Hard-Rock Queen Lita Ford Looks Back Over a Runaway Life
The Queen of Heavy Metal Today, back from self-imposed exile.
Photo by Erin Williams/Courtesy of Dey Street Books
Living Like A Runaway: A Memoir
By Lita Ford
Dey Street Books, 272 pp., $26.99
Shortly before hitting her commercial peak in 1988 with her third solo record, Lita, and its two monster singles and videos – “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever” (the latter a duet with Ozzy Osbourne) — Lita Ford remembers having a not-so-friendly backstage interaction with George Lynch, then the guitarist for Dokken.
“Girls don’t play guitar,” he sniffed.
“You know, it’s assholes like you who make me work that much harder!” she recalls spitting back at him. And indeed, given that her shredding was a standout factor in her previous band — the “teenage jailbait” combo the Runaways — as well as her solo career, it would seem like a bizarre observation to make.
Then again, the whole theme of Ford’s career and this book is the challenges and struggles faced by a strongly voiced and opinionated female in a music industry that frankly values women less because of a number of factors. This sad fact is especially true in genres where onstage women are even rarer.
“The power and the grit that come out of heavy-metal music and the way it makes people feel and act attracted me,” Ford writes. “It’s more or less the attitude that I loved, and that attitude is a part of me…I wanted something with balls, with some aggression, and hard rock offered that.”
Ford’s infatuation with hard rock and heavy metal began in 1971 when, as a 13-year-old, she saw Black Sabbath in concert in her hometown of Long Beach (more on that band’s guitar player later). Not satisfied just listening to it, though, Ford wanted to play it and write it. Singing came much later, out of necessity.
So saving up money from a hospital job that she was technically too young to work at, she bought her first guitar. A couple of years later, a call came out of the blue from music-biz gadfly Kim Fowley, who was looking to put together an all-out sleazy, all-girl teenage hard-rock band.
L-R: The cover of "Living Like a Runaway"; Ford thrashing with the Runaways at Toronto's El Mocambo, 1978
Photo (right) by Doug Cawker/Courtesy of Dey Street Books
Eventually, Lita Ford would see the world – and learn a lot about the music biz, not all of it good – as a member of the Runaways before that band self-destructed. The group has already been the subject of other memoirs, biographies, a documentary and a feature film, 2010's The Runaways. Some of those accounts delve into the fractious relationship between Ford and later solo superstar Joan Jett.
“We never connected personally, but what we accomplished together has stood the test of time,” Ford writes here. She does not hold back her disappointment that a recent proposed Runaways reunion record and tour with her, Jett and singer Cherie Currie did not materialize because of Jett’s interest, then indifference.
Ford writes bluntly – if still fairly chastely – about her sex life with fellow rockers of all genres. Her relationships spanned from one night to many years with icons of classic rock (John Entwistle); hard rock (Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi); heavy metal (Glenn Tipton, Chris Holmes of WASP, her first husband); punk (Paul Cook and Dee Dee Ramone, the latter of whom gave her crabs); hair metal (Nikki Sixx, Richie Sambora); and even Aldo Nova and (possibly) Lemmy.
And if you, dear reader, are thinking poorly of Ms. Ford’s virtues when similar revelations are par for the course with male rockers' memoirs, shame on you! And, frankly, what young male of any occupation would not want to be with Lita Ford?
She was particularly close to Blackmore, Tipton and Van Halen, whom she refers to as “Edward,” noting that he never liked being called “Eddie." The guitar legend is also involved in an especially wild story.
After a drunken night when Ford and Van Halen decided to try on each other's clothes and fool around, they were interrupted by her seemingly violent ex-boyfriend. A panicked Van Halen shot out of an impossibly small bathroom window, running down the street in Ford’s jeans and her joke T-shirt that read “Cum all over my tits like the dirty pig that I am.”
With no money on him, Van Halen did manage to get a shocked fan to let him make a phone call, which sent police to Ford’s apartment.
On the flip side, she talks about a harrowing relationship with her idol, Iommi, deep into a coke habit. She details horrific incidents of physical abuse, including when he punched her in the face on a plane (while they were flying to England to meet his mother, no less), as well as choking her into unconsciousness and barely avoiding having her head cratered in by him with a chair.
“My all-time idol turned out to be an abusive, backstabbing drug addict; he was a dirtbag as far as I was concerned,” she writes. “To this day, I still idolize the original Black Sabbath lead guitarist I saw onstage that day in the Long Beach Arena when I was thirteen. The one I never met…The Tony Iommi I knew and became engaged to is now gone from my heart. He wasn’t worth the torture. Only the guitar riffs will linger in my memory.”
Of her most recent former husband, with whom she spent 15 “tortuous” years and who took her out of music completely while she raised two sons, she writes a disclaimer that, out of respect for her two sons, won’t reveal many details of her marriage. That both sons have no contact with Ford today, seemingly by choice post-divorce, is the most heartbreaking detail of the book.
Ford also writes movingly of her seemingly incredibly cool and supportive parents and what their deaths meant to her. When this writer was working a record signing at Sound Warehouse after Lita came out, I wondered why she brought her mother along onstage. Now I know that this took place shortly after her father’s death. So, Mom came on the road!
In 2016, though, the “Queen of Heavy Metal” is back out on the road and in the studio. And while cognizant of the nostalgia factor of interest in her, she is also eager to prove she still has writing and playing chops and to bask in the adulation of today’s lady rockers who view her as an inspiration.
And despite all those ’80s and ’90s photos of Lita Ford as sexy rock goddess and those impossibly tight bustiers, leather pants and teased-out-to-the max hair — which sends a mixed message, to be sure, but is an image that she says then-manager Sharon Osbourne relentlessly pursued — she manages to come off as the coolest chick in the room.
And one listen to any of her records proves that she is an actual guitar player who happens to be a girl…rather than a girl guitar player.