Monday, April 18, 2016

Lita Ford - Mississippi Moon Bar April 17th, 2016

Music is full of legends and inside of that are the stories of their life that at times are told in their music.  At times those legends are caught inside of their own environment or stereotypes which can muddy those legends.  All too often those legends aren't legends with just a little afterthought and deep introspective search.  What if we looked at those legends and tried to reshape their legend into its proper spot in music?  Well?

Imagine if you will one of the real legends of rock music were mislabeled inside their genre, until a time where they morph into not only a legend but a real pioneer. I may have channeled Rod Serling for a moment as I said that and for those of you that don't have a clue who he is, he was THE man behind "The Twilight Zone" in the '60's and yes I am that old to remember that.  The point is what if you could look at a real pioneer in music, a stalwart of music in the '80's and realize that they aren't where the are supposed to be?

Yes there is a level of confusion in that description but for understanding you have to look no further to the metal scene of the '80's.  In that era bands like Motley Crue, Ratt, KISS and Guns N' Roses dominated the scene and every week a new hot "metal band" emerged into a scene that at times looked like they would take over.  The music that plugged the airwaves and the videos were full of sexual innuendo and stories of hard drinking, drug using, misogynistic party animals that made up the bands were mind numbing at times.  Through every new album that was released was the overt, in your face tales of bands that lived to just get loaded and laid.  At that time it seemed that every teenage boy wanted to live vicariously through those bands and the era of the "hair band" was born.

I often refer to the "era of hair" and the bands that made the era fairly important in the annals of music.  All too often bands in that era are considered to be "heavy metal" but that blanket statement is usually really shortsighted and far too reaching for it to be correct.  During a conversation I had recently I had an introspective moment where I tried to decipher what the difference between "the era of hair" and "heavy metal" is and I think the one thing that separates the two is pretty simple.  "Heavy metal" is this loud, driving, hardcore message of things that aren't about simply sex, and partying while "hair metal" is the exact opposite to some extent.  Think about bands like Anthrax, WASP, Slayer, and Megadeth they are the epitome of "heavy metal" and bands like Poison, Britny Fox, and Cinderella would fit into that "hair metal" category.

Before a riot ensues, or a stern discussion for that matter, the music of anyone from the "hair metal" side of the aisle is not to be discounted.  If I'm being honest Motley Crue would fit into the description of "hair metal" too but they also fit the "heavy metal" moniker as well.  Today I would consider Motley Crue to be a metal band but I think that many of those bands that are "hair metal" are hard rock bands and most of them were pretty damn good wherever they reside.  Motley Crue is a legend without question but there are other performers that translate just as well as legendary and that is where Lita Ford comes into the conversation.

Lita Ford is a legend and a pioneer.  Ford belonged to one of the great all-women bands in the history of music, "The Runaways" they were true pioneers in music.  Think about this for a moment, of the members of the band were Joan Jett (inducted to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame - 2016), Micki Steele (bass player with the '80's band "The Bangles"), Cherie Currie (solo artist, actress) and the late Sandy West to name a few.  Ford joined the band in 1975 and was part and parcel of their 1976 self titled album "The Runaways" as well as the albums "Queens of Noise," "Waitin' for the Night," and "And Now... The Runaways."

Depending on who one talks to the band fell into many categories of rock music including "glam rock," "hard rock," "heavy metal" and the category I tend to lean toward "punk rock."  The Runaways put together some of the best music during that period in my opinion but right on the cusp of the '80's the band called it quits in 1979.  I think that the breakup in a way was a godsend because of the fact that Jett became a pinnacle in rock history and Ford was ready to take on rock in a much different way.

At a time where women in hard rock were a "novelty" Ford took on a very rocky path to her own legend.  When Ford released "Out for Blood" in 1983 Pat Benatar was THE name for women in rock while artists like Patti Austin, Irene Cara, Bonnie Tyler and Dolly Parton were the only women of note that were charting.  That's really sad in retrospect but when looking at the uphill battle artists like Ford had is very telling.  With each subsequent release of her albums Ford grew as an artist and as a fan favorite and by the time her self-titled album "Lita" was released, she found herself in the middle of that "era of hair" metal.  This is the point where I tell you how Ford is mislabeled as a member of the "era of hair" because she never was.

In spite of the fact that Ford was gaining popularity at that time there is very little in her music that could be considered "hair metal" and for critics that point out the ballads that were intertwined in her albums, nearly every album had ballads for nearly every artist during that time.  The hard edge of Ford's music is clearly visible when you realize that she collaborated with artists and songwriters like Nikki Sixx, Ozzy Osbourne and the late - great Lemmy Kilmister.  Ford enlisted some of the best musicians in rock during that time as well including Randy Castillo (drums - Ozzy Osbourne), Aldo Nova, Hugh McDonald (bass - Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi) and Myron Grombacher (drums - Pat Benatar).  Each gave Ford's music a very sharp edge, that actual edge that only real metal can hold.

For the naysayers, those that think Ford was only a product of that "era of hair" I can tell you that the minute you hear Ford perform live you quickly realize this is a true pioneer in HEAVY METAL music.  I have seen Ford on several occasions, even traveling 100+ miles at one time to see her live so while I knew what to expect I was excited to see her live once again.

Lita Ford performing at the Mississippi Moon Bar
April 17th, 2016
© - 2016
On April 17th, 2016 I traveled to the Mississippi Moon Bar in Dubuque, Iowa to see Ford and her band take the stage.  As Ford began started her set with "Gotta Let Go" the fever pitch that seemed to fill the MMB was incredible! Ford still looks the part of a rock star, with long-flowing hair, wearing white leather and tattoos there is no forgetting that this woman can still perform at a level that one could only hope to in their early twenties.  What is so incredible about Ford is without a doubt her voice, yes it has changed to a small extent but the power vocals that she possesses is phenomenal.  Make no dispersion about this woman's guitar skills because I think she has to be in the top 10 guitar players in rock today without a doubt.  With a sharp tongue and wit to back it up Ford talks with great reverence of those that have come into her life.  Being a huge Motörhead fan I loved hearing Ford describe how she and the legendary Lemmy collaborated on "Can't Catch Me."  That song has always felt like a Motörhead song but the skill that she puts into that incredible guitar solo in the middle of the song is a thing of beauty.  It was wonderful to hear her wax poetic about Kilmister and talk about him like he was still with us, it shows her reverence for the man and performer Kilmister was.

Ford's description on how Nikki Sixx helped write "Falling In and Out of Love" and how she obtained her "piss yellow" guitar from the Hard Rock showed us the performer in another light and in all honesty she makes her fans feel like she could just kick back with anyone, have a drink and just have fun.  Ford really is the type of performer that seems to have checked her baggage at the door and is just a down to earth rock star.  Lita Ford is simply amazing!

One of the biggest fan favorites and hits for Ford came from the 1988 album "Lita," that being "Close My Eyes Forever," the collaboration with Ozzy Osbourne, so its always been an interesting song for me to see live because it is a duet and unless Osbourne is a special guest how does she approach it.  Face it, its a fan favorite and Ford can sing it solo but on that beautiful April evening Ford did her part and the part made famous by Ozzy was done by Patrick Kennison.  Kennison's voice was a perfect complement to Ford, it has a substance in the voice that really makes the Osbourne part his own.  It shouldn't be any surprise honestly as Kennison is the lead vocalist of the band he founded called "Union Underground" AND "Heaven Below"but Kennison is also in the unenviable position of playing guitar on the same stage as Ford.  It didn't take much time for Kennison to prove himself on stage the guy is a phenom on guitar and I loved the fact that he seemed at times to resemble Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor from Motörhead.  This man fits the bill of a metal guitar player and fits into this band like a glove.  I love this guy and his role!

There is a part of every metal song that really makes one "head bang" until the effects of a severe concussion forces you to stop and that part is driven by the bass player.  As I watched Ford and her bandmates attack the stage that Sunday evening it became very apparent that Marty O'Brien is deeply cemented into that role of bass player.  What I saw was a man that has the wicked skills that have found him in bands that range from Methods of Mayhem, Disturbed and Tommy Lee while being this modest presence on the stage.  Its fun to watch someone that is that gifted and knows it but doesn't want to draw attention to himself.  The Energizer bunny couldn't keep up with this man, he exudes spirit and energy and was really fun to watch.  I think the thing that you can take away from this guy is he's a consummate pro, and a real treat!

Have you ever been to a live show and watched those around you?  I do it all of the time and what I see that amazes me is those that begin to tap their feet to the beat of the drums.  Regardless of the band the crowd is full of those people just kicking the crap out of those bass drums, you would swear they are actually performing.  As I watched Ford and her bandmates I caught myself tapping my toes with the fury of a duck on a hotplate, relax its a WKRP in Cincinnati reference.  Bobby Rock is the reason for that response for myself and the rest of those at the MMB.  I have to be honest, Rock is a beast on the drums and as Ford wailed away on the guitar, he beat the drums into submission.  I really took notice of his skills in the song "Aces & Eights," and during his drum solo he smashed those drums so hard and fast I thought I was going to have a heart attack from my own toe tapping.  Rock is a drum legend, his resume' is very deep so Ford wanting to have Rock in her band really shows how talented and gifted this guy really is.

As I think about that Rod Serling moment I had earlier I think to myself that Lita Ford has been mislabeled all of this time.  Ford has been in music since the '70's, she has seen the rise and fall of entire genres, she has been in bands that were considered a novelty (by the mainstream), she has seen her fan base grow steadily.  She can look to the success of her former bandmates with a smile knowing that she and they made each other better, and she can look at the infamous "era of hair" and know that despite the efforts to treat her like some type of novelty in that era she never was in that era in the first place.  Inasmuch as bands the likes of Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses were called "hair bands" incorrectly so is Ford.

Ford has a metal edge, she really is a legend in heavy metal.  In the history of rock music there are few women that have succeeded not because they weren't good or great but because of stupidity.  Ford has risen above all of that nonsense and her music, its content and the woman herself are to be respected and revisited.  I assure you that Lita Ford regardless of ANY label is an incredible rocker and is a whirling dervish on stage.  With skill and an unquenchable desire to make her fans happy, Ford is the professional every performer should strive to be.

When I went to the Mississippi Moon Bar Sunday April 17th, 2016 I already expected to see one of the best shows in rock today.  Lita Ford is far from disappointing live or recorded, she will grab you by the back of the head and shake you to the core with energy, killer band members and music that is steeped in tradition and rife with her own brand of music.  She stands alone on her laurels and entertains fans to this day, just like rock royalty.  Ford is a pioneer and a legend so do yourself a favor find a live show and go there because you will be blown away.

What an INCREDIBLE show!

No comments:

Post a Comment