In honor of Mother’s Day, Decibel is exclusively premiering the song “Mother” from Lita Ford’s new album Living Like a Runaway (out June 19 on SPV). The Editor in Chief’s wife—christened by Ian Christie as “The Michelle Obama of Death Metal”—and new first-time mom, got on the phone with Lita to discuss heavy metal mommyhood. One listen to the track “Mother” and it’s clear that the original Runaways lead guitarist has been having more downs than ups as a mom lately. She’s working out her problems with her new album, and hoping her fans are ready for a return of her vintage riffs. But whose parenting wisdom does she value? Why, the great George Wendt, of course!
I’ve been listening to the new album. It feels like a throwback to when you were playing back in the ’80s. I felt like I was back in that time. It’s really fun; really good rock.
Lita Ford: I think people miss that time, and people miss that era. And I think a lot of artists now are trying not to sound like that, when I think people want that. Deep down in their heart, it’s like they want to hear those riffs and they want to hear those old leads and the arena choruses. It was one of the best times in the music industry, to me. I just feel like this album that I did, Living Like a Runaway, it’s all real. There’s nothing fabricated about this record. We just did what we wanted to do. We didn’t try to sound like anybody or try not to sound like anybody. It’s not like, “We can’t play that, because that’s too ’80s.” I thought, you know what, it’s real; it’s what’s coming out. It’s got to be right.
It sounded like it was fun, heartfelt. You weren’t worried about what people were going to label it.
No, not at all. Absolutely dead on. That’s pretty much what we wrote this record for, was for people with ears and people with a heart, people with feelings. That’s all you need.
Could you update us on the situation with your kids?
My kids are with their dad [former Nitro frontman Jim Gillette]. There was a huge divorce that went down. Basically, he brainwashed them and took them from me—not legally take them from me, but he took them from me by brainwashing them and telling them, “Oh, you don’t want to go with Mommy, Mommy’s bad. Don’t go with Mommy.” Why put the divorce on the kids? He put the entire weight of the divorce on the back of my kids, is what happened, which is the worst thing any parent could possibly do to their child. It’s like losing your child. It’s like losing your child to some sort of freak, like in the mall or somebody hanging out in the bushes or at a bus stop. You know, you hear all these horror stories—that’s what it’s like, only I know where they are. That’s the only difference.
When I listened to “Mother,” it’s apparent that something like this is going on, but I didn’t know the actual story behind the song.
Yeah, that’s the real story, is in “Mother.” “Mother” is my song to my kids. And I hope that they listen to it and that they’re able to hear it.
You don’t know if they’ve heard it? Have you been in contact with them?
He won’t let them. He won’t let them hear it. He won’t let them have anything to do with me. He won’t let them look at any photographs. I’m wondering if they even have a computer. I mean, it’s bad. It’s just the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life. I wrote this song for them. I wrote this song to tell them how much I love them and to tell them that I didn’t mean for this to happen and that it’s not my fault. I didn’t do this to them, although they think I did. I miss them, I love them. They’re my life.
I think that came across so strongly in the song. It’s very sad and very touching, so I hope they’ll get to hear it.
We should hand a tissue out with everyone that listens to it. I’ve had grown men come over to my house, when they leave they’re crying, it’s like, “Bye, John! You got a Kleenex in your car?”
When I was pregnant, I’d have bad days and uncomfortable days, and it helped me feel better to think, “Lita Ford went through this.” I was hoping you’d talk a little bit about your pregnancies and what you remember about them.
I hated being pregnant. Sometimes you get people that love being pregnant and I understand why. Your hair gets thick and your skin gets real nice, and everyone goes, “You look so radiant!” But you’re like, “I feel like death!” My pregnancies were easy. My first pregnancy with James, it was a full-term pregnancy. I had a cesarean. I looked at the doctor, and I went, “There go my stomach muscles,” because I had the best stomach muscles. We wanted to have a second child, and I wanted my first child to have either a brother or a sister. I was an only child and I really didn’t want James to be an only child. I said to Jim, “Let’s try to have a second child. If I don’t get pregnant, maybe we can get that in vitro fertilization done.” And he said, “I don’t want a gift from science, I want a gift from god!” At that time I was 42 years old. I thought, “I don’t know how easy it’s going to be to get me pregnant at 42 years old.” I swear to god, I got pregnant in three months. I couldn’t believe it. Obviously Rocco was a gift from god. That was cool. I asked James, “What do you want, a boy or a girl?” James said, “I want a boy, just like me.” So, I took him with me to all the ultrasounds. When it got to that certain age, we did amniocentesis, where they take cells and study the cells. They looked at that and they knew it was a boy. And James saw on the ultrasound his little pee-pee. James goes, “Oh, it’s a pee-pee! It’s just like my pee-pee! It’s a boy!”
Were you touring or playing while you were pregnant?
With James, I was five months pregnant and we were doing live shows. It kind of freaked me out. I called the doctor and I asked her, I said, “Is this hurting the child?” Because it’s so loud, the volume is earth-shattering. She was a real smartass on the phone, and she said, “Not unless it’s hurting his ears!” She was being a jerk. I thought, “OK, he’s fine. Never mind.” Then I recorded some stuff in the studio seventh months pregnant. I got in the car and I drove from Panama City, FL to Nashville. I was like, “Man, what if my water breaks on the way?” I was thinking, “I’m just going to go for it and drive.” When I got to the studio, I had to wear my guitar off to one side, because my stomach was so big; I had to wear it over my hip.
How did your rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle influence the raising of your kids?
James, my older son, is amazing on guitar. We did this tour in 2008, and we played Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland—all through Europe. We took the kids. I took them everywhere I went. They didn’t go to school. They were home-schooled. I was their teacher. So, I had them with me all the time. When we came back from these shows, I was in the other room and I heard my guitar solos coming out of the other room. First thing I thought was, “Oh, they’re listening to a tape or they’re listening to some live performance on YouTube” or something. And I walked in the room, and it was my son James. He was playing my solos. I couldn’t believe it. I bought him a Goldtop Les Paul for his 10th birthday. My ex-husband was saying, “He doesn’t want that. He’s not going to play that. You just want that. You’re buying that for yourself.” And I said, “No, that’s not why I’m buying it. I’m buying it because he’s going to play it.” You know, kids are like, “I’m not going to play Mom’s guitars.” I bought him one for himself. I figured I’d put it in the corner of his room, and it can sit there as long as it likes until he’s ready to play it. Sure enough, he picked it up and he was playing the solo to “Close My Eyes Forever.” It blew me away. He had the vibrato. It sounded like me. And from that point he picked up all kinds of stuff—Guns N’ Roses and Def Leppard. It just got bigger and bigger.
Did you teach him guitar, or did he pick it up on his own?
I’d say he did learn from me at first. For a few months we would sit together at night, and we would play together. I would show him a couple of licks, and he would take it and make it his own. I showed him a little bit, but he really took off by himself. He really has a gift from god. I was really blown away.
Is there anything rebellious from your past, maybe with the Runaways or your early solo career, that you would fear your kids getting into? Is there anything that makes you think, “Oh, my god, don’t do that!”?
No, kids gotta be kids. They’ve got to go through that rebellious stage, and you just gotta trust and believe that they’ll do the right thing and not do something stupid. I think kids these days are really smart. I’m not saying the Runaways weren’t smart, but I just think they’re so in tune to more things than we were back in the Runaways. When I was in the Runaways it was 1976. I can’t believe that. When Nixon was in the Watergate Scandal, that’s how long ago that was. We got into other things. But today there are so many electronic devices and interesting things to get into, I think and I hope that my kids will steer towards that and be involved in something that’s more productive instead of just going crazy. With me, I got into playing guitar. I tried to stay away from drugs, but I got mixed up with the wrong people. I didn’t do a lot of drugs like a lot of people think. I did get mixed up into drugs, but I got out of doing drugs quickly, too. When my mom got sick and she passed away, I hung it up. I was like, “Drugs are for sick people, and I’m not sick, so why am I taking these?” I threw everything in the toilet. I put all my liquor in the box out for the trash man to take the next morning. And I haven’t touched them since. I hope my kids are rebellious. I think it’s a cool stage. I just hope that they channel their energy into positive things, like playing guitar or being athletic or being whoever they want to be when they grow up.
What was your policy on foul language? Were you for them using it or against them using it?
They don’t swear! It’s funny, because they’re around bad language all the time, and they never picked up on it. They never did. They just don’t speak like that, it’s really cool. There’s a certain point where you have to watch what you say. Some kids pick up on it and some kids know better.
What kind of music do your kids like that you hate?
They’ve got great taste in music; it’s really amazing. They listen to Def Leppard, they listen to Guns N’ Roses. They love heavy metal. It’s unbelievable. It’s not like they’re bringing home Justin Bieber. I’m not exactly a Justin Bieber fan. I know a lot of people are, and that’s cool. But they’re really into old rock and roll. They love it. Because I home-schooled my sons, I did this thing where, “A is for Alice Cooper, B is for Black Sabbath, C is for Cult, D is for Def Leppard.” We went through the whole alphabet. Then I would teach them all the songs, like, “A is for Alice Cooper,” so we would go through the whole Alice Cooper catalog, and I would play them “School’s Out” and “Welcome to My Nightmare” and “Only Women Bleed.” Then we would go on to Black Sabbath, and we would start playing Black Sabbath songs, AC/DC songs. I taught them the school of rock.
What do you think was the most surprising thing about being a mom, or the surprising way it changed you?
I think being a father and being a mom is probably one of the most difficult jobs in the world. I don’t know what it’s like to be a brain surgeon or anything like that, but I know that being a parent is truly a trying job. I read this article with the actor George Wendt where he said, “Being a parent is half love and half guerilla warfare.” I love that saying, and I thought it was so suitable. I really believe it’s one of the most difficult jobs on the planet.
What’s the most important parenting lesson you’d like to share?
I would say if you ever get angry at your spouse, don’t ever take it out on your kids. Don’t ever put them in a position where you use them as a tool or a pawn. Keep them out of it. Keep them out of your arguments. Keep them out of any family problems. They don’t need to know about it. Just let them be a kid.