When Lita Ford took the music world by storm in 1975 with the all-female rock group, The Runaways, she didn’t have female role models to look up to. “I had seen a Black Sabbath concert when I was 13, and it changed my life,” she says in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “I looked up to Ritchie Blackmore and Johnny Winter. I didn’t have any females to look up to other than Janis Joplin and she was dead. So that didn’t do me much good.”
Ford and The Runaways rocked the male-dominated music industry until their breakup in 1980. Today, at 54, she’s again rocking that world, which she still recognizes as male-dominated. Her latest album, Living Like a Runaway came out in 2012 and today she has returned to a hectic performance schedule.
Ford’s obsession with rock ‘n’ roll began when she was 11 years old. Her mother bought her an acoustic Spanish guitar, which was sweet, but not what the hard-rocking preteen was after. “I said, ‘Mom, this is great, thank you. But it’s not exactly what I wanted,’” Ford says. “I told her I wanted something with steel strings. So, she went out and bought me another acoustic and I said that’s not what I want either. When I was 14, I told everyone I was 16, and got a job. I saved $375 and bought myself a chocolate Gibson SG. That’s what I wanted.” She went to work learning her favorite tunes.
In 1975, Ford was on the L.A. scene as a hot, young guitarist, but that wasn’t what got her noticed. Another band needed a bass player on short-notice and called Ford for the job. She learned the parts in a day and played the show. Record producer Kim Fowley called her days later asking if she’d be interested in playing bass in an all-female rock group bound to take over the world. Ford gently informed him she was a guitar player, not a bassist. “We need one of those too,” he said.
“I just couldn’t resist the offer,” Ford says of the opportunity to audition for The Runaways. “I packed up my guitar, auditioned, and played the guitar solo to ‘Highway Star’. There was no other female around that could touch me.”
Ford admits it was a struggle to be in a group of young females, controlled by male managers, especially when fame hit so quickly. “The Runaways grew overnight,” she says. “We were huge in the blink of an eye because we were unique and special. Rebellious teenage jailbait troublemakers—and we loved it.” After the breakup of the group, Ford continued as a solo artist for 17 years, releasing six albums, touring extensively, and solidifying her place in the world of rock.
She married former Nitro vocalist Jim Gillette in 1994 and became a mother in 1997, an event that brought her career to a halt for a time. “I got pregnant, hung up my guitar, and wanted to be a mom,” she says. She, Gillette, and her son James, moved to a deserted island in the Caribbean. Ford had another son, Rocco, in 2001 and remained secluded until 2008, when the rock itch started up again.
“I got bored and my kids were getting older and I wanted to rock ‘n’ roll,” she says. And so, Ford is back and her sound is just as rough, tough, and ripping as ever. Her lyrics are poignant and real, talking about her painful divorce with Gillette and what life was like on a deserted island. Her musical energy had built up long enough that, when it finally came pouring out, it manifested itself into the deep, intense Living Like a Runaway, which Ford calls a “survival record.” “It’s a journey,” she says. “You want to listen to it in its entirety.”
Rock ‘n’ roll lives on for this rocking mother, bandleader, songwriter, and role model for women and girls striving to break the mold and rock on. “There are two types of people in the music industry,” Ford says. “Leaders and followers. The leaders are the ones that create their own style and their own sense of creativity. When somebody starts telling you, ‘Don’t play it like that,’ that’s when you don’t listen. Stick to your heart and follow your dreams and don’t let anyone steer you in an opposite direction.”
Currently Ford is busy preparing for the Monsters of Rock Cruise, a five-day floating concert where she shares the bill with Cinderella, Tesla, Queensrÿche, and more. She’s energetic, real, and it’s obvious how touching it is for her to be a role model to so many women around the world.
She throws in one last reminder that captures her attitude and personality to perfection. “Just one more thing: everyone should listen to Living Like a Runaway because it’s one bad ass album.”
“Music for me is what I do,” says Julia Jordan in a phone interview from her home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “It’s not just creating and performing music. It’s teaching, inspiring others to find the music inside of them.”
Daughter of well-known jazz musician Stanley Jordan, music has always been part of her life. At a young age, she performed in an off-Broadway children’s theater and throughout high school and college wrote her own material. She released the album Urban Legacy in 2007.
Now, at age 29, Jordan heads the music company J3 Studios. On top of that, she runs a blog for creative mothers (themusicmommy.com) and a creative expression class for preschoolers. She’s also co-founded the Creative Arts Initiative program in Sierra Leone in 2010, which brings US artists to West Africa to teach young women new avenues of expression through the arts.
Aside from this impressive résumé, Jordan is also a mother to two-year-old Cienna and six-month-old Sekani. She calls them her muses. “Ultimately, my kids are my greatest inspiration,” she says. “Since they’ve been born, I’ve become more focused and pumped about life and where my music fits in it. I think of myself as a soul mamma! I feel like I can accomplish anything now.”
Jordan’s music reflects her optimism and ambitious nature. It’s rhythmic and soulful, always with a heartfelt message. Each of her endeavors embody that same spirit, especially teaching. “I think to me, teaching is like touching others and encouraging them to find their own creative expression,” she says.
Jordan emphasizes the importance of balance. “It’s been about finding a way to balance my family needs with my own needs,” she says. “It takes two hands to play guitar and three to take care of kids. Kids will always take priority, but I have to have my own space and time to zone out and create. You do it [music] because you have to.”
The spotlight is a natural place for Danielle Hirsch to be, as a former co-host on HGTV for 10 years.
“When the show ended three years ago, I had so much more time,” she explains. “I had this passion for music. I picked up the guitar, started playing with my friend down the street, and made my debut. I love getting on stage. I like to entertain. It’s in my blood.”
Hirsch, 43, performs with the group Lucky Finn in Mill Valley, California, in addition to teaching yoga and raising two children, Madison, 12, and Keile, 10. She swears her key to surviving is organization and admits that the toughest part of being in a band is scheduling practices around busy schedules. But the payoff is worth the hassle. “The pleasure I get when I play music is so special,” she says. “It’s so empowering to be with this band.”
Hirsch’s love of music carries over into her home. Her children play drums and sing and her husband, Dan, plays guitar. The most rewarding part she says, is sharing that music and showing her children that they can have a music, art, and creativity-filled life. “I love the feeling of showing them the potential of their life and what they can do,” she says.
Hirsch also sees a connection among her many pursuits. Music, teaching, sharing, growing, and learning all bring those deeper feelings of fulfillment, music especially. “Music is therapy for me. It takes you out of yourself—calming the ripples of your mind. I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”
Energy pours out of Claire “Pearson” Perry, into everything she does. It’s in the way she talks and the way she encourages others. It’s in her music and in her project, Atlanta Intown Songwriters, a group that unites the Atlanta singer songwriter scene. It’s also in the way she raises her children, Max, nine, and Lila Tate, five, and juggles all of the details in-between.
But there was a period of Perry’s life where she wasn’t as bubbly and full of joy. In her late 20s, she put down her guitar, stopped hitting her piano keys, and silenced her voice in an attempt to live a more typical lifestyle. “I went through a period where being a musician didn’t seem possible or realistic,” she says. “I started devoting my attention to climbing the ladder, getting married—the things I thought I was supposed to be doing. I was miserable, and I couldn’t figure out why.”
Then a life-changing tragedy altered everything. In 2007, a friend of Perry’s had a stroke and died at age 40. Perry sang “Amazing Grace” at the funeral, her first public singing since she had given it up. Following the ceremony, Perry drove to an open mic and played out for the first time in five years. “Life is short,” she says thinking back on that day. “I realized that, if I’m gonna die at 40, I need to get on it.”
Today, at 38, Perry is reinvigorated and living out her musical fate. She performs folk rock songs as a solo artist, writes music, performs benefit shows, and is working on a YouTube video project called “Soundtrack of My Life” to expand her fan base without touring. It features a different video-recorded cover song each week, and offers fans an intimate look into the meaning behind the song and the chance to see a raw cut of it.
Now, life is more natural. “Once I realized that what I wanted to be doing was music, it became a no-brainer,” she says. “I write music, I sing, I perform because I would be insane if I didn’t.”
Though her list of accomplishments is long, Perry says one particular aspect of her work fills her with the greatest enjoyment. “When I can give voice to a feeling or an emotion that other people have, but can’t articulate, it makes my day,” she says. “There’s nothing better than singing an extremely personal and sometimes painful song in front of an audience, and then having people come up later and tell you they totally get it.”
For Anna Fermin, of Chicago, Illinois, being a mother, musician, graphic designer, and homemaker, could be overwhelming if she thought of everything she has to do. That’s why she takes it one moment at a time. “Being a bandleader, mother, wife, can be exhausting for anyone,” she says. “It’s about being in the here and now.”
Fermin, 42, singer songwriter with alt-country group Trigger Gospel, was born in the Philippines and grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin. There she studied piano and violin. Later she dove into vocals and guitar.
“My music making began as an emotional outlet,” she says. “I fell in love with a young man who serenaded me with the Steve Earle song ‘Down the Road.’ I was so moved by his gesture, that I wanted to learn how to play guitar and sing. I borrowed a guitar from an aunt, taught myself three chords, and wrote my first song, ‘August Moon.’”
Fermin has opened for Johnny Cash, David Crosby, Neko Case, and even Steve Earle. She says its difficult being a musician in a society that doesn’t reward artists in the same way it does corporate employees. Yet, she’s never left music, only taking brief breaks when her sons, Oskar, eight, and Arlo, four, were born. She calls her musical side “a part of me as much as my eye color.” She continues, “I can’t imagine not doing it. I’m an artist deep down. I’m excited about it becoming more of a focal point in my life. I’m starting to find the perfect balance.”
As her children grow older and understand what she does, her joy only grows. Oskar has begun to ask questions like, “Mom, are you famous?” and both children have visited Fermin’s studio to see her in action.
When asked for advice for other musician mothers, Fermin emphasizes the importance of recognizing what’s brewing within. “The biggest thing going through my head is focusing on loving and honoring myself,” she says. “It’s important to pay attention to who you are and what your feelings are telling you. Trust that. You know a lot more than you think you do.”