Coming home

Runaway and rock ’n’ roller Lita Ford is back and better than ever

Metal pioneer Lita Ford.

Metal pioneer Lita Ford.

Photo courtesy of Feather Falls Casino

Lita Ford performs Thursday, March 15, 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: $20
Feather Falls Casino Brewing Co.
3 Alverda Drive, Oroville

Talking to Lita Ford is a little distracting because she’s so damn unassuming. It’s like chatting with a pal … except that it’s Lita Ford—lead guitarist of the Runaways; shredder of B.C. Rich guitars; and the songwriter behind rock radio staple “Close My Eyes Forever.”

That probably isn’t revelatory to anyone who has followed her career for any length of time.

“I love my fans,” she said during a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles. “I mean, sometimes I wish I could go to them and just go, ‘God, I had this really bad day; can I talk to you about it?’ And I’m sure I could.”

And they’re surely thrilled to have her back. Ford’s musical resurgence after a 15-year hiatus—during which she raised two boys and went through a nasty divorce—has finally cemented her legend. And it’s a long time coming.

While former bandmate Joan Jett (the only other member with any post-Runaways solo success) has maintained her gritty punk cred over the years, Ford was sometimes dismissed for her heavy metal sexpot image. But make no mistake—Ford threw up a giant middle finger every time she raked a power chord, or peeled off a hot lead.

“I always wanted to play metal; it was the other girls [in the Runaways] that couldn’t,” she said with a laugh. “At age 13 I went to my first concert, which was Black Sabbath at the Long Beach Arena in 1972 … Can you imagine? It totally ruled. Changed my life.”

Tony Iommi (to whom she was briefly engaged in the mid-’80s until he allegedly became physically abusive) and Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore influenced Ford, the guitar player, but it was her parents who shaped the rock ’n’ roller. Ford was born in London—her father, a native, and her Italian mother met during World War II—and the family moved to L.A. when she was 7 (Ford still has a British passport). She recalls Italian opera playing around the house, and her natural command of the guitar was lovingly encouraged.

“I had great parents,” she said. “They gave me the confidence I needed to tackle the world … and I’m still doing it. They would be proud of me.”

Her influence on other guitarists (count Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth among them), and especially on generations of women, is indisputable. While the Runaways were mocked in the mid-’70s for manager Kim Fowley’s “jailbait on the run” gimmick, the band made scrappy glam rock that bulldozed a path for bands like The Go-Go’s and L7.

Ford’s solo career finally gave her a chance to properly shred on records like 1983’s Out for Blood and her 1988 hit Lita, which gave her the Top 10 single “Close My Eyes Forever” with Ozzy Osbourne. Years later, grunge smothered hair metal and Ford, like many others of her ilk, ran for the hills. Actually, Ford ran to a Caribbean island where she spent a decade and a half isolated, raising a family and enduring a marriage that she says has left her suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Needless to say, returning to music wasn’t easy.

“I figured I had to reinvent myself after the Runaways, so I sorta had to do it again,” said Ford, who admits she watched old videos of herself in order to rediscover who she was.

Ford has been making up for lost time. Two years ago she penned an autobiography called Living Like a Runaway, and she’s currently working on a follow-up to the record of the same name. She also hints at a forthcoming single with a female artist “kind of in the pop-rock-country vein.”

Whoever it is has benefited from Ford’s decades of pissing all over the patriarchy. Of course, Ford herself doesn’t overthink it.

“It’s who I am. I wanted to play and that was it—there were no two ways about it,” she said. “The only thing that separates us is our genitals.”