Lzzy Hale and Lita Ford on Touring Together, Gear and Breaking Down Barriers

(Image credit: Jimmy Hubbard)

“It just made the hair on your arms stand up,” says Lita Ford with a laugh. “It did mine, at least!”

It takes a lot to impress a legendary rock goddess whose four-decade-plus résumé includes membership in the trail-blazing Seventies band the Runaways and Eighties MTV smashes like “Kiss Me Deadly,” but the experience of singing with Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale has clearly done just that.

Ford and Hale recently capped their three-week U.S. tour together—which also featured hard-rocking newcomers Dorothy as the opening act—by joining forces onstage in New York for a heart-stopping rendition of “Close My Eyes Forever,” Ford’s 1988 hit duet with Ozzy Osbourne, that came complete with dueling double-neck guitars.

The pair’s performance—which raised the hair on Ford’s arms, and which can now be seen on YouTube—was notable not just for its symbolic summit meeting of rock goddesses from two different generations, but for the obvious love and respect that radiated between the two women.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Hale tells Guitar World. “Everybody wants to talk about chicks, like, “So, do you hate each other?” I’m like, “No—we’ve got enough love for everybody!” It was such an amazing experience to be out on the road with Lita, and it makes my heart happy just thinking about it.”

2016 has already been a big year for Ford, who followed the February release of her autobiography Living Like a Runaway: A Memoir with the April release of Time Capsule, an 11-track trawl through her Eighties back pages. Hale, likewise, has been touring hard with Halestorm on the strength of their 2015 smash Into the Wild Life. But despite its relative briefness, Ford and Hale are already looking back on their tour together as a high point of their year, and seem to be truly enjoying the bond that formed between them over the course of it.

“We’re texting each other all the time now,” says Ford. “Lzzy just bought a house, so she texted me about that, and I sent her a picture of my new haircut. We’re keeping in touch, and it’s very cool.”

Guitar World spoke to both of them about the tour, their guitars and the intriguing possibility of more Lita ’n’ Lzzy magic to come.

How did this tour come together?

LZZY HALE: The tour was actually something we’d been talking about putting together for years; it just had to be the right fit. There’s always a stigma, no matter what you do, that comes with having a tour that’s all female-fronted. I wanted it to reflect my personal corner of the world—what I think a rock and roll frontwoman should be, and what kind of voices and attitudes get me excited.

In other words, pretty much the opposite of Lilith Fair.

HALE: Hahaha, yeah! The whole tour really turned out to be a three-way “passing of the torch” situation. You’ve got Dorothy, this amazing young band starting out; I’m kind of smack-dab in the middle of my career; and then obviously you’ve got the legendary Lita Ford, who’s the Queen. It was just an amazing thing to be a part of.

LITA FORD: They put these three bands together, and the fucking promoters couldn’t believe it—the shows just sold out instantly, like BOOM! So obviously, we were on to something great. We’re hoping to be able to do another month with Halestorm, because we haven’t hit the West Coast with them yet. And that’s kind of fucked up! [laughs]

Lzzy, what does Lita’s music and legacy mean to you?

HALE: She’s like one of my foremothers of rock. This woman is one of the few that never quit, that never gave up regardless of what she had to go through. We had a lot of talks on tour about how she literally kicked the door down, you know? She was telling me stories of things she had to go through—just because she was a girl in rock—that I’ve never had to go through, and the reason I never had to go through them is because she had to. So I owe a lot to this woman. There were so many times along the way where she could have said, “Fuck this, I’m out!” But she’s still doing it, at 57 years old in her bright red leather pants. [laughs] It was like, “Man, I have no excuse at all to not keep going!” So it was very, very inspiring to play with her. She made me realize on this tour that I’m supposed to be here, and I’m supposed to do this; this is where I need to be.

Lita, were you at all familiar with Halestorm’s music before this tour?

FORD: Honestly, I had never listened to Halestorm until about a week before the tour; I was aware there was a band called Halestorm, but that was it. But once I heard them, it was like, “This was meant to be!” This is like, the payoff for fucking kicking open that door, you know? Lzzy is such a Lita fan, and standing next to her onstage, I could feel that—the white double-neck, and the way she stands, it’s like, “Wow!” It’s mind-blowing for me. It’s the ultimate compliment! There’s my reward…I just soak it up. I love her so much; she’s down to earth and real. There’s no arrogance about her, or anything like that. She’s so cool!

HALE: There were so many moments on this tour, where I’m like, “Wow, I’m sitting here having lunch with Lita Ford—and she’s totally cool!” She’s my kind of chick; she’s been hanging out with dudes her whole life; she has a crass sense of humor, and no qualms about talking about anything. I’m the same way, so we got along really well. And it turns out we have very similar pasts—we both started in bands when we were 13, and we both had very supportive parents.

What were your first guitars, respectively?

FORD: There’s a picture in my book of my first guitar—it was a little Spanish guitar, and I’d asked my mother and father to buy it for me for my eleventh birthday. I’d just turned 11, and I’m trying to play Black Sabbath on a nylon-stringed Spanish guitar, and it just didn’t sound right. “Mom? I don’t think this is the right guitar!” [laughs]

HALE: It’s funny, because that’s exactly the same stuff that I started out trying to learn! [laughs] Black Sabbath had those big open chords, and it was something I identified with because of my parents’ music. My first guitar was a used B.C. Rich Mockingbird—and the only reason I got it was because I had already agreed to buy a Kustom keyboard amp from this guy, and he was like, “I have this old guitar, too!” It was candy apple red, and I was like, “Awesome!” It was all beat up, and I didn’t know anything about what kind of pickups were in it, but it was mine!

Lita, how did you get your first electric, and what was it?

FORD: I ended up getting a job at this huge medical center; I was 14, but I lied about my age—and because I had big boobs, I got away with it! [laughs] I got the job and saved three hundred and fifty dollars, and I went out and bought a chocolate Gibson SG. And the rest is history!

So Lita, you went from Gibson to B.C. Rich—and Lzzy, you went from B.C. Rich to Gibson. How did that happen?

FORD: I started playing B.C. Riches in the early Eighties. A friend of a friend introduced me to Bernie Rico, Sr., and he was cranking out some monstrous guitars. Holy shit! They were beefy, they were heavy, they were powerful—and they looked really metal. I love Les Pauls—goddamn, I love Les Pauls—but these were different, and I like to be different; I don’t like to copy everybody else. I fell in love with the company, and they fell in love with me. Bernie gave me whatever the fuck I wanted; he did these great guitars for me, like the “Stoli”—I got that one in the early Eighties. It was my favorite drink at the time, and I thought, Let’s make an alcoholic guitar! [laughs] One time, I even picked up a tree trunk from the side of the road when my dad and I went to Oregon on a fishing trip, and I brought it back to the B.C. Rich factory. I was like, “Can you make me a guitar out of this?” They were like, “Where did you get this wood? This is amazing—it’s like curly maple mixed with burly maple mixed with fire maple!” It was dense and thick as shit, and they made me a killer guitar out of it.

Do you still play it?

LITA: I’m about to pull it out of storage. I haven’t played it in a long, long time. I’m about to pull my old Warlocks back out—I’ve been using my B.C. Rich signature Warlock on tour—and about to pull out this “fishing wood” guitar. It’s kind of like a Strat, with a bolt-on neck, but it’s heavy as shit. It’s got a pre-amp in it, and DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups. The pre-amp is a pull-push knob, and the guitar doesn’t have any other knobs on it. The wood is so beautiful that we didn’t want to put anything else on there; we wanted to show as much of the wood as possible. It’s just gorgeous!

HALE I actually still have a B.C. Rich Bich somewhere; I really should have brought it out on this tour with me. [laughs] My first Gibson was a ’91 Les Paul Custom tobacco burst. I still have it—it’s still amazing-sounding—but it took me a long time of saving up to get that guy! Gibsons are just so badass, and the people at Gibson have been really great to me, so it’s been a good fit. My signature Gibson Explorer is still my main guitar these days.

You both played double-necks for your live duet on “If I Close My Eyes Forever.” Tell us about those guitars.

FORD: Mine’s a prototype—it’s an ’81. I thought, A chick on a double-neck? Oh fuck, that would be awesome! I called Bernie and said, “Let me try one of your double-neck Rich Biches!” But they were huge! They covered almost all of me, from my boobs down to my knees. It was ridiculous! [laughs] I asked them if they would make me a smaller one, and they did by cutting away some of the wood; there’s only one like it! In the top neck, the 12-string, I have a chorus/flanger switch; and then on the bottom neck, the six-string, I have a pre-amp switch that really kicks it into overdrive for leads and power chords.

HALE: Mine’s a strange one, actually—it’s a Gibson double-neck SG with a standard six-string neck on top, and a baritone on the bottom. I got it made for our song “I Am the Fire,” because in the studio I played baritone the entire time, but I had to do this crazy six-fret finger stretch in the verses because it’s tuned down to drop-A. It sounded really good in the studio, but I was like, “Let me make it easier on myself!”

A lot of times, our guitar player Joe [Hottinger] and I will write separate parts, but then we flip them live, depending on who has what sound onstage, since it’s only four of us up there. I ended up doing his arpeggio thing in the verses in standard, but I wanted to have that baritone in drop-A for the choruses. So I asked them to make me that double-neck, specifically so I could pull that off live. When we were rehearsing for “Close My Eyes Forever,” Lita was like, “Oh my god, that’s a baritone on the bottom? Okay, so, when the bridge comes in, you need to go right down to that frickin’ bottom A! Use it!” At first I was like, “Well, this is in a totally weird tuning, but I can use the standard on top.” And she was like, “Oh, no—use that low end!” So we ended up making up a part for it. It was really cool!

Lita, you seem to prefer your guitars with built-in effects.

FORD: Hell yeah! I just want to plug in my guitar and play—I don’t want to have to step on all these goddamn boxes! I still use ’em, but I hate ’em. I have a delay pedal, and sometimes I’ll use a volume pedal, but the only pedal I really like is my Dunlop Jerry Cantrell wah-wah. I love how it sounds, I love working it; it makes me feel cool to stand on it, you know? And it’s got such a deep swoop!

HALE: Yeah, I’m very similar. I love using lots of different pedals in the studio, because you have the time to experiment with sounds. But when you’re singing, fronting a rock band and playing, you don’t really want to have to think about a lot of that stuff. So for the live show, I keep it fairly minimal. Really, my favorite pedal is the tuner—it’s the “make everything sound better” pedal! [laughs] No, I’m kidding, but I don’t have a lot on my pedal board. I have a Klon Centaur, which is amazing because it gives you that extra boost without really screwing up your tone; it doesn’t get too fuzzy. I have an MXR Line Boost for my leads, and I have a Dunlop Jerry Cantrell wah, too. Oh, those wahs are the best! And that’s about it. I’m the complete opposite of our guitar player, Joe—I think his rig could probably go to the moon twice! [laughs]

It seems like the two of you formed a real bond on this tour. Do you see any sort of collaboration between the two of you happening in the future?

FORD: Oh yeah. I’m feeling something musical, but I don’t know what. I’m waiting for it to poke me in the back and say, “Here’s a song—you guys need to do this!” Lzzy’s fucking incredible—she has a gift from god, you know? I have a gift from god, but in a different way, on guitar. And the two of us together, sparks fly. So I don’t know if it’d be something where I play guitar and she sings, or we both sing, but I would love to do something like that! Maybe it’s something we write together, you know? I wish we could be in a band together—that would be so cool!

HALE: Oh that would be awesome! Absolutely! Are you kidding me? It would be an honor and a privilege. I don’t even know what we would come up with—but whatever it is, I know it would be amazing!

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