Lita Ford Interview: Her Guitar-Driven Life

A Rock and Roll life can certainly have its twists and turns. One year you’re up, the next you’re down. Eventually, hopefully, you’re re-invented, or maybe resurrected. And if all goes well, you might end up being referred to as “legendary” or “influential.”

Lita Ford has been through all of the above and more. She’s certainly had her career and personal ups and downs. She’s deservedly been referred to as “influential” many times over, and in 2013 was presented with Guitar Player magazine’s “Certified Guitar Legend Award.”

It all started for Lita with a teenage Rock and Roll band that could have come from nowhere else but straight-outta-Hollywood. Some say it was engineered by music industry guru Kim Fowley, but the five young girls who made up the Runaways may just as well have found each other on their own. However it went down, the success of hit songs such as “Cherry Bomb” and four seminal albums that proved popular worldwide brought the band to the forefront of the male dominated hard rock scene of the 1970s.

Of course it couldn’t last, as youthful impatience, differing musical visions, and perhaps just a wee bit of cattiness sent the girls on their separate ways. Among the five of them, only two scored major success in their solo careers: Joan Jett and Lita Ford.

It wasn’t long after the Runaways that Ford, who had initially fashioned herself after Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi, started putting up hits of her own. In the wild days of the 1980s “hair metal” scene, Ford became the poster girl for female rock sexiness while charting with hits such as her Top 15 “Kiss Me Deadly,” her Number One Mainstream Rock Track, “Gotta Let Go,” and her classic Top 10 duet with Ozzy Osbourne, “Close My Eyes Forever.”

It’s definitely been a long and winding road for Lita Ford. Now lauded as one of the most influential female guitarists in Rock and Roll, we caught up with Ford at a recent concert date and got to talking guitar.

In this exclusive interview, Lita Ford discusses her current touring band, the new music she’s working on for a planned 2015 album release, and her long writing partnership with guitar hero Gary Hoey.

She also delves deeply into her gear, talking at length about her signature model B.C. Rich Warlock guitars, her custom-made double neck 12-string, her long and close relationship with late guitar maker Bernie Rico, and much more.

Lita Ford: Good morning! Good morning Lita. Are you at home in Los Angeles today?

Ford: I am. Where are you. I'm in Chicago.

Ford: Ahhh. I'm doing good, I'm just waking up. We could have made this a little later if you needed to...

Ford: Oh, no. No problem at all. I'm usually up early. We were in the studio last night, and you know how that goes. Working on some new music?

Ford: Yeah, we are. Who is producing with you this time?

Ford: Right now we're in the studio with Bob Marlette. We've just begun to work with Bob. We're just sort of feeling each other out. It's fresh. He’s a great guy. Pre-production kind of stuff?

Ford: Yeah. Arrangements, still finding the chord patterns to songs. We're still in the writing process. So far everything I've got, that I've wanted to put down on tape, is in pieces. It's like "Oh, I wrote this bridge, it's on my cell phone!" And then, "Oh, I wrote this other verse, and it's on my broken cell phone!"

And he's like, “Well, why don't we just put it all together?” And I thought, "OK! That's a good idea before I start losing stuff." It's pretty funny, you know: You've got those little record apps on your cell phone. I understand that really well.

Ford: Being a journalist, I can imagine, my God! Well, I'm a musician too, so you know what I do all the time is, I'll record little bits and pieces on my cell phone, but then I'll take a bunch of pictures with my phone of my kids or something, and then my phone’s memory will be full, so I'll download everything into some folder, and I'll forget about all those little musical ideas.

Ford: Oh, God! I hate that! Then you don't know where you put it. It's in a folder somewhere, but I don't know where I put the folder. I'm so bad like that. That's what makes us creative. That's right. So how do you write? Is it usually on electric guitar, acoustic guitar?

Ford: It depends on where I am, and who I'm with at the time. Like if I'm driving on the freeway, and I get an idea in my head, I'll grab my cell phone and I'll sing it into the phone. If I'm sitting around the house, I'll pick up either an acoustic or, if there's an electric handy, I'll grab the electric. Either or. It doesn't matter what guitar, just so long as you get the riff and you get it down on some kind of recording device. Do you have a home studio?

Ford: No, but I should. I have recording devices that I use, like a good little recording device is Amplitube, that you can plug into your laptop, because it's mobile. You can take it with you on the road, you can throw it in your bag. It's really easy to use. I love it. Have you used an Amplitube before? [Editor’s note: Lita is referring to the iRig with Amplitube.] No, I haven't. I’d like to give it a try though.

Ford: It's a plug-in for a recording program, on your laptop. It's a little cord, and you plug it into your laptop, and then it has this little cigar-shaped thing. It's got a little switch on it, and you turn it on, and that's pretty much your amplifier. And then from there you plug your guitar into this cigar-looking thing. And then up pops Amplitube on your laptop.

Then you've got all your drum sounds, you've got all your guitar pedals, your guitar amps, everything pops up, and you can just pick and choose and get the sound you want. It's a pretty cool little thing. And it's little, so, like I said, you can throw it in your bag and take it with you if you're going on the road, or traveling. You can record, or if you want to just jam along with something, you can do either or.

It's really cool. You can buy it online, it's like fifty-nine bucks. And it's fun. Once you plug it in, you're like stuck to your laptop because it's got so many different sounds, and different things you can do with it. It's a brand new toy, you know.

When I first got it I was just stuck to my computer. My manager called me and he said, "Are you using your Amplitube?" And I said, "Yes." He calls me back later that day and says "What are you doing now?" And I say, "I'm still on this fucking Amplitube! I can't put it down!" So I've had a lot of fun with it. Cool. I'm about to upgrade my home studio and I'm thinking of going with Logic. Have you ever used that?

Ford: No. I've had a lot of people tell me that's the way to go lately. Jerry Dixon from Warrant has been pushing me toward Logic. He tells me Logic is better than Pro Tools if you just want to write music, and not be so much of an engineer.

Ford: Right. I know what you mean. If you're not gonna make an album, and you just want to mess around, if you just want to write a song, and not make it into a master or anything like that, something like Logic would probably be easier. So do you have any kind of schedule for recording a new album at this point?

Ford: Not really. If everything goes as planned, if everything goes smooth, and there's no hiccups in the road here, we should be recording through December-January. We should be hopefully pushing through this next album. And then releasing it in the first quarter of 2015?

Ford: I'm guessing. This is something that literally just happened over the last few days. I didn't even know Bob Marlette until last week. So it's all new, and it's all exciting. It looks like that's what's gonna happen. OK. So how did this all get started?

Ford: My manager hooked us up. I was looking for someone to write with. I've got a few people who I write with: Gary Hoey, who I adore. Michael Dan Ehmig, who's a brilliant lyricist. Usually it's just the three of us. But for this album I wanted to reach outside the box. I really didn't know who to go to. I wanted to go to somebody who's a little bit more, I guess you could say "current," on the scene, rather than reaching back to old friends.

I want to reach forward to new friends. And Bob was a person that my manager Bobby suggested I try to write with. So we ended up writing, and we also ended up just putting down the demos. That's all we did so far. How many tunes did you put together?

Ford: We've got eight so far. So is this coming out of the same batch of bits and pieces you said you were trying to get in order from your cell phones?

Ford: Yes. I had the bits and pieces of eight songs. So now it's a matter of laying them down and actually listening to them. So you still have to write more verses and choruses to complete them?

Ford: Well, I've got the eight songs pretty much completed. They need to be arranged. I think we need just a few more and we'll have a complete album. So I need to write with different people and see what we come up with. You're going to have a few songs that you throw away, and you're going to have a few songs that you absolutely have to have. It's just the nature of the beast, so I'm expecting it.

We'll probably have to go through another ten songs or eight songs, and we'll come up with a good well-rounded album. We're all pretty good songwriters. Gary Hoey, myself, and Michael Dan Ehmig, who -- together, when we write, there isn't anything that we throw away, because it's all just magic. I have interviewed Gary in the past. It's been a long time though. I'm going to shoot some video with him in a couple weeks actually. He's a great player, that's for sure.

Ford: He sure is. So I know you use a lot of B.C. Rich guitars. What gear are you planning to use going forward?

Ford: When I came back from my hiatus that I took for 15 years [Editor’s Note: Lita took time off from the music industry to raise a family.] I went straight for my old guitars. And people started saying, "No, Lita, you need to try this, and you need to try that." I did. I tried a whole different conglomeration of different, new brands, new guitars, and I still went back to my old B.C. Rich's. The new guitars that I tried just did not seem to have the balls or the crunch that my old B.C. Rich's had.

So what's happened since is a new owner has come in and bought B.C. Rich out, and they've cleaned house. And they've hired a bunch of new people who work over there. And they're now making a better quality product. I know in the very beginning, B.C. Rich was the best. Bernie Rico -- nobody could make a guitar like Bernie Rico. Unfortunately he passed away. And when that happened the company went in the toilet.

Now I think they're finally starting to pull it back out of the toilet, and have got some good names attached to it. And they're starting to make a great quality instrument again. One of them is the Lita Ford signature model, a Warlock model. So I'm happy to have my own signature model after all these years. I think I've earned it with B.C. Rich. Is that guitar already out?

Ford: It's out. You can get the B.C. Rich Warlock -- it's called "Morice." It's named after -- do you know the movie "Bewitched"? Yes.

Ford: Samantha, in "Bewitched," her father -- she was a witch, he was a warlock. And his name was Morice. So I named my guitar Morice after the warlock in the movie "Bewitched." So what kind of features does this guitar have? Do you have special pickups?

Ford: Well I use Seymour Duncan's. I like the Super Distortions. I also have a little pre-amp in the guitar. It's like a Tube Screamer. But it's actually built into the guitar, with a little switch. I can either turn it on or turn it off. I do use a few pedals, but I'm not a real pedalboard person, because that's just not how I grew up. I grew up in the Runaways where there really wasn't a lot of pedals back then. So now there's a lot of pedalboards being made.

But I'm just old school. I'm the kind of person that can plug straight into an amplifier and play. So I just use the Jerry Cantrell wah-wah, which I love because of the deep swoop it has. And it doesn't have a lot of different controls, because I don't need it on my wah-wah pedal. I just want my wah-wah to do one thing: And that's wah! (laughs). With the Jerry Cantrell I get a really nice, deep, nasty, gnarly swoop. And I love that. So I use that.

And I like a little bit of delay on my solos. So I'll either use a Boss or a new one I just started using, it's a little tiny grey delay pedal. My tech brought it in one day and said, "You have to try this!" And I said, "OK!" And I tried it and I liked it, and I can't remember the frickin' name of the damn thing!

But I've been using the Boss DD-3, and sometimes I'll use a volume pedal, just for either effects on the guitar, so you get a little swell sound, or I'll use it to turn off the sound completely when I'm unplugging and plugging, doing guitar changes. So between those three pedals -- the delay, the wah, and the volume -- I've got everything covered. And then the boost on the guitar too.

Ford: I have the boost on the guitar. Also on my white double-neck, I have a flanger built into the 12-string. Cool.

Ford: And I have a boost on the 6-string. So a lot of people aren't quite sure what that guitar's made up of when they see photographs of it. They're always "It's got this and it's got that..." They don't know what it is. The top neck is a 12-string with a flanger built into it, which I can turn on or off. And then the bottom neck is a 6-string with a power booster built into it, which I can turn on or off. So do you hit that boost every time you play a solo?

Ford: I do. I turn it on and I leave it on, like if I want power chords. Say for instance, "Close My Eyes Forever" -- it has a real quiet, tinkly kind of guitar playing intro. I'll use the 12-string with the flanger to play the intro. And then in the bridge these power chords kick in. So I switch necks and I kick on the pre-amp, and I get my power chords. And then it ends again with the quiet, tinkly guitar part. And then I switch back to the 12-string with the flanger. And what kind of strings do you use?

Ford: Dean Markley. I use .010 through .052. That's pretty thick on the bottom.

Ford: Yeah. I like it thicker on the bottom because it adds a lot of beef. And we tune down. To E-flat?

Ford. E-flat. So they're not so sloppy. Not that you get a lot of slop out of tuning down just a half-step, you really don't. Did you always tune down?

Ford: No, I didn't. I started tuning down on the Living Like a Runaway album, only because I wanted to add a different vibe to the record. It wasn't something I did for any other reason, like vocally -- "Oh I can't hit those notes anymore..." Or anything like that. It wasn't one of those. I just wanted to add a different vibe to Living Like a Runaway, and I wanted to give it more of a heavier feel. Which, when you tune down, you do sound heavier. And you're using Marshall amps, right?

Ford: Nick Bowcott turned me on to the DSL 100. And they are probably the most equivalent to the JCM800s. And I love it. I love the DSLs. They're just big, beefy. You get that JCM800 hiss out of them when you crank the pre-amp on it. And they sing! You can hold and sustain the note for a week. They're one of my favorite amps that I've played in years and years. But why not just use the JCM800s?

Ford: I do. The 800s that I have are old, and they're really not something I like to take on the road. Just because they're old, and they're vintage. I don't want anything to happen to them. So I do use the 800s when they're fly-in shows, and the promoter is supplying the gear. When they supply the back line, I will ask for either a JCM800 or the DSL. And most likely the 800s are the ones that show up, because they have them in stock. The DSLs are kind of a new amp, and not a lot of the companies carry them yet. So I refer back to the JCM800s. You know Lita, I know plenty about your band history -- your recordings with the Runaways and your solo career -- but I don't know a whole lot of your personal guitar history. What really got you going in the first place, and what keeps you going?

Ford: When I first started playing it was just something I wanted to do. And I really didn't accept the fact that, "Oh, you're a chick. You're not supposed to do that. You're supposed to be taking ballet lessons!" Or "You're supposed to be knitting, or something."

I just didn't want to do that. I was more interested in music, and it didn't dawn on me that there weren't any guitar players that were female. I didn't really think about it. I just wanted to play guitar. When I was a kid I asked my parents for a guitar for Christmas, and my mother bought me a little piece of shit acoustic. I still have it today!

I think it cost like $11. And I said to her, "Mom! I don't want this guitar!" I didn't want to hurt her feelings at the time, but it didn't have steel strings on it. And I wanted something with steel strings. It was a Spanish style guitar with the nylon strings. I said, "Mom, I don't want nylon strings! I want steel strings." So really what I wanted was an electric guitar. But then she went out and bought me an acoustic with steel strings. And then again I was able to play some of the stuff I liked, but I wasn't able to play my favorite Black Sabbath songs and my favorite Deep Purple songs.

So I ended up getting a Gibson chocolate SG. And I would plug it into my father's Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder. And I would slap on the echo, and all the sudden I was getting the sound that I was looking for. I started getting the riffs. I was able to play the riffs on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. And I was able to play the riffs from Deep Purple's Machine Head and Fireball. They were comin' out, and it was like, "OK, I get it. I needed an electric guitar."

So from there I joined the Runaways with my Gibson SG. And I was going through New York one day and I found this black Explorer, Hamer. The serial number on it was 0048. Oh wow!

Ford: And I ended up buying it. And I loved it. And that became my Lita guitar. Then I went to Thoroughbred Music in New York City, and they gave me, off the wall, the white one. The white duplicate. And the serial number on that is 0012. Wow!

Ford: And I still have those guitars today. And they're wicked. And they don't make them like that anymore. They have weight to them. They're really, really heavy guitars. Whereas now, if you were to pick up an Explorer, it's like they're made out of frickin' drywall or something. So, needless to say, those guitars probably never go on the road, right?

Ford: Yeah, they do! They do?

Ford: Yeah. They do. The black Warlock that I have is a duplicate because I have my signature models. Those I use on the road, and I leave the original one at home. But the Hamer, I do work with it on the road. I do take it on the road, because there's just not another one like it.

And I take the double-neck with me, which is a proto-type. The double-neck that I have is made smaller than the double-necks that are made from the factory. Because it's such a large body shape, I wasn't able to play it, because it was like wearing a dress. It would cover me from above my boobs down to below my crotch. I mean, could go with no clothes on and no one would ever know! (laughs) Because that guitar was so big. Like the line from that old Sugarloaf song, "The band performs in the nude," right?

Ford: Well the Runaways did, yeah! Not anymore. I don't think it would be good. Do you remember that song "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You"?

Ford: Yeah! (laughs) Oh my God, yeah! (laughs) What are you Lita, about five-two or so?

Ford: No, I'm five-five. Well a double neck would be a pretty big guitar on you, that's for sure.

Ford: Well the B.C. Rich, the Rich Bich's are. The SG double-necks aren't so bad. But the Rich Bich's are just really wide. This one they made me is extra small. And it's just a beautiful, awesome sounding guitar. And that one I take on the road with me too. People see that come out and they applaud it. Do you have any of the B.C. Rich Bich 10-string guitars?

Ford: I don't have the 10-strings, but I have the 6-strings, from the early '80s. Did you know Bernie Rico?

Ford: Oh yeah! We were great friends. I visited him at a shop he had probably in the late 80s. He was way out in Hesperia (California) or somewhere out there...

Ford: Yes. That's where the factory was. Yep. He wasn't always out there was he?

Ford: Yeah, he was. I lived in Los Angeles and when I went to see him. I was making a tour of guitar and amp and pedal manufacturers, and I was driving out there, and I'm like, "Where is this place, man!!???"

Ford: I know. It took forever to get out there.

Ford: I know. Once you get there you just don't want to leave though. It's like, bring a sleeping bag, bring a lunch, and your toothbrush. And just stay. Did you work with him specifically on your guitars? Did he custom make your guitars?

Ford: Yes he did. He made me so many guitars. I came up with all kinds of wacky shit. And Bernie was always into it. He was like, "All right, Lita, what do you got for me now? Bring it on!" He was just always supportive and excited about my ideas. And they would have posters of me all over their shop. I was their girl. He was a good guy, I'm happy I was able to spend some time with him and watch him work. So who owns the company now?

Ford: His son, Bernie Rico, Jr. Oh, OK. For awhile it was taken over by another company, right?

Ford: Yes. Who had it for awhile?

Ford: I couldn't tell you who that company was Hanser Music Group has it now, but who had it back then, I don't know. [Editor's note: The company was called Class Axe, and were involved with B.C. Rich guitars from 1987 to 1993. The Hanser Music Group took over in January, 2000.] But Bernie Jr is running it now, right?

Ford: Bernie Rico Jr. is running it. He has a couple of the owners' from the Hanser Music Group... The owners are running it along with Bernie's help. And the artists' help: Kerry King, Neil Geraldo, Lita Ford, and the basic people who are true to B.C. Rich. Bill Xavier is one of the guys who helps run the company. So what gets you playing guitar these days? What makes you wake up and want to play guitar?

Ford: Oh God! There's just nothing like it. It's in my blood. It takes away all my pain, you know, like if you're having a bad day, or if you have any ailments of any kind -- if you've got a hangover or a headache or whatever it may be. As soon as you pick up that guitar, everything disappears, and nothing means anything except the music. It becomes all about the fans, and the music and your band.

And we're a really tight-knit band. When we go on stage, I know my band has my back, and they know that we have their back. We're a big team. And our crew, that we have -- we're just a tight-knit group. Have you worked with your tour manager Craig for awhile?

Ford: Yeah. I've worked with him for a little while, not that long, because he was with Ratt, and Pearcy. But that fell through, and we stole him. Craig's a great guy. So tell me about your band members.

Ford: Well, I've got Bobby Rock on drums. Bobby played with Vinnie Vincent Invasion. And I've got Marty O'Brien on bass. Marty's played on people like Celine Dion and Kelly Clarkson's records, to touring with Tommy Lee, going through the Ozzfest. He's played with all kinds of people. He's an amazing bass player, and an amazing human being. And so is Bobby Rock. Bobby Rock is an amazing human being, and an amazing player.

We just got Patrick Kennison in the band with us. He played in Union Underground in the '90s. Patrick is a Godsend. He plays his ass off. He sings his ass off. And he looks hot while he's doing it. (laughs). So you've got some shows coming up to round out 2014.  And then I see you've got the Monsters of Rock cruise next year. Have you done those before?

Ford: I did one in 2013. I bet that's a lot of fun, at least for the audience. I don't know how it is for the artist.

Ford: It's fun. It's hard for the artist because you really can't leave your cabin, unless you're surrounded by security guards, so you can actually just walk and breathe. Otherwise you're just standing there signing autographs. But it was fun for me because I got out. I went out late to the later shows, like one in the morning, and stood on the side of the stage and watched the bands play, and got up and jammed. It's kind of one big jam, the whole boat, because everyone plays with each other. They're really a lot of fun.

We had Eddie Trunk with us. He was the host of the boat. It was a blast. I pulled a bunch of people out of the audience. I pulled six or seven people out of the audience and drug them up on stage to sing the last song, "Kiss Me Deadly." It's just one big party, really. It's just one big party that lasts four days. Massive hangovers on that cruise, right?

Ford: Oh! Yeah! God. Well hey Lita, I appreciate your time, and I'll let you get going so you can get on with your day.

Ford: Thank you! Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing your new music when you get it out there.

Ford: You're welcome Adam, talk to you soon.

Related Links:

Lita Ford Official Website

Lita Ford on Facebook

Lita Ford on Twitter

Lita Ford on YouTube

B.C. Rich Lita Ford Signature Guitar

Hamer Guitars

Marshall DSL Amps

Jerry Cantrell Wah Pedal

Amplitube Website

Video: The Runaways Perform “Wasted”

Video: Lita Ford Performs “Kiss Me Deadly”

Just can't get enough? Check out...