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Friday, March 11, 2011

Nightmares & Dreams Both Come True: An Interview with Lita Ford - Jeb Wright (Classic Rock Revisited)

Lita Ford returned to the world of rock after a decade and a half absence, much of which was spent living on an island with her then husband, Jim Gillette, and her two sons. Her comeback album, Wicked Wonderland, saw Lita crank the metal up louder, and harder, than ever before. While both Lita and Jim touted their successful relationship to the press, often in X rated terms, the end of their storybook relationship was near.
Lita and Jim inked a deal with TLC to do a reality show on their family, which promised to be a huge hit. During the process, however, Lita noticed things had changed in her personal life, culminating in her being physically attacked by her two sons. Lita claims Jim is controlling and that he was the mastermind behind the children’s radical behavior. Lita divorced Jim and is now fighting for custody of her two boys.

During this turbulent period, Lita also found out that she was being impersonated online and set up her own Official Lita Ford website to make sure her fans knew there is only one Lita, and this was the place to find her. On the website, she promised that her first REAL Lita Ford comeback album is in the works. 

In the interview that follows, Lita opens up about the ending of her fairytale marriage. She also discusses how being put through the emotional wringer can actually assist the songwriting process. Not everything we talked about was serious, however, as Lita took time to talk about Joan Jett throwing up and Sharon Osbourne giving her a life-sized stuffed gorilla. 

Read on for a fascinating interview with the Queen of Metal, Lita Ford. 

Jeb: I was looking at your new website. It looks great.

Lita: There are some people out there imitating me and that is really pissing me off. We wanted to put together an official site so people know that this is really me. I wanted a place where I could let my fans know that I am really missing them. 

Jeb: When you say they are imitating you, do you mean they are actually saying they are you?
Lita: They are actually saying they are me. It is really freaky; I don’t like it at all. If you go to my website then you will see where I talk about it and I let my fans know that I am sorry for any harm these people have done. It is very upsetting; we’ve tried to stop them. I think it is going to have to go through a detective. 

Jeb: I guess you just have to make sure people know that you only have one official website.
Lita: Stranger things have happened.

Jeb: On your site you said that the real comeback album from Lita Ford is coming soon. What does that mean? 
Lita: The last album I did was called Wicked Wonderland, I put it out with Jim Gillette, and we were married at the time. It is kind of a Jim/Lita album and not a really true Lita album. I got a lot of schpeel about that. A lot of people have told me that they want a real Lita album, and I know what they mean. They are going to get it. 

Jeb: I didn’t mind that album. It was really heavy. I liked “Patriotic” a lot. It was a little bit noticeable that you were trying to be something you’re not comfortable with.
Lita: I really wasn’t that comfortable with that record, not at all, to tell you the truth. There are parts of it that are good but it doesn’t sound like a Lita record. When it got released, a lot of my fans felt weird about it and said it wasn’t a Lita album. This time I want to do it on my own. The last one turned out to be more of a Jim album. We worked pretty well together. It doesn’t suck, it’s not a bad album; it’s just not a Lita album. 

Jeb: Have you been writing music? Right now, what is the plan?
Lita: Right now the plan is to walk my dogs. I have two Chihuahuas and I am walking them while I am doing this interview. I can never tell where they are because they are so small. The other day I couldn’t find one of them and I found him in my suitcase. He had crawled in the flap. Can you imagine packing your suitcase and flying to the next city and then finding out your dog is in your damn suitcase? They only weigh like three pounds.

To answer your question, I am working on some new songs and they are ready to be recorded. I have about twenty songs. They have a lot of heart and soul and they are true Lita songs. I just need to get in and start recording them.

Jeb: You have been through the emotional wringer with your divorce from Jim. As a songwriter does that help when it comes to writing music?
Lita: It really does. It has really helped me to write a lot of stuff. I am writing with some other songwriters and it has helped them too. There are songs about love, songs about hate and songs about missing someone. 

Jeb: Does the attack you give a guitar solo get influenced by what emotions you are going through?
Lita: If you write an angry song then you want to have an angry solo. It is true. It has to suite the song. If you have a song about crying then you are going to have a guitar solo that cries, like they did on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” If you have a song about how much you hate someone then you need to have a hateful solo. You let the guitar do the talking, kind of like how Joe Perry says, “Let the music do the talking.” 

Jeb: Are you proud to still be known as Lita the guitar slinger?
Lita: I disappeared for sixteen years and when I disappeared I left a pair of shoes, empty, waiting to be filled. When I came back that same pair of shoes is still there waiting to be filled. I am hard on myself. It keeps me going and it keeps me getting better and better. If I stop playing for a while then I can’t withstand the test. 

Jeb: Have you changed members in your band?
Lita: I am in the process of trying to figure out my band situation. I have a couple of guys that I have been playing with for quite a while and they rock. We play really well together, so I don’t see any reason to make any changes. There for a while, we were changing them a lot. My husband doesn’t seem to want to stick with the same people for long. It is very strange. 

Jeb: I don’t know your personal situation but that can be a control factor for a person.
Lita: That is exactly what it is; a control factor. I hate it. 

Jeb: When you get good chemistry in a band situation then you need to nurture it.
Lita: You either bond or you don’t bond. It is rare when you really bond with other musicians, and right now I really do have some that I totally bond with. I really am enjoying playing with them. 

Jeb: Are you writing a book?
Lita: I would like to do a book. I have my own story to tell. I feel like Cherie [Currie] did her book, and Joan [Jett] did the movie, and I have my own story, and my own way of thinking about what has happened in my life. It is not just the Runaways; there is much more to my story than that. The Runaways are a big part, and they were a wonderful part of my life, but it just goes so far beyond that.
I would love to do a book. I don’t have anybody in mind right now. I started writing with a ghostwriter but you just never know. I hope we can make it work. 

Jeb: I liked The Runaways but I like how Joan and you made lifelong careers out of that band. Did you know that you were doing something groundbreaking?
Lita: I didn’t know; I really didn’t know. I didn’t have any idea what we were doing. To me, it just seemed like an everyday job. I didn’t realize that we were before our time. The Runaways really were before their time, and I think we need to remember what we did in that band. We need to realize that we paved the way for a lot of woman in the music industry. A lot of men come up to me too and tell me that I was a big inspiration to them. I love it when people tell me that as it really makes it all worth it.

Jeb: You reinvented yourself as Lita Ford after The Runaways and ended up recording with Ozzy Osbourne. Did you realize that you were the poster woman for women in rock?
Lita: No, I never thought that. I just went with the flow and hoped for the best. It didn’t seem like I was doing anything special. It really just seemed like a natural step in life. You have people who have dreams. There are little girls and little boys who dream of being a rock star. I would like to make my book about little girls or boys who have dreams. My dream actually came true. I think it is really interesting, and bizarre, that my dreams came true. I really saw this when I was eleven years old. My whole life was in front of me and I could see it before me, step for step. You just follow your heart. If your heart tells you to do something then you just do it and go for it. A lot of people said, “Girls don’t play guitar.” Why not? We have fingers, and we have a crotch, so why not. 

Jeb: You made those dreams come true but you put them on hold to raise your boys. Now it has to be a very difficult time for you being away from them and getting divorced. How are you keeping your head together and making good choices at this difficult time?
Lita: I have to stay strong for my kids; I feel like I’m trying to save their lives. I am a strong person; I’m a survivor. I’m not going to let something like this bring me down. I am going to use it to my benefit. When life hands you lemons then you make lemonade. Which is my favorite color, pink or yellow?

Jeb: Just mix them together.
Lita: Yeah right. How much do you know about this? I have not talked about this to many people so it is bizarre that you know.

Jeb: I don’t know too much about it. I just know that all of a sudden everything seems to have gone to hell in a hand basket.
Lita: I will tell you what happened. I don’t mean to bad mouth anybody; this is my story. We got offered this reality TV show with TLC. I didn’t know this, but my husband was all over everything. You would look up Lita Ford on MySpace and it was filled with pictures of him. You would go to Facebook and it was all pictures of him. I was like, “Wait a minute, what are we doing here? Are we making Jim Gillette a star? Is this all about Jim Gillette?” 

I went to Los Angeles from Florida. In the meantime, I was having conversations with TLC, writing songs with other writers for the reality show, and talking with my manager. I was very excited about what was going on. I was gone for ten days, and when I came back home, everything changed. My kids wouldn’t talk to me and my husband wasn’t talking to me. I was like, “What happened? Why isn’t anybody talking to me?” 

My kids got coaxed into attacking me. My husband coaxed then into actually attacking me. They literally jumped on my back and tried to say that I did it. I didn’t do it. I am not a kid beater. I have never hurt a child in my life and I never would. No matter what they would do to me, I would never hurt them. He coaxed them on. I got attacked by my own kids. I thought, “I’ll be damned if I will put this on national television. 

I pulled the TV show. I was in there with them a few days before bragging about how great it was going to be but I couldn’t do it with this man [Jim Gillette]. He has gone out of his mind, literally. There is a lot more to the story. I don’t want to come across being the bad one who says, “He did it.” You can’t do a family reality show when you don’t have a family. I am now trying to make a record and I am trying to fight for my kid’s lives. They really are brainwashed. 

Jeb: This is scary stuff.
Lita: It is a very fucked up situation, very fucked up. I have written a lot of songs about it. I have taken all of my hurt and heartache into it and put it into my music.

Jeb: I have been around you. You can say you’re tough and a survivor but you love those boys; it’s obvious. Jim is a big scary guy.
Lita: Yes he is. Yes, he’s big and yes, he’s scary and it is real. There is nothing phony about him at all and I don’t like it. When you’re that big, and you’re that scary, then you need to pick on somebody your own size. 

Jeb: It sounds like you’re in a major life transition.
Lita: I really am. I wanted to get a divorce because he was hurting me. You see how big he is; it’s not right. I got an attorney and I asked her, “How do I get out of the house?” She said, “Wait until there is nobody around and then get your stuff and get out.” I said, “I can’t leave my kids.” I don’t know why, or how the hell he knew, but he knew I was going to try and take my kids and he wouldn’t let them out of his sight. He changed them. I don’t know what he said to them but right now my kids are scared to death of me.

Jeb: You’re not a scary person.
Lita: I know, it’s ridiculous, it’s absolutely ridiculous. I told the kids that maybe somebody has told them something that wasn’t true. Now I am in a custody battle for my kids because I don’t feel they are in a very good situation. I have been writing a lot of songs. I have a song called “Patience” and I have another one called “Love to Hate You.” It is all going to come out on the next album. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to it in a lot of different ways. People that have lost their job, their marriage or maybe they lost a loved one in a car accident, they will all relate to it. I think music can be a universal language. That is what I mean by a real Lita album. 

Jeb: What do you want to do with your future now?
Lita: [Talking like the man in the Twisted Sister video] “What do you want to do with your life?” Grow up? I feel like this is the flipside of my life. It is off to a weird start but I think it’s going to have a happy ending. I think everything happens for a reason and that this will help me in the future. I think it will help my music and I have an ending to my book now. 

Jeb: You’ve been around some pretty good guitar players. Who taught you the most? Was it Ritchie Blackmore, Eddie Van Halen or someone else?
Lita: Ritchie Blackmore taught me how to crack an egg with one hand. Billy Sheehan taught me how to get the last drop of toothpaste out a toothpaste tube. You can roll it up and squeeze every last drop of toothpaste out of it. 

I got to jam with quite a few people but I never sat down and had guitar lessons from people. I used to just pick stuff up off of my albums. I would listen to UFO and play “Lights Out” or Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town.” I would just sit and play it. 

Jeb: I can’t pick out leads note for note. It is very hard for me to do that.
Lita: I don’t know why for me it is not, but it is not. I hear what they are playing and I can pick it out. I am sure a lot of musicians can do that. You just have to know what notes you can use and what notes you can’t use. There are different places on the neck where you can go and different places you can’t go. If you know what key it is in then you pretty much can figure out where he going to go and how he is going to play it. Does that make any sense? 

Jeb: Sure it does. I get a mental picture of you listening to UFO. Girls didn’t know who Michael Schenker was.
Lita: I guess not. I’ve never looked at it that way; I’ve never thought about it.

Jeb: I have to ask you a couple of fun ones before we go. What is your most memorable experience with the Runaways?
Lita: I’ve got a lot of them. It would probably be the time Joan Jett threw up in the front seat of the station wagon. No one could figure out why she didn’t roll down the window and throw up out the window. We were all sitting in the front seat of the station wagon and she just vomited. She just spread her legs and puked between her feet. Everybody was like, “Joan, what did you do that for? Oh my God, it stinks. Why didn’t you roll the window down?” I was sitting next to her and for some reason that memory plays over and over again in my mind. It was really funny. 


Jeb: Last one: What was it like making that song with Ozzy back in the day? “Close My Eyes Forever” really broke you huge.
Lita: At that time, Ozzy was voted the number one male vocalist in rock, and I was voted the number one female vocalist in rock. We were both managed by Sharon Osbourne. We both got fucked up one night and we wrote that song. Sharon was mad because Ozzy didn’t come home that night. We didn’t do nothing, we just played guitars and played pool and wrote this awesome song. It was suddenly six o’clock in the morning and the sun was coming up. Ozzy was like, “Can you drive me home?” I said, “Fuck no; I don’t even know where I am.” He gets in a cab and he takes off. I have a black jeep. Sharon and Ozzy had given me this life sized duplicate of Koko the Gorilla from the San Diego Zoo. It was a life sized duplicate of a gorilla. I had to drive home, drunk off my ass, with this thing in the front seat of my jeep. I was hoping to God that I didn’t get pulled over because how would I have explained that one? “Ozzy did it.”

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