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Lita Ford rose to fame as the lead guitarist of The Runaways in 1975, and after their break-up in 1979 she went on to enjoy commercial success and stardom as a solo artist. Her hits "Close My Eyes Forever," "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Shot of Poison" all charted in the United States, solidifying her status as a rock icon. She is the mother of two boys, a female rock 'n' roll pioneer and the baddest chick in heels you'll ever meet. Ford performs at Magic Springs' Timberwood Amphitheater at 8 p.m. Saturday; tickets are $54.99. We spoke this week about women in rock and the recent accusations of sexual assault by her former Runaways bandmate Jackie Fuchs.
What initially got you interested in music?
It was just something I wanted to do. There wasn't really one thing that triggered me wanting to play guitar. It was just something I had in my blood; I wanted to play. I went to a Black Sabbath concert when I was 13 years old and that's when I said, "That's what I want to do, Mom, Dad, that's what I want to do with my life. I want to be a rock star." By then I had been playing for two years so I could already really play, I knew all the Black Sabbath licks and Deep Purple licks, I was a big fan. I started playing when I was 11 years old and learned to play by listening to my favorite songs and records.
Why do you think there aren't more women in rock?
I don't really know. I think there are probably a lot more than we realize. They're just very young, up and coming so to speak. I'm sure over the next few years we'll being seeing more women in rock 'n' roll. It is a very aggressive male-dominated style of music but there are still women out there banging around, they've got their Marshall's, BC Rich's, out there banging around with whatever they play. I think at my age, being a young girl, I had no female role models to look up to and since the early days of The Runaways, we became role models for the next generation of rock 'n' roll. So I know that there are females out there and pretty soon, I'm sure, there will be quite a lot.
How did you meet Kim Fowley, manager and producers of The Runaways?
Kim actually heard about me. I had done a show with a local band where I lived. They didn't have a bass player for the night. I don't remember who these guys were; they were just friends of a friend, and their bass player bailed on them. "I can't play tonight, my mom won't let me out of the house," or something like that. And they said "Lita, you do it," and I said, "I don't play bass." They said, "You can do it, it's just two less strings." I thought, "OK, I'll try it," so I gave it a shot, picked up the bass — they loaned me a bass — I started learning the songs and I did it. I made it through the show with no problems and word got out that there was a female bass player. It got back to Kim Fowley. I don't know how he got my number, but he called me: "We're putting together an all-girl band, teenage all-girl band, and we need a bass player." I told him that's great, but I don't play bass, I play guitar. He said, "Oh, well, we need one of them, too." So I went and auditioned, got it instantly. It was a gift from God and meant to be.
In one of your interviews, you called The Runaways music "jailbait rebellious teenage rock." That's pretty powerful. How difficult was it being a young female rocker in a male-dominated industry?
We had to have attitude, and we wore it like a badge. We just had this rebellious attitude everywhere we went — radio interviews, television interviews, stage performances. We stuck together as a team. We were before our time, something that people were blown away by and really weren't sure what to think. "Is there somebody playing behind the curtains or is it really them? Do they have a guy standing off to the side of the stage?" It was frustrating and, to tell you the truth, I still get it. Sometimes people will say something like, "Great band, he's a great guitar player." And it's like, OK, do you think he played those solos or do you think I played those solos? [Laughs.] "Well, of course he did." No, he didn't: I did. I still get a little bit of that every once in a while. But then I was awarded the Legend Award from Guitar Player Magazine. Only four people have been awarded that so far, which were Les Paul, Joe Perry, Jeff Beck and myself. I was the fourth person, and the only female, to get one of those beautiful medals they had made. It was such an honor to get that from them because I had never really felt like I had been given credibility as a guitar player. I mean, to be in the company of people like Les Paul and Jeff Beck and Joe Perry. That was beyond awesome.
What did you think of "The Runaways" movie?
Honestly, I didn't watch it. [Laughs.] It was more about Cherie [Currie] and Joan [Jett]. I'd say it was more about Joan, and Cherie was on the back burners there. It was supposed to be a movie about The Runaways, but because it was put on by Cherie and Joan it was more about them. I didn't want to be in it because I knew they wouldn't portray me in a proper light, that they would make up stories, which they did. They made up stupid stuff, like Joan Jett saying, "Fuck you, Lita, fuck you!" If she ever spoke to me like that I would put my foot in her mouth. She never spoke to me like that, ever. We had always been friends. We've grown apart over the years but we never argued back then.
You've been in the business for over 30 years, took some time out to take care of your family and have recently come back. How has the industry changed? Is there anything you miss about the old days?
I miss the way we used to record — I'm not so big on the digital recordings. I liked the analog recordings, they were always fun. Everything has changed, not just music. The cars you drive, the way you fly on airplanes, everything has changed. It's a whole completely different world now. The amount of money we're dishing out for stuff, just taking your dog to the vet or anything like that. I feel like I'm being ripped off. They tell you to pay taxes, and then they take that money to build things to rip you off even more. Now they've got lights at the traffic signals, where if you accidentally run a red light, which people do, they take a picture of your license plate and send you a ticket. We're paying for those lights and we're paying for the ticket, so we're just paying for the government to rip us off some more. That kind of stuff just burns me up.
There was a big article in the Huffington Post recently about former Runaways bass player Jackie Fuchs. She claimed that Kim Fowley sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old in a hotel room while others watched. Did you witness it or hear anything about it at the time?
No, I did not. She says herself that I wasn't there. And I didn't witness it or hear about it. I don't know a damn thing about it.
What are you working on these days?
We're writing a new album and we're working on a book. We should have everything out by the spring of 2016. The book is an autobiographical story of a chick growing up in a rock band. It's pretty cool.
A previous version of this story mistakenly identified a vintage picture of Cherie Currie as Lita Ford.