not playing that riff right.” You know what? I wrote that fucking riff, so I know how to play it.
I have really had a lot of freedom on this record and that is what makes it sound so True Blue, because it’s real. There is no doubling the vocals and tripling the guitars and quadrupling this or that. I really went back to basics on this record. We stuck to bass, drums, guitar and vocals.
Jeb: “Living Like a Runaway” is an autobiographical song.
Lita: Yes, it is an autobiographical song. It turned out great. We didn’t know what we were going to call the album. At first, we were going to call it Branded, and I thought that was a good title. We, then, came up with Living Like a Runaway. I thought that was a great title.
We got on the phone with the record company and I said, “What do you want to call the album? We’ve got Living Like a Runaway and we’ve got Branded.” The President of the record company said, “We want to call it Living Like a Runaway” in his big Germany accent. I hung up the phone and said, “I don’t have a damn song written with that title.” I immediately went to work writing the song because I put my foot in my mouth by getting the album named after a song that wasn’t written.
I thought, if I don’t write this song then somebody else will write it; I have to write it. I got on the phone with my lyricist, Michael Dan, and the two of us wrote the lyrics over the phone; it was really wild. I would sing, “Run, baby, run” and he would go, “Across New York City” and I would go, “Run, baby, run” and he would go, “Through the streets of LA.” We did it over the phone, singing back and forth. At one point in his life, Michael was on the run from the law, years ago. He knows what it is like to be a runaway. I went to Gary’s house and in three days we had the song written and recorded.
Jeb: “Asylum” is another standout track.
Lita: Oh, that song is just sick. It is a wicked song; it is one of my favorites on the album. It starts with this haunting keyboard part that is kind of on The Exorcist level, then this beautiful guitar comes in, strumming the chords. All of a sudden, the drums come in and then, we come in with this big guitar harmony and you just go, “AHHHHHHHH.” You are sucked in by that point.
Jeb: You may laugh at me, but if you didn’t record “Hate” then you could have sold that song to Alice Cooper, as it would be perfect for him.
Lita: Ah, yeah, I can just hear him singing that song. I know what you mean, it is sinister.
Jeb: With the shit you’ve been through the last few years, I think you’ve deserved the right to be sinister.
Lita: I damn well have. A woman, who is a fan, wrote an article on the album. She spoke really highly of the new record and she spoke really highly of me. But, then, in her article, she said, “I could do without the song ‘Hate.’” Look, nobody takes your child – abducts your child – and then rips them up into little pieces and kills them – and then goes on national television and cries for forgiveness. Are you crazy? Some things are not forgivable.
There are things that you can hate. Not just big things like that, but also in everyday life. I hate standing in line at the grocery store, for instance. People say, “Chill out. Don’t be so evil and ugly about being in line at the grocery store.” It is a human emotion and you can’t keep it inside or it will kill you.
Jeb: Was this an easy album to make?
Lita: It was not an easy album to make because we really had to keep our focus and not lose it. I think a lot of artists will write a brilliant song but then they will lose the focus on what they are doing. When that happens, that is when the filler starts coming in. They will just start putting in songs to fill up the album, even if they are not really great songs. I didn’t want this album to have any filler. I wanted it to be great from beginning to end.
Have you heard the bonus tracks? They are phenomenal. We do “The Bitch is Back” and our version is very guitar orientated and does not sound like Elton’s version. It is a classic song and it speaks so loudly on this record because I have been gone so long. The bitch is really back, now. It is a different meaning than Elton’s meaning but, the bitch really is back. We’ve thought about starting our show off with that song.
Jeb: With the opening slot on the Lita Ford, Poison and Def Leppard tour then you need a song to get people’s butts in their seats.
Lita: I think it would attract everyone’s attention that is meandering around looking for their seats. They might hurry up and sit down and watch the show. We will give it a try and see what happens.
Jeb: Did you consider making that song the lead single?
Lita: We didn’t want to make a cover tune the single. Although the song is not written by Lita Ford, we own this version. I think as a bonus track, it may want to make people go out and get the album. I really hope people do go out and buy the album. Another bonus track titled “Bad Neighborhood” is sick. It is very up tempo. The riff, itself, was written by Doug Aldrich, from Whitesnake.
Gary and I were running out of ideas after we wrote the entire album. I emailed Doug and said, “Do you have any riffs up your sleeve?” Doug sent me some MP3s of things he had written but they were really melodic and pretty. I emailed him back and said, “No, we want heavy, fast and nasty.” He said, “Oh, I get it. I know exactly what you’re after.” About three or four days later, I get another MP3 from Doug and it was the riff we used in “Bad Neighborhood” and I wrote him back and said, “Perfect!” The song is a very cocky song and has an “F You” attitude.
Jeb: You are a very good guitar player. However, you were hanging out with Gary Hoey, who is one of the best. Jeff Beck likes this guy’s playing. Was it intimidating playing with someone of his caliber?
Lita: We all make mistakes, no matter who you are, and that is how you learn. You have to mess up to learn how to do it properly. Over the years, you make enough mistakes where you really learn a lot. Gary added his twist to my songs and, together, they just became magical. Michael Dan was the same with the lyrics, they are not all his lyrics but he added a lot.
Jeb: You shared with me before the craziness of your divorce. The song “Mother” is so emotional. You have big balls, Lita, to lay your soul out for everyone to see. I am six feet tall and weight 288 pounds – I’m a big guy, but that song almost made me cry.
Lita: Right on. It is my song to my kids. I want them to know how much I love them and how much they mean to me. I know their father is not going to let them listen to this record – that’s why I wrote stuff like “Just like Satan.”
One day, they will hear this album. It really tells the story, in a nutshell, of what really happened. I want them to know that I am not this evil, ugly monster that their father makes me out to be. They are young and they are scared and confused. They do not know who to turn to. This man is a con artist. He is the biggest liar that I’ve ever met in my life. The stuff this man lies about is unbelievable. He is mentally ill. I’m not saying that to be mean, or vindictive, he truly is mentally ill.
In court, when we were going through the divorce, I brought it up to the attorney. I said, “He needs to be proved mentally ill.” In order to do that in the State of Florida is next to impossible. What pissed me off is that the guardian, who was taking care of the kids, watched them disintegrate. He let it happen. I told him, “You saw these kids at the beginning of the divorce. Here we are, nearly two years later, and now they won’t even come near me. Obviously, I’m not the one doing the damage because they are not with me, they are with their father.”
The reason they are with their father is because I would have, literally, had to get into a physical fistfight with him in order to get the kids. I can’t physically fight him, as he is three hundred pounds of testosterone and growth hormone, which he injects every day. I can’t fight him. He’s like one of those guys on PCP where the entire police department is needed to take him down.
Jeb: Many women who are in abusive situations never leave. What advice would give to a woman who is in a similar situation as you were in?
Lita: I was afraid for years to leave. Some people stay and wait it out for the rest of their lives and they become miserable. I got to a point to where I knew, in my heart, it was time to make a break for it. I thought that I wasn’t going to live very long. I really thought it was going to be the end of me. I had to leave.
If a woman feels that she is being controlled and verbally, physically or emotionally abused, then she has got to find a way to get out of there. Just say, “Honey, I am going to get a bottle of milk at the grocery store.” Leave and don’t come back. Think of a way to get out. You may have to do it one step at a time and get things ready. You may have to set up a place where you can go when you are ready to leave. It takes a lot of balls, it really does.
Jeb: You’re proof that you can come out on the other side and live again.
Lita: This record is really a gift from God. I really believe he is watching over me. I think God is watching over Gary and his family. Michael was going through hell with his health at the time, as well. The three of us had a lot of built up pain. We’ve got rock and roll in our blood, too. Our only release was music and we were able to channel it into this album. I hope it gives strength to other woman. I hope it gives strength to men. Even for people who are struggling with their daily life, I hope it can help them. I even think happy people will enjoy this album. “Living Like a Runaway” is a happy song. It is a song that says that says to just keep going, run across the United States and live life.
Jeb: Would you ever consider reuniting with The Runaways?
Lita: I would love to play with them again…I would love it. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but if it does happen, then now is the time for it to happen. Not ten years from now, or ten years ago, the time is now. They know I want to do it. I hope one day they will call me and say, “Okay, Lita…let’s go. Roll up your sleeves and write some songs.” I really think it would be a blast. I think we would do really well. It would be a great way to end our career as The Runaways. It really would be a good point of exit.
Jeb: Will there be some solo dates outside of the tour? Are you planning on doing any headline shows?
Lita: There will be some headlining shows. Go to my website and look at the tour dates, as I am not sure where they are at.
Jeb: Before we go, I want to know how the song, “Kiss Me Deadly” came to be.
Lita: “Kiss Me Deadly” came about because of Mike Chapman and Mick Smiley, who wrote the song. Mike brought it to the table. It was demoed but it was a completely different version of the way we did it. I thought it was a brilliant song. Mike and I did our version and we knew it was going to be a hit record. I raised the key of the song because the demo was really low. I wanted to raise the key and raise the tempo and rock it out, and there you have it.
Jeb: Oh, I forgot to mention a song on Living Like a Runaway. You remade a song written by Nikki Sixx titled “Music to Slit Your Wrists Too.” That is not a well known song, how did you know about that song?
Lita: It was the freakiest thing. That song just literally, on my life, appeared on my computer. I opened up my music files one morning and there it was. I didn’t have any Nikki Sixx on my computer. I thought, “Where did this song come from?” I decided to listen to it as I thought maybe it would refresh my memory. I had never heard it before. I listened to the lyrical content and I went, “Whoa, that’s pretty nasty. I need to call Nikki because I need to cover this tune.” I emailed Nikki and I said, “Was this a song you did in conjunction with your book, or what? I’ve never heard it.” He said he wrote the song for his ex-wife fifteen years ago. I told him that I needed to redo it and he said, “Sure, you can redo it.” I said, “If you had to redo this song then what kind of vibe would you give it?” He told me that he felt it should have a more industrial, Nine Inch Nails vibe. We went with that. Gary and I messed around with it and we extended the song out and added a guitar solo to it. If you compare the original version to my version then you will see they are really two totally different tracks.
Jeb: I hope people do not steal this damn album off the internet and that they go out and buy it. People need to rediscover you, as you’ve done a fine job with this album. I wanted to let you know that.
Lita: Awesome. I can’t wait to get my butt out on tour. I am looking forward to it. Thank you so much, right on.
Jeb: Lita, I need to get back to my Wife, as this is our wedding anniversary. I told her she was giving me a great present, allowing me to talk to Lita Ford!
Lita: That is not a good thing to say to your wife! Tell her I send her my best. Take her out for a nice dinner and go to a movie. Take her to see Rock of Ages.
Jeb: Have you seen it yet?
Lita: I was at the premier. The movie is classic. I laughed so hard I cried. It is like Grease meets Spinal Tap. It has some great music and some great singers and it really is funny as hell. I helped them with the movie. Fort Lauderdale is where they filmed it. They had the streets of Hollywood, Florida dressed up like the streets of Hollywood, California. At the time I was living in Fort Lauderdale and every day someone from the movie would call me and say, “Lita, do you have some guitars you can bring over?” Or they would ask, “Lita, can we borrow some clothes?” They even asked me, “Lita, do you have Ozzy’s phone number?” Every day it was something, but I was happy to help.
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