Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Runaway Looks Back: Lita Ford on Her Painful Past and Thunderous Future

Lita Ford in the '80s (photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions)

Having Lita Ford on the other end of the phone is like getting a jolt of energy directly into your eardrum. Affable and eager to chat, the former Runaways guitarist and undisputed Queen of Heavy Metal certainly had a lot to talk about during our recent call, starting off with her fantastic upcoming album.

Out April 15 on SPV/Steamhammer, Time Capsule is a special collection of previously unreleased songs written by Ford in the '80s and demoed in the late '80s/very early '90s with a host of a big-name friends from the era. Musicians on the tracks include Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Gene Simmons of KISS, Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big/The Winery Dogs), Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction) and Jeff Scott Soto, among others. The songs were drawn from a number of 24-track analog tapes found in a closest while Ford was clearing out her home following her divorce from former Nitro singer Jim Gillette. The recordings represent moments of fun with friends put down on tape without any serious consideration of where the sessions would ultimately end up.

“We were just goofing around and we were just open for anything,” Ford says. “Because we were goofing around and we weren’t doing this for album purposes, we didn't think it would be used [or] be put on an album. It's got that loose feel and that vibe to it where anything goes.”

Three of Time Capsule's tracks (“Killing Kind,” “Where Will I Find My Heart Tonight” and the astonishing “War Of The Angels”) were later found on Ford's 1995 album, Black, but appear here in a more relaxed - and considerably stronger - form than what producers The Robb Brothers turned the songs into on the final record.

“[They] are great guys; don't get me wrong,” she says. “They were fantastic, but they made a mess of the songs [on Black], and they didn't come out as good as the demos, let's just say.”

Recorded circa '89, “Rotten To The Core” finds Gene Simmons laying down a pounding bass line while then-KISS six stringer Bruce Kulick brings in extra guitar.

“Gene and Bruce had the song already basically started,” Ford recalls. “There's different versions of that song; the version I got was just bass, and Gene was trying to sing me the guitar lines. He said, 'You know, I can't sing this. Let me get Bruce in here.' So Bruce came down and showed me the rhythm parts, and we left it at that and I finished the song. It was a three-way writing session, which turned out to be a blast in the studio. Gene was very serious about his work. It's a cool song.”

One of Time Capsule's most unexpected contributors, Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, plays mandolin and guitar on “Killing Kind.” Just another happy accident in Los Angeles.

“He was in the studio next door to us,” Ford says. “Somebody came in and said, 'Hey, Dave Navarro's next door.' I said, 'Shit, grab him! Bring him in here; let's put him on something!'”

Sadly, Time Capture is also a reminder of an absent friend. Many of the album's songs feature former Odin/Lostboys bassist Jimmy Tavis, who passed away in 2009. Ford remembers the fallen musician fondly.

“Jimmy was a doll, an absolute doll,” she says. “As a matter of fact, his big brother [Bernie] is in the 'Shot Of Poison' video. He's the hot-looking, sexy guy who tears up plastic...We wrapped him in Saran Wrap, and he breaks out of it. It's just a really cool look. Jimmy's in the 'Larger Than Life' video.' I met him backstage in Las Vegas at a Chippendales show, which his brother was in. One of the guys in the Chippendales show was dancing to one of my songs, 'Cherry Red.' I went backstage to say hello to the guy who's dancing to my song, and I met Jimmy, because he was there with his brother. We ended up living together for a while; he lived at my house. We had a lot of good times, and he was just a sweetheart of a guy. He had some health issues, and it broke my heart because he was so young and handsome. He was just too young to have health issues.”

Considering how youthful and vibrant Ford sounds in conversation, it's truly hard to believe that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Runaways album. While that band was obviously Ford's first opportunity to showcase her killer guitar skills to the world, the stunning “I'm A Million” off 1978's criminally overlooked And Now... The Runaways also put her in the lead vocal position for the first time in her life.

“It was [producer John Alcock's] idea,” she recalls of the uncharacteristic six-minute number. “[He] wanted to bring out my guitar playing, and I got stuck singing it. I was like... I didn't know how to sing yet! I hadn't really gone through vocal lessons. My guitar playing is a gift from God; I picked up the guitar and started playing when I was a kid... But when it came to lead vocals, that was a whole different animal for me. 'I'm A Million' was the producer’s idea to bring out my guitar playing more so than anything else. He focused on the main musicians in the band, which were Sandy and I. That's kind of how that song came about.”

Soon after that album's release, The Runaways were no more. Ford grew her voice into one of the most recognizable and cherished sounds of '80s Hard Rock/Metal, while fellow Runaway guitarist Joan Jett went on to build a successful solo career that thrives to this day. With original singer Cherie Currie also still out there performing, what are the realistic chances of The Runaways reforming? While drummer Sandy West and bassist Laurie McAllister are no longer with us (and surviving bassists Micki Steele, Peggy Foster, Jackie Fox and Vicki Blue are all busy with individual lives and projects out of the spotlight), will it ever be possible for the band's main three surviving members to figure out a way to join up again for something new? As made frustratingly clear in Ford's recently released (and impossible-to-put-down) memoir, Living Like A Runaway, any talk of the band's return seems to dissipate as soon as Jett and/or her manager, Kenny Laguna, enter the picture. But why does Jett have such a wall up when it comes to revisiting The Runaways, even after so many years?

“It's her managers; it's not her,” Ford replies. “They have an issue with me; they always have... Right from the moment The Runaways broke up, they just put up a brick wall and said, 'You are not coming anywhere near our Joan.' I thought, 'What?!' We were sisters in The Runaways; we got along great. We were the only two out of the band who never argued; we never fought and never had a cross word to each other, ever. And then there's this guy all of a sudden who is telling me basically to go fuck myself - not only that, [but] trying to sabotage my career so Joan can have it all. I personally think the world is big enough for more than one female. We have Chrissie Hynde; we have Pat Benatar. There are so many other females out there, but for some reason, he saw me as a threat to Joan. And I wasn't. We're two totally different artists; our music isn't even alike. We appeal to different audiences. He feels like it's a competition between us, and he's turned it into a war. I kept my mouth shut for 30 years while he continued to sabotage my career. He would call photographers, he would call video directors [and] he would call booking agents and say things like, 'If you put Lita Ford on that tour, you will never work with Joan Jett again.' Nine times out of 10, the people would tell him to go screw off and they would do it anyway. But there were a couple of times that really fucked me up. It's like, 'Dude, focus on your own artist and leave me alone!' He's still doing it today. It's retarded. I love the girl; I want to work with her, and I think now's a great time if we did work together. So it's him, not Joan.”

Easily the most intriguing Rock autobiography in years, Living Like A Runaway offers (among other things) a glimpse into Ford's insanely wild ride in the music business. From rising to the top of an industry swarming with misogynistic musicians and clueless managers to having enough fun with the opposite sex to make even Pamela Des Barres blush, Ford offers readers an experience so vivid that they can practically smell the pizza from the Rainbow on the pages. However, the good times come to a screeching halt when the story delves into Ford's tumultuous mid-'80s relationship with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. While Ford worshipped Iommi as a musician from the moment she first saw him live with the Sabs at the Long Beach Auditorium in 1971, she claims that being close to him during the following decade meant being subjected to an abusive, terrifying drug addict who beat her on more than one occasion. (As she details in the book, one particularly violent episode with Iommi led to her to seek refuge at former boyfriend Nikki Sixx's house. Concerned, Sixx offered her heroin to help treat the pain of her concussion; she snorted a little before falling asleep. The next day, she found out Iommi was rehearsing with her bassist, Gordon Copley, and drummer, Eric Singer, behind her back. Finally having enough, she packed up and left for good. Singer offers some of his own recollections from the time period here.)

Not surprisingly, initial news reports of this content appearing in Living Like A Runaway led to a firestorm of vitriol aimed towards Ford, with the comment section brigade accusing her of being everything from a delusional liar to an opportunist looking to drum up publicity for her book and album. (Sadly, this kind of negative knee-jerk reaction against an accuser has become all too common in today's music world, as other female artists have received similar online attacks in recent times when speaking out about being abused by well-known males in this industry.) Ford not only sticks by her story, but has no time for the rabble gathering on the Internet to condemn her for what she has to say.

“First of all, I don't read that crap, because it is crap and they don't know the true story unless they've read the book or have been there themselves,” she says. “You can ask Nikki... I went to his house. I had been beaten up severely; the guy almost killed me. A lot of it maybe could have been his drug problem. He was taking mass quantities of drugs like you wouldn't fucking believe, on an Elvis Presley level. Jars and jars of downers...He would buy hundreds of dollars' worth of cocaine on a daily basis.

“There are different kinds of abuse, and people need to realize that,” she continues. “There's sexual abuse, there's mental and emotional abuse – where people say really horrible things to you – and then there's physical abuse, where someone just turns around and hits you. Tony was physically abusive. He was not verbally abusive [or] sexually abusive; he was just physically abusive. I'm not making it up; I couldn't possibly make up a story like that. I'm not that good of a liar... He had choked me unconscious – true story, like it or not. I woke up, and he was in a rage. I bolted for the door. He was not dressed; he was in his underwear, so he wasn't going to follow me out into the hallway. I'm sure that I'm not the first woman that he's done this to. Maybe his wife who he was with before he was with me... I'm sure she's been pushed around. But I was in love with Tony. He was my everything; he was my world, my idol, my lover. I was going to marry him; I was engaged. I didn't know anything about an abusive relationship. I had never been in one before. I asked my mother; I actually lied to my mother and I said, 'Mom, I've got a girlfriend whose boyfriend hit her.' And she said [mimicking a thick Italian accent], 'Lita, he do it once, he do it again.' I just went, 'Oh my God.' He had done it more than once, and I knew that it was only a matter of time; I needed to get out of there. Thank God we weren't married and we had no kids, so I packed up and left. I'm sorry for the people who love Tony, but nobody loved him as much as I did, and I'm the one who suffered from it. I went into like a post-traumatic stress [scenario] because of what he did. It affected me in a huge, huge way. I went out and got that tattoo on my shoulder with the dragon and the guitar. It was a rebellious thing; I didn't even want a tattoo. He wouldn't let me drink alcohol, but he can do all these drugs. That was okay, but he wouldn't let me have a glass of wine. When we split up, I went on a drinking binge, just because Tony said I couldn’t. If you read his book [2011's Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath], his chapter about me is only a page and a half. We were together two years, so I don't know how two years turns into a page and a half – probably because he doesn't remember half of it.”

While Ford has spent a lot of time looking at her past lately, she is focused on kicking ass in the present and future. At 57, she is still active on the road and in the studio, currently gearing up for a tour with Halestorm beginning April 1 and a new album slated for 2017. Currently, she is backed by a bulletproof group of musicians including guitarist Patrick Kennison (ex Union Underground), bassist Marty O'Brien and former Vinnie Vincent Invasion/Nelson drummer Bobby Rock.

“Together, we're just rolling thunder,” she says.

Armed with an incredible new book and one of the year's best albums, Lita Ford is proof that the real thing can have a long career in music. Forty years later, she is still tearing it up – just like the Queen of Heavy Metal always has. If you're new to Lita Ford or want a powerful reminder of how great she truly is, Time Capsule is where to go.

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 

Official Lita Ford Website

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Monday, March 28, 2016

Webster Hall Gets the WOO: Nona Hendryx on Honoring Bernie Worrell

Source: www.sweetrelief.org

As recently discussed on this website, the great Bernie Worrell is working hard to explore new sonic journeys while battling a variety of serious health issues including prostate cancer and Stage IV lung cancer. Now, a number of the Wizard of WOO's peers and closest musical collaborators are coming together to celebrate his extraordinary contributions to music and raise money to help cover his mounting medical expenses.

On April 4 at Webster Hall in NYC, the Black Rock Coalition, Sweet Relief and R&B/Soul legend Nona Hendryx present “All the WOO in the World,” a “benefit/funkraiser” that is set to feature one of the most extraordinary casts of musicians ever assembled in one place for one evening. Artists scheduled to perform as of this writing include Worrell's former P-Funk bandmates George Clinton, Maceo Parker and Boosty Collins as well as Living Colour, producer/bassist (and longtime Worrell cohort) Bill Laswell, Bernard Fowler (Rolling Stones/Tackhead), Rick Springfield, Melvin Gibbs (Rollins Band), Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), actress Meryl Streep (who starred with Worrell in last year's Ricki and the Flash) and many more. (Seattle-based benefit shows for Worrell are slated for April 9 at the Sea Monster Lounge and April 19 at the Nectar Lounge, respectively. A benefit show is also being held in Bellingham, WA on April 16 at the Wild Buffalo.)

At the time of our call in mid-March, Hendryx was bouncing from meeting to meeting, working with artists and other show organizers in ensuring that the April 4 event measures up to the greatness of the man it aims to honor.

“It started out to be something that was fairly small and turned into something quite large,” she said.

Hendryx's friendship with the Wizard of WOO dates back to the '70s, when he was changing music history with P-Funk and she was a member of the legendary Labelle (“Lady Marmalade”). Not only did the two acts have the same lawyer, but they also shared the talents of costume designer Larry LeGaspi (also know for his work with KISS). Hendryx and Worrell have worked together off and on ever since, appearing on each other's stages and albums and performing together as part of Talking Heads' legendary 1980-1981 touring lineup.

“Performing with Bernie has always just been magical and a pleasure for me,” she says. “We kind of come from the same place in terms of how music flows from us and being able to be improvisational on stage but always serving the music. I love how Bernie's willing to explore sound; that's one of the greatest things I've learned or shared with him.”

The evening's stellar lineup and auction items were helped along in large part by Bootsy Collins, who rallied his friends in the industry to get involved.

“One of the things that really helped was Bootsy just put the call out, and we got a great response from him going, 'Bernie needs your help,'” Hendryx notes. 

At the time of this writing, items that will be up for auction at “All the WOO in the World” include a signed bass from Flea, a signed guitar from Carlos Santana, a signed tour poster of The Rolling Stones courtesy of Worrell collaborator Keith Richards and a signed drum head from Dennis Chambers (P-Funk All-Stars). Moog has also donated a new Moog Voyager (which Worrell is expected to play that evening) for the auction, while an attendee will also have a chance to walk away with the melodica that Worrell is holding in the show poster above.

“There are other people who would like to be there and are sending things to help; others are buying tickets even though they can't be there,” Hendryx says. “What we're hoping is that this love and appreciation will maybe kill some of the cancer cells.”

According to its official website, the Black Rock Coalition “was created in the fall of 1985 in New York City with the purpose of creating an atmosphere conducive to the maximum development, exposure and acceptance of Black alternative music. The BRC seeks to foster cooperation among musicians and like organizations through networking and shared resources. The BRC opposes those racist and reactionary forces within the American music industry which undermine and purloin our musical legacy and deny Black artists the expressive freedom and economic rewards that our Caucasian counterparts enjoy as a matter of course.” Worrell currently serves on the BRC Board of Directors.
Sweet Relief was founded in 1993 by Victoria Williams, a promising musician who backed out of a high-profile tour with Neil Young when he began experiencing symptoms of what was later revealed to be multiple sclerosis. According to its website, the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund “provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability or age-related problems.” 

“It came out of an unfortunate situation, but [Victoria's] difficulties and illness spawned something that can help musicians over time,” Hendryx says. “Their focus is being there to help and support musicians when they're in need. That is such a needed organization; I was just so grateful that there was one that did exist.

“They're a not-for-profit, with the exception of a small amount of money that goes to another organization [Music4Sight] that helps musicians with poor eyesight," she adds. “As rock 'n' rollers age, their eyesight becomes a problem, and some deal with blindness and issues like that.”

Hendryx says that in addition to hosting a donation page for Worrell on their website, Sweet Relief will run on online auction for items that don't sell at the show.

While “All the WOO in the World” promises to be a fun-filled evening, it is undeniably frustrating that something like this even has to take place. A musician might be on a slew of hit songs, but he or she rarely gets the same 401(k), health care package and other perks that are given to those who work at the record company. But surely there's money to be made from a hit song, right? Well, consider that a song or album selling in the four digits can get on the Billboard charts these days, and the fact that a side/backing player or singer on the track very likely doesn't get a slice of even that small of a pie. Let's add a mortgage, rent, kids and general living expenses to the mix. That's a lot for a healthy person to handle, let alone a 71-year-old man with cancer like Worrell.

“The artists are given a contract that can be terminated the next day,” Hendryx observes. “It's usually not on the artists' side; it's more towards the company's side. The costs ultimate come out of the artist for the music that they make and the products that are sold...Our business doesn't run like a businesses that cares about the people who create what it is that feeds the business. Nobody's changed that in all of these years.”

If anyone deserves respect and riches, it's Worrell. Go through the top Rap songs of the late '80s through mid-'90s. Do you like those grooves? You should, as they're most likely samples of Worrell's magic.

“Hop-Hop owes a huge debt to Bernie Worrell,” Hendryx states. “If you listen to 'Straight Outta Compton,' that's all P-Funk music.”

With “All the WOO in the World” and the other show slated to occur, Bernie Worrell's fans and fellow players will be given a unique opportunity to show appreciation and thanks for the man while is able to see, hear, feel and know the love that so many have for him. Just as he was on those classic P-Funk records, Bernie Worrell remains one of the music's most innovative and identifiable creators.

As Hendryx says, “You know Aretha's voice, you know Gladys Knight's voice, you know Patti LaBelle's voice, you know Tina's voice and you know Bernie's sound.”

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Monday, March 7, 2016

Anvil is Anvil: The Continuing Adventures of Metal's Most Determined Band

Left to right: Chris Robertson, Steve "Lips" Kudlow, Robb Reiner (photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions)

Most soon-to-be-60 year olds wouldn't think of celebrating such a milestone by going on a lengthy tour with their long-running Metal band, but that's exactly what Anvil singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow was gearing up to do at the time of our recent call. Jovial and full of energy, Kudlow couldn't contain his excitement over the current state of his band's long career. On February 26, the veteran Canadian act (completed by drummer/co-founder Robb Reiner and new bassist Chris Robertson) released their 16th album, Anvil Is Anvil (SPV/Steamhammer) – a collection not only created for the fans, but with the fans.

Last summer, the band launched a PledgeMusic campaign to fund the recording of Anvil Is Anvil, offering a slew of special fan incentives including a guitar lesson with Kudlow, a drum lesson with Reiner and an opportunity to sing backing vocals on the album. The group's inaugural experience using crowdfunding was a rousing success, raising 115 percent of their goal and enabling the band to produce the follow-up to 2013's Hope In Hell in financial comfort. The end result is 2016's first bona fide party record, with crushing riffs fueling fun (and funny) tracks like “Zombie Apocalypse” and “Fire On The Highway.” The tone of the album is set by the opening “Daggers And Rum,” an earworm devoted to (you guessed it) pirates. The song's creation began in 2014, when Canadian filmmaker and performer Spookey Ruben asked Kudlow to play a pirate -  Captain Nelson “Snarls” Hornswoggle -  in a sketch called “The Curse of Eggbeard Island” in his live variety show, Dizzy Playground LIVE! Kudlow was also asked to compose a pirate-themed song for the affair.

“I went, 'What the fuck? A pirate? Okay,'” he recalls. “[Spookey] sent me a picture that he put together with an art program on his computer of me as a pirate, and I just fucking cracked up, man! It was fucking great. I go, 'Okay, now I'm inspired!'”

Taking his cue from the classic Riot track “Swords And Tequila,” Kudlow named his song-in-progress “Daggers And Rum” and promptly went on an Internet hunt for pirate shanties for further inspiration.

“I came to realize that 90 percent of what was written on the Internet was originally used in musical plays - H.M.S. Pinafore and things like that,” he explains. “[I thought,] 'Pirate shanties are stuff that's really made up after the fact, they're not made up by pirates.' Basically, that's that feeling I got. I said, 'Okay, there's nothing authentic, so I'm gonna make one up myself.'

Once the lyrics and vocals were in place, Anvil brought in the PledgeMusic supporters who chose the premium to sing backing vocals on the record to come and add their voices to the song's unforgettable chant: Yo ho ho/Yo ho ho/Give us a bottle of rum/Yo ho ho/Yo ho ho/We be the scurvy scum.

“The people had no clue,” recalls Kudlow of the experience. “They were going, 'What the fuck? This is going on an Anvil album? What is this?'” (laughs)

This kind of fun, lighthearted spirit has been a staple of Anvil's world since the 2008 premiere of the now-legendary documentary film, Anvil! The Story of Anvil (directed by the famed screenwriter and former Anvil roadie Sacha Gervasi). After years of stress and struggle in one of the most savage industries in the world, Kudlow finally achieved global recognition – and saw his life completely turn around. When fans saw the film, they got an intimate view inside the life of a middle-aged man working at Choice Children’s Catering and playing at mostly empty venues. But thanks to the film's popularity and a renewed interest in the band, Kudlow was finally able to fulfill his decades-long dream and do Anvil as a full-time profession. 

“It's fantastic, miraculous,” he says. “I'm grateful as fuck.”

While Anvil stands as an encouraging example of success through perseverance, Kudlow cautions newer musicians that the industry is not the place to look for riches.

“Don't ever expect to make money, because that's not why you're doing it,” he says. “If you expect to make money, quit now. Don't bother. Find your money elsewhere until you can make your band big enough so you can make money, but don't expect to make money from the band. Don't put that weight on the band that they have to make money. If you do, you're going to ruin your future. You have to find ways to finance your life and set your life up so that you can do music.

“Basically and fundamentally, the equation is 90 percent for them and 10 percent for us,” he adds. “It works like that all the way to the fucking top. That's the real truth. You've got to fucking dig in and work your ass off to get anything out of this; it's just the way it is. If you look at a band like Metallica, they spend $1 million putting on a show. Well, that's all the money they might get paid for the show. Where are they making their money? Probably the t-shirts, and that's precisely what the fuck it is. You don't make money from royalties. There's no more record sales; it's almost gone. The only time music is worth anything is before you record it.”

Thankfully, this dilemma is no longer a problem for Anvil. Kudlow says that Anvil Is Anvil is the first release to not leave the band in debt – a feat achieved thanks to the success of the PledgeMusic campaign. Not surprisingly, the guitarist is quick to sing the crowdfunding platform's praises.

“Fans are getting this incredible fucking opportunity to be completely attached to the band and be directly involved with the band,” he says. “It's so much more of an intimate situation. On the financial side, they just paid for your record; there is no advance. We don't create our own vinyl, so [we] give the rights to the record company so they can create vinyl, so they give you an advance. So now, you've got money from Pledge, you've got money from the record company...son of a bitch, we're not in the hole! We don't owe any money, and the record's coming out. What?! (laughs) For the first time in 40 years, we're on top rather than in debt after finishing a record. The new model works better than the old model ever did.”

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com