Ford, Lita (Contemporary Musicians)
"Rock and roll is basically a man's world," guitarist and vocalist Lita Ford explained in People. "You have to play, sing and shake your ass onstagend not be afraid to let your make-up run." Once a bandmate of Joan Jett in the 1970s all-female rock band the Runaways, Ford has led her own bandesides her, all menince 1983. She was the first woman to appear on the cover of Hit Parader alter the publication became a heavy metal magazine, and was the first woman in two decades to be inducted into Circus magazine's Hall of Fame. Winner of several Best Female Performer magazine polls, including Metal Edge and Guitar, she is considered the foremost female guitarist in the macho world of heavy metal. Karen Schoemer surmised in the New York Times that Hard Rock Queen Lita Ford survives "the male-dominated metal world by simultaneously fulfilling the stereotypes of both sexes."
Ford chose her profession, aware of its solitary nature. "I don't know why there are so few women metal acts," she divulged to Peter Watrous in the New York Times. "It's just something that women don't do. Not that they're encouraged, because, face it, it's not a feminine industry. Hard rock isn't a woman's type of music or job. But they love listening to it, and I play a lot of songs that reflect the fact that I think like a woman, not like a man."
Born in England, Ford grew up in Long Beach, California. Her mother, Lisa, a dietary supervisor at a local hospital, encouraged her to develop musical talent. When Ford was 11 years old, she began guitar lessons. Immediately upon playing the guitar, she wrote her first song. Her mother recalled in People, "It was a fancy Spanish piece. I loved it." The discovery of Jimi Hendrix records caused the adolescent Ford to alter her musical course. She listened to the music of similar performers, including the bands Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.
As a teenager, Ford was invited to join the Runaways as a guitarist. The novelty of a rock band composed entirely of women, coupled with the talents of the band and lead singer Joan Jett, made the group successful in the era of bands that included the Clash, Blondie, and the Sex Pistols. Influenced by her idol Jimi Hendrix's solo act, Ford left the Runaways in the early 1980s. She told Teen that she "wanted to be able to sing and play as well as any man can sing and play."
Fought for Place in Male-Dominated Genre
While Ford studied voice, she struggled to support herself working at a gas station and selling perfume. "I like money," Ford revealed in People. "It sucks when you don't have a job." She shared an apartment with future Motley Crue bass player Nikki Sixx in Los Angeles, where the two dined mostly on macaroni and cheese. A fitness instructor at a gym before her career gained momentum, Ford endured snubs from male metal guitarists. Chris Holmes, who was one of her boyfriends and a guitarist for the band W.A.S.P., told People, "She doesn't like guys to say chicks shouldn't play guitar. She plays better than 90 percent of the guys I know."
The influence of the Runaways lingered in Ford's debut album Out for Blood. Ralph Novak stated in People during the early 1980s that Ford exhibited "the same brash, steel-edged approach to rock 'n' roll and the Jett black outlook on romance." Impressed with her first solo record, Jon Páreles wrote in Mademoiselle that Ford "backs up her commands with the crunch and thud of heavy metal. It's a familiar pose, but Ford knows how to make it convincing." Her second album, Dancin' on the Edge, made with drummer Randy Castillo, keyboardist Aldo Nova, and bassist Hugh McDonald, contains the scores "Dressed to Kill," "Lady Killer," and "Take the $ and Run." Novak wrote that the songs convey "the general idea that we're not talking syrupy, lovey-dovey stuff here." Although Novak called Ford "a first-class rock guitar player," he pegged her in 1984 as playing with a "thoughtful, light-metal sort of touch."
Became a Smash Success
In 1986 Ford's career soared upon the release of her third album, Lita. The LP, which went platinum, show-cased two Top Ten songs, including the gold single "Close My Eyes Forever" and the popular "Kiss Me Deadly." Sixx and Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead worked with Ford on the soundtrack, and Ozzy Osbourne joined her on the duet "Close My Eyes Forever." Critical response was enthusiastic. Although Stereo Review stated her lyrics ranged "from the vapid to the incomprehensible," the magazine credited Ford for her "inspired solos." Teen postulated that Ford stood "alone in her field," while Guitar Playerwrote that Ford "turns in the performance of her career." In People Novak called her "a little old for [the] dopey vulgarity" he saw in the album's lyrics, but praised Ford's "instinct for abandon" that "often produces a positively charged variety of runaway rock." Novak summarized: "Anyone in the market for hard rock modulated by a feminine sensibility might find this record a rewarding challenge."
Her next release, Stiletto, solidified Ford's image "with the kind of 'nasty girl' tunes her followers expect," wrote the Wilson Library Bulletin in 1990. The album, which includes the song "Lisa" that gives homage to Ford's mother, lacked the critical acceptance of Lita. Guitar Player asserted the album was drab and contrived. "Sure, Ford has an undeniable spark of what it takes to attain MTV guitarstardom, but her moments of guitar glory suffocate beneath a morass of misdirection." Although Kim Neely stated in Rolling Stone that the album struck "a safer balance between talent and titillation," the critic objected to Ford's persona. "If this guitar-slinging Goldilocks ever stops sabotaging her inventiveness with coy sexual innuendo," wrote Neely, "she will give her skeptical male counterparts a raucous run for their money."
Accused of Making "Formula Pop"
When Ford followed Stiletto with the album Dangerous Curves, music critic Watrous noted in 1991 that the "title may or may not refer to her figure, which is usually a prominent part of her marketing plan." Entertainment Weekly critic Janiss Garza regretted that Ford's albums since Lita appeared to "bow down to too-slick formula pop." Garza contended that Dangerous Curves revealed that "the struggle for Ford's musical soul continues. When she sticks to her fierce roots, as she does on 'Larger Than Life' and 'Hellbound Train,' the brazen fire of her singing and playing almost busts through the glossiness to recapture her long-dormant raw power. Almost, but not quite." Billboard panned the album's title as a misnomer, declaring that "Ford's ultrasafe MTV ready rock is anything but dangerous."
Critical rebuff will not dissuade heavy metal star Lita Ford from making more albums. She has already survived the test of hard rock audiences. Ford divulged to Watrous, "If you're good and can hold your own, they like you. If I was terrible, they'd throw things at me and I would throw them right back.... Not any more so much, but I've had situations where the audience will try and see if I'll crack. They'll yell obscenities at me. You just deal with it, it's no big deal. I'm not going to cry and run off stage or anything."
Out for Blood, Mercury.
Dancin' on the Edge (includes "Dressed to Kill," "Lady Killer," and "Take the $ and Run"), Polygram.
Lita (includes "Close My Eyes Forever" and "Kiss Me Deadly"), RCA, 1986.
Stiletto, RCA/Dreamland, 1990.
Dangerous Curves (includes "Larger Than Life" and "Hellbound Train"), RCA, 1991.
Best of Lita Ford, RCA, 1992.
Billboard, November 30,1991.
Entertainment Weekly, November 8,1991.
Guitar Player, May 1988; August 1990.
Mademoiselle, August 1983.
New York Times, November 20,1991; November 26,1991.
People, June 11,1984; February 15,1988; May 2,1988.
Rolling Stone, August 9,1990.
Stereo Review, June 1988.
Teen, September 1988.
Variety, March 23,1992.
Wilson Library Bulletin, September 1990.