Dropping a Cherry Bomb
Lita Ford Talks Runaways, Rock – Reminiscences Prior to PAC Show
By Tammie Hetzer-Womack
The Greater Ashland Beacon
It’s just your average Thursday afternoon jam session – 1980’s-era electric guitarist Lita Ford calling up this reporter, entertaining an interview, measuring-up on heavy metal and hefty topics, in tenor.
Ms. Ford is set to take the Paramount Arts Center stage on Jan. 21 at 7:30 p.m., a theater she admires for history and acoustics. She’s been here before.
The New Year welcomed Ms. Ford and entourage at The Belle & The Bear Bar in the Crown City, an intimate musical interlude – so, she is pumped to return to the Ohio Valley to greet us downtown at our Winchester Avenue diamond.
She’s right up front, calls at the strike of 2 p.m., precisely on-time, rather unreal for a rad rockstar, remembered from figments of my radiohead youth, core music of WKEE. Steamy Southside poolside pop, ripped acid-wash and fringed cut-offs, sticky Aqua-Netted locker room floors, closing my eyes, sun-soaked skin forever.
“We gotta keep on swimming,” speaks Ms. Ford, of longitude, and these middle-age wonder years we’re tasked with as sisters. She pauses to remember the beginnings, before the magic of the all-girl Runaways band, where Ms. Ford raged on electric guitar. The scene began simply:
“Lita, what do you want for Christmas,” she mimics her mother’s thick Italian immigrant accent, laughing.
Just 11-years-old – she asked for a guitar. Her mom purchased an $11 plastic dupe with nylon strings. “I broke it out of the plastic and just went hard on it, picked out Hendrix and Black Sabbath. But, after a while, I realized the riffs didn’t sound quiet right.”
The next Christmas she asked her mother for an electric guitar. She told Little Lita to get a job.
Employees of nearby St. Mary’s Medical Center (the So-Cal version) had to be age 16 to work. Lita was two-years-shy of the requirement.
“I can still hear my mom today with that accent. She told me to get some paper towels and stuff my bra.”
She did. The rest is accounted only in rock records. The $350 she saved up working at the hospital went to her first Gibson SG electric guitar.
From there, Ms. Ford did whatever it took to learn to play; she “figured it out” replicating sounds and chords, fine-tuning her skills with a few lessons from a local guitar teacher who bored her incredibly.
Lita would strum with a guy up the street. The sound echoed from the open back doors of the guy’s California van and was an imitation of Britain’s Ten Years After.
“It’s pretty crazy, the universe,” spoke Ms. Ford, reflecting of those younger years. “There are a lot of reasons why, and just as many reasons why not.”
She chose the latter. An opportunity presented itself.
A local band was set to play the parochial watering hole one night. The bass player was a girl.
As the story goes – Ms. Ford doesn’t remember the young woman’s name – but recalls the boyfriend of said-bass player didn’t want her to perform that night. She couldn’t go out.
Someone said he/she knew a female bass player. Her name was Lita Ford.
“I never picked up a bass guitar in my life,” she laughed, adding she faked it, till she made it.
Soon word got around of her pseudo-bass guitar skills. She received a phone call from music producer Kim Fowley who was forming an all-girl rock band – later known as The Runaways.
“I was like, ‘that’s great, Kim – but I don’t play bass – I play electric guitar,” she riposted. “He kind of paused and said, ‘oh we need one of those, too.’”
Ms. Ford conveys the image of Fowley as “weird, eccentric.”
Little did she know rock history was crafted in that inadvertent phone call from Fowley. Formed in summer of 1975, The Runaways are known for their hits, “Cherry Bomb,” “Hollywood,” and “Queens of Noise.”
Although the union of the girl glam-punkers was short-lived, Ms. Ford’s heavy metal career skyrocketed, with hits like “Kiss Me Deadly.”
Ms. Ford thanks her parents for keeping her feet on the ground during those youthful years of fame. Her Brit father was wounded in World War II after being struck by a shock grenade in battle. Her mother was a volunteer nurse and met the soldier in the bloody tent and cared him back to health. They fell in love. She speaks of her mom:
“She spoke to him in Italian – her voice was deep, alluring, and sexy. Dad later became fluent in Italian. It was all very romantic, their story.”
Moving to California to raise family, Ms. Ford maintained her father was very present in her music beginnings.
“He would come into the bar – his one hand was injured, and he would carry his 6-pack of beer in the other hand. It was all kind of funny really.”
Her dad stood by the fact children should be raised properly. Ms. Ford is a staunch advocate even today about strong parenting tactics.
“Where you come from makes you who you are as a human being,” she playbacks her father, on rewind.
Ford is “apolitical” in today’s America.
“There are bad things, bad parents. Leaders, who turn to followers. … Rock-n-roll and war has a lot in common.”
She maintains her “right to rock!”
With age, comes lessons – “every day, you have to work at it – when my days are gloomy, broken, and bad, I crank it loud. I feel it, live it, rock and roll religion.”
She thanks the icons who mentored her along the rocker route – many of whom are men. Being in the “Boys Club” of rock and roll is something Ms. Ford grew accustomed to over time. She took the male influences and predecessors and learned something from it.
“That’s just the way it went back then – and we learned from them.”
Her father always said, ‘if God offers you talent, you take it, and you run with it.’
She’s okay with The Runaways guitarist girl at 16 – and the woman still making music in her sixties. She wouldn’t trade one for the other. These are just passing tunnels and rock music always gets Ms. Ford through. It toughened her.
“You have to have pi$$ and vinegar in your veins. Then you will find your light at the end of the tunnel. … Till then, I will play my guitar and rock my a$$ off.”