Lita Ford was 17 when she started her ascent into rock stardom. When I was 17 I dreamed of being able to play just like her, and that is just one of the reasons I decided to head out to Los Angeles and be in the venue that started it all to see her receive Guitar Player Magazine's Certified Guitar Legend award in person.
Lita Ford has never graced the cover of a guitar magazine. To those of us that know what she's capable of playing, that, in and of itself, is sacrilege. The rock and roll world has always been a boys club. Then Lita arrived and the world took notice. As the lead guitarist in The Runaways, she had to fight rumours that other people were behind a curtain playing her intricate solos. As a solo artist she fought the inevitable battle of being perceived as a sex symbol that "only became popular because she was hot." That last quote is from a former male acquaintance of mine who was spared losing any teeth only because I had better things to do than go to jail over a misogynist ignoramus. Ms.Ford has proven after decades in this monster known as the music industry that she cannot only play, she can play better than most people: male or female.
I was in attendance at the iconic Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Blvd. on March 26 where the Rock Against MS benefit took place, and to see Lita receive an award that she has poured a lifetime of hard work into achieving. Being in the venue where The Runaways began their career and seeing her walk up and receive her award (from Cherie Curie, no less) all these years later felt extremely surreal to me, so I can't imagine what was going through her mind when she stepped onto that stage that she had graced so many times before.
In her acceptance speech, Lita demonstrated the same thing she does when she plays: it has to come from the heart. No typewritten notes. No boring thank you's to the powers that be. The part that struck me most was when she recounted how as a young girl, people would come over to her parents' house to hear her play and they'd ask her "how can you play that?" and her response was "why CAN'T you play it?" My own personal answer to her would be "because I'm not Lita Ford", and just like most virtuosos she'd probably shake her head not understanding why.
Once the award presentation was done, Lita and her band returned to the stage to perform Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak", "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones, and her own "Kiss Me Deadly". Then something really extraordinary happened. Cherie Curie joined her former Runaways bandmate on stage and together they ripped into "Cherry Bomb." At The Whiskey. If that wasn't enough, the audience was left stunned as Cherie and Lita sang "Queens of Noise" together and completely nailed it. The audience (including me) was left stunned because I don't think anyone in a million years would have anticipated "Queens of Noise" being performed by Lita and Cherie, at The Whiskey, in 2014.
Speaking of shock, some are surprised to find out that Lita is the first woman to be bestowed with the Certified Guitar Legend award, but my response to the shock is always: "Who else would you give it to first?" Who else can play like that? Who else had to fight for so hard for so long AND plays like she does? That's not to take away from the women that play solid rhythm guitar and are often underrated by fans, but Lita can shred. Who else is there that has done it so well for so long? The answer is: no one. It absolutely HAD to be Lita Ford. The travesty is that it took so long. Guitar Player Editor Michael Molenda has my absolute respect and I'm a big fan because he has done a great job of profiling more women in the publication since he took over the reigns at the magazine.
It's not about speed or note for note solos (even though she slays those dragons easily). For this writer, Lita's playing has always been about passion. Heart. Feel. When she plays something it cuts you to the core. If it doesn't, you're not listening. Her solos are melodic and they don't exist just as a means of showing off. She doesn't play something that won't benefit the song as a whole. Many guitarists could learn from this one element of her playing. Many of those same guitarists HAVE graced the covers of guitar magazines, often multiple times within the same year. They are revered and deified by editors, fans, and often, the manufacturers that make musical instruments. You know what Lita did while that was happening? She kept playing. She kept being the pioneer. She didn't stop just because the comments or underhanded snickers from side stage or boring music critics consistently challenged the influence she has had on so many people. Warriors keep going, and if nothing else, Lita Ford is a warrior of the music industry. She referred to herself as the "Number 1 bitch from hell" last night to thunderous applause from the audience. If that doesn't scream "warrior" I don't know what does.
Last night, while I took the photo you see above I had tears well up in my eyes. The guitar playing world stood up and gave her the proverbial standing ovation she has deserved for years, and for the right reason - a reason I've known about since I was a little girl: that girl can play.
Congratulations Ms.Ford. On behalf of guitarists everywhere, thank you for the memories, the songs, the inspiration, and for the callouses we developed on our fingers trying to learn your songs. We are eternally grateful. Keep kicking ass.