When new musical ground is broken, it's an interesting thing. Many times, the artist is just doing something that comes naturally to him or her, and the innovation of the contribution is noticed more in hindsight. In other cases, artists are making music with an exact intent of what walls they'd like to see come crashing down.
In her long and legendary career, Lita Ford has managed to shatter boundaries both ways, whether people liked it or not.
"I've really spent decades in this industry, and it's taken me all this time to get to who I am today and where I am today," said Ford, 53. "Being a woman, it's been a battle. It's been an uphill battle."
In 1975, when Ford was 16, she joined The Runaways as lead guitarist. The influential band — which featured the likes of Joan Jett, Sandy West, Jackie Fox and Cherie Currie — was the first all-girl rock band to reach mainstream success during its short run in the late '70s. (The group was the subject of a 2010 movie, The Runaways, starring Dakota Fanning as Currie and Kristen Stewart as Jett. Scout Taylor-Compton played Ford.)
In the early '80s, Ford decided to pursue a solo career, fronting an all-male backing band with a mission to break into the decade's metal scene, show off her shredding skills and turn a few heads in the process.
"I wanted people to know that I could play guitar. I didn't want another guitar player in the band because they would be the ones that get all the credit," Ford said. "People were just like, 'Wow, she's really doing that. That's amazing.'"
Ford not only had guitar heroics, she had the songs and attitude to compete with the boys. She quickly rose to become the queen of heavy metal, a title that was solidified with her platinum-selling 1988 album, Lita, and the singles Kiss Me Deadly and Close Your Eyes Forever, her duet with metal monarch Ozzy Osbourne.
Like many of her "hair metal" brethren, Ford's sound wasn't as fashionable in the '90s, when the grunge and alternative-rock movements came through and sent her career on a downward trajectory. But an era that was once seen as outdated has come full circle with nostalgic appreciation — and so has Ford's sound.
"Now, I feel like it's starting to come back again. The riffs that so many people miss. So many people love," Ford said. "I think people want to hear it. They miss it."
If Ford's statement has any truth to it, fans of her work will be elated to hear what she's bringing with her latest offering, Living Like a Runaway. That the album's title references her old band is no accident. The album's 10 tracks, whether it's the soaring guitar harmonics and pop-metal of the title track or the plodding stomp of Devil in My Head, hark back to Ford's previous work, with a few modern touches.
"It's some of people's old favorite riffs maybe transformed into 2012," Ford said. "Some things happen on accident. We really meant to go back to basics and it just turns out that way. It came out sounding current."
The second meaning behind Living Like a Runaway refers to the struggles in Ford's personal life. The rocky split from her longtime husband, Jim Gillette, created some turmoil but gave her the inspiration she needed to create the album, with an assist from longtime writing partner Michael Dan Ehmig and eager young producer Gary Hoey.
"I wanted it to be truth. I wanted this record to be reality, and it's real-life drama," Ford said. "We didn't want to settle for anything that was just half-ass."
With a new record, Ford is hitting the road on the Rock of Ages Tour with fellow '80s icons Def Leppard and Poison. When she's not cranking out a quick thunderous set as the show's opening act, she is headlining at clubs. Ford will play Buster's Billiards & Backroom on Thursday in Lexington. She says she will perform her new album, some old hits and, if the crowd is lucky, a Runaways tune (Note: It will not be Cherry Bomb — "Hello, Daddy. Hello, Mom. I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb" — which Ford thinks would be laughable for a fifty- something mother of two to sing.)
It's at these gigs that the trailblazing female rocker is thankful to acquaint herself with loyal fans of yesteryear and a new audience.
"For some reason, that era has made a huge dent in the soundtrack of people's lives, and so much so that it's bred into their offspring," she said. "I feel like I'm in the right place at the right time."
Blake Hannon is a Central Kentucky writer.