Inspirer is celebrating inspirational and influential women in music with in-depth interviews. This project will share the stories behind the trailblazers and pioneers who paved the way for females in the music industry.
English-born Lita Ford wants to be known for more than being the young lead guitarist of The Runaways in the 1970s.
Lita was recruited at the young age of 16 by producer Kim Fowley, who introduced her to the all-female rock band created by Joan Jett and Sandy West. Eventually, Cherie Currie and Jackie Fox rounded out the five-piece lineup, leading The Runaways to major success overseas with the single “Cherry Bomb” off their debut album.
Since the breakup of the controversial all-girl band, Lita has found success in various solo albums – most recently releasing “Time Capsule,” a collection of archived “jam sessions” with popular musicians. Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen, as well as Dave Navarro are just a few of the well-known names featured on the album.
Ford is more than a legendary guitarist, she is also a skilled vocalist and songwriter. Ford has the distinction of self-producing the “Time Capsule” album, and a variety of songs throughout her career, a rarity in the music industry.
Lita spoke to us about her experiences as a young girl in the music industry, that Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin rumor, and what music means to her.
The metal/rock scene was and still is a boys’ club. What was your experience like as a woman?
The entire world is a boys’ club, but who cares, it doesn’t stop females from being females. And the one thing most males use to do their sales pitch for them is a beautiful woman! When I was 11 learning to play guitar, I never once thought about it as boys do this and girls don’t. I just played guitar because I was good at it, and I loved it.
Not only were you a woman in the rock scene, but you were also a lot younger than everyone else. Do you feel like that ever made it harder to be taken seriously as a musician, or like you had to work harder to prove yourself?
Being younger then, makes me younger today, still younger than a lot of the living legends. Today, we have female pilots, female fighters, female doctors. Why not take a female seriously on guitar? I suppose I was a protégé, so being taken seriously in an all girl band with corsets and a bad reputation didn’t help. But it was a whole lot of fun. The difference here is we were girls, not women.
Was it difficult to be taken seriously as a songwriter back then, as well? Do you still run into people who doubt your knowledge and strength as a female in the industry?
No. Actually, it was the other way around. I was taken seriously in the industry, but not so much by the fans. They always thought I had someone hiding behind the curtains, or something. The guys in the music industry knew better.
You’ve self-produced your albums.
“Lita” was produced by the great Mike Chapman. I produced “Time Capsule” and I also produced a lot of other songs and album parts I never got credit for.
What prompted your journey back into music?
Rock ‘n’ Roll is in my blood. Besides my children, it’s the only thing that truly makes me feel good and happy.
You won The Certified Guitar Legend Award in 2013. There aren’t many women in the industry who are “certified guitar legends” and are pioneers for female guitarists – what advice would you give to
young women looking to follow down the same path?
I took 40 years to get that recognition. It meant the world to me – I talk about it in my book. Young women should just keep playing and learning. Keep pushing on and follow your heart. Follow your dreams. Don’t pay attention to the bullshit some people try to dish out.
You released a book in February 2016. Why was it important for you to tell your story via your memoir “Living Like a Runaway?” Did you receive any backlash from your peers featured in the book?
Not really any backlash, only the press went straight for the sex stories which is typical. I found that quite tacky. They didn’t explain the story behind these stories, only that I slept with so-and-so. But I expected it. After four decades of being the one and only Lita Ford, of course there’s going to be sex. At least I would hope so! It was the ’80s, right?
There’s a rumor that Robert Plant asked you to join and play bass for Led Zeppelin at The Runaways first Los Angeles show, an interaction you cover in your memoir. Is it true? If so, what was your initial reaction – and looking back now, what are your thoughts?
I think this has been misquoted a few times, now. I did not mention in my book “Robert Plant asked me to play bass for Led Zeppelin.” Robert Plant asked me if I could play bass. “For who?” I asked. That was it, it was only small talk. I never once thought he meant for Led Zeppelin. I assumed he meant I was a good musician; it was a musical compliment. Recently, I heard there was trouble with John Paul Jones during those days. But I don’t know how true that is. Only Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones know that for sure–I didn’t know anything about it. I couldn’t picture a 17-year-old girl replacing one of my favorite bass players in the whole wide world. Even though I knew his bass licks, I still couldn’t imagine leaving The Runaways to join Led Zeppelin that night.
If you could tell your 25-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
Don’t get married. It’s just a piece of paper. You don’t need paper to make a promise to someone.
Who inspires you in your day to day life?
“Time Capsule” was released on April 15 via SPV/Steamhammer.