Even when you’re a famous face, life throws you some unexpected tests. Lita Ford was in the midst of a mid-May press blitz for her intense new studio album, Living Like A Runaway, when she was asked to fly from Burbank to Philadelphia to appear on a rock ‘n’ roll cooking TV show. That sounds easy enough, but the newly divorced Ford had some documentation issues.
“I go to the ticket counter to get my boarding pass, and the woman says to me I can’t board this flight because I don’t have an ID that says Lita Ford,” Ford told The Aquarian. “My ID says Lita Gillette. I just got divorced and am in the process of changing my driver’s license and passport back to Ford. She wouldn’t let me onto the flight,” even after being shown credit cards and checkbooks bearing her maiden name.
Ford scrambled back to her house, bought another ticket, took the redeye from Burbank to Philly by way of Arizona, did the show the next day, then immediately flew back to the West Coast to start a fresh round of interviews. “Then they lost my bag,” she revealed. “What’s funny is the second time I went back to the Burbank airport, they didn’t ask me for my ID. I said, ‘Don’t you want my ID?’ She said, ‘No, you’re Lita Ford. You don’t need an ID.’ I was like, ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, you’re kidding me!’”
The blonde-haired rocker laughs off the absurdity of the situation. Hassles like this are mundane compared with the bigger picture in her life. The iconic ’80s hard rock vocalist/guitarist recently went through an ugly divorce with her husband of 17 years, former Nitro singer Jim Gillette, who retained custody of their sons—15-year-old James and 11-year-old Rocco. She has not been in contact with them and has alleged that he had brainwashed them against her.
Thus was born the new ballad “Mother,” in which she speaks directly to her sons and tells them how much she loves them, despite what has transpired. The somber song is the cornerstone to a strong album that is full of emotional anguish over the difficult circumstances surrounding her marital disintegration. Other tunes delve into the pain of the relationship, including the aggressive “Branded” and the moody “Asylum.”
“He caught me at a time where I was extremely vulnerable,” Ford said of Gillette. “He could sell ice cubes to the Eskimos. He was the best con artist I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s something that runs in his family—his father was good at it, he’s good at it—people that know him know what I’m talking about. I’m a dedicated person. Once I subject myself to saying yes to something, I stay with it. I’m devoted, I’m loyal, I’m honest and true blue to the bitter end. It was not something I ever wanted to do. I didn’t want to have to file for divorce, but I had no other choice.”
Ford said she was done living under somebody else’s control. When they lived for a decade in the Caribbean on a remote island with little connection to the outside world, everything seemed fine. She explained that it was when they moved back to Florida full-time in 2007 that Gillette began exerting a lot of control over her, practically smothering her while they made her 2009 album, Wicked Wonderland, her first release of new material in 14 years. Ford contended that he controlled nearly all of the creative aspects of the album—it became an inexplicably industrial-inflected release with a lot of overtly sexual lyrics that turned off many longtime fans—and was with her 24/7 during the promotion process. Eventually things became too much for her Lita—she told Classic Rock Revisited that her ex-husband even encouraged her two sons to assault her one day.
Ford also recalled how exhausting it was to be continually criticized during the later years of her marriage. “I have got to be Lita, I’ve got to be able to play music,” she declared, “and I’ve had no support. I didn’t have somebody in my relationship patting me on the back saying, ‘That was an awesome guitar solo.’ Instead, I had somebody saying, ‘You know, that guitar solo really sucked. I think you should bring in somebody else to get that solo down.’ It’s like, ‘Why did you marry me?’ I’m not a fucking housewife. I’m not a maid. I’m not a doormat. I don’t want to live my life that way. I want to play rock ‘n’ roll. That’s who I am and that’s what I will always be.”
Living Like A Runaway is the darkest and most personal album yet from Ford, but it still contains the strong melodic hooks that graced her ’80s and early ’90s material, albeit with a more stripped down sound. That sonic tactic, implemented with producer Gary Hoey, was a deliberate response to what Ford sees as a problem with modern rock music.
“I think the music industry has butted up against a wall, and it really has nowhere to go,” stated Ford. “Bigger drums, bigger vocals, higher vocals, louder guitars, more guitars. Sometimes less is more. Personally, I just wanted to back away from that wall and take a look at the music industry and not try to make more or outdo everybody by adding more. I thought it’s really not about that, and the first thing I said to Gary when I met him was let’s go back to basics. Let’s go back to the basics of rock ‘n’ roll, meaning bass, drums and guitars. Let’s go back to where it started from.”
Ford added that her new songs feel real, especially as they were born from true stories. “Gary guided me through some of the best vocals I think I’ve ever done, and they’re different,” she asserted. “Michael Dan Ehmig is a lyricist on this album, and he and I and Gary wrote some of the most intense lyrics that I think I’ve heard in a long time. They’re real, down and dirty, nasty, angry, some with a little twist of sex.”
Speaking of sex, Ford was a guitar-slinging sex symbol during the ’80s hard rock/metal reign. She still looks great, but one wonders what she thinks of her previous status as compared with the person she is now. “The ’80s is still who I am,” admitted Ford. “I haven’t changed. I’m at a different place in my life, but I haven’t changed. I look exactly the same. I’ve gotten a little older, but who doesn’t? It happens.”
That said, the new lyrics certainly reveal a more mature, grown up side of Ford, even though she has said that she still does not want to grow up. When an artist writes a personal album that deals with serious issues, recording it is one thing, but living with it on the road is another. The singer is not daunted by that prospect here.
“It’s a blast to play live,” Ford declared of her new album. “We didn’t mean for it to come across this way, but it just is magic live. It’s almost better live than it is on the record. It was just something that happened. People write songs about their everyday happenings and their everyday occurrences. There just happened to be more drama in my life at the time when I wrote Living Like A Runaway, so I thought why not write about it? There are so many people who do go through things like this and so many people whose lives are a living hell in one shape or form. Somebody’s got something somewhere, and if they don’t know, they will eventually.”
Lita Ford will be at the Prudential Center on July 11 and at Jones Beach on July 13. Both shows feature Poison and Def Leppard. For more information, go to litafordonline.com.