Backtrack in black

The Bride Wore Black could have been Lita Ford’s Back in Black had it been released in 1986 (the most important year in the eighties for metal), but the album never got released for reasons which don’t quite add up. It was going to be a concept album but it never stood a chance of being released even in the late eighties. Had it been released after Queensrÿche’s concept album, Operation: Mindcrime (1988), it would have made Lita look like she was following in their path. Backtracking to 1986, the February issue of Circus revealed that Lita was currently finishing the album. There was a live photo caption which revealed that bassist Gordon Copely was one of her collaborators. According to the journalist, Moira McCormick, the album was slated for a possible late April release. Moira observed that Lita Ford was rather vague about why she didn’t release a record in 1985, alluding to MTV’s rejection of most metal videoclips and radio’s all but total avoidance of headbanging music. Lita hesitantly said: “1985 went a bit weird as far as hard rock & roll. A lot of good bands and good songs came out, but for the real hard rockers, I think it was kind of a down year.”

1986 had barely began and Lita was already wistful: “I wanted to release an album at the beginning of 1986, and just start out fresh. I think it’s gonna be a great year for hard rock. A lot of great albums are coming out now: Def Leppard, Scorpions, Judas Priest, Tony Iommi’s album.”

As for her then pending marriage to the latter Black Sabbath guitarist, Lita stated that it wouldn’t happen for a while because they were both really busy, so they hardly saw each other…what with Iommi’s band based in England while Lita preferred to work in Los Angeles. Her unconvincing answer is made all the more sympathetic since she would have been blackballed had she come out with the truth that he abused her. One February later, Valentine’s day was bittersweet. No marriage, and no album. In the February 28, 1987 issue of Circus (devoted to the winners of the Rock Awards), it was announced that The Bride Wore Black had “finally squealed to a not-so-quiet halt” in the winter of 1985 (?). Lita Ford admitted that for most of that year, she deliberately kept a low profile in and around Los Angeles, socially as well as business-wise. She said: “I don’t even go to clubs anymore. I’ve run into so many bad situations with management, the record label and working with producers who’ve been completely wrong for me. They were taking me in the wrong direction. The record would have been a complete disaster if I would have stayed working with them.”

PolyGram, Ford’s label at the time, apparently didn’t see things in a sympathetic light. They wanted the album and didn’t feel her protests were justified. Lita’s rebuttal was: “They weren’t here. They didn’t know what was going on. I actually thought the record was going to come out myself, until I started getting down to the nitty gritty with the producer. I can’t mention any names. We called him Fat Boy. After we’d finish in the studio, I’d go home, go to bed, and wake up in a pool of sweat, having nightmares about this guy. My God! What’s he going to do my record? He was trying to keep me from playing guitar on things. It was ludicrous.”

It became a battle of wills between Lita and the record company. The situation turned uncomfortably legal. But though the showdown ended with her departure from the label, Lita hinted at a larger issue by saying: “I stuck by my guns. I’ve had all sorts of holdups and setbacks that had nothing to do with music. But I’ve managed to straighten out all my problems, and now I’m home free.”

The self-declared queen of metal discussed how she was recording demos in various studios around L.A. by night and negotiating a new deal with a new label by day. She remarked: “It depends on who produces it. I’ve trashed a lot of the stuff I’d been working on earlier. This producer fellow kind of ruined everything. After it was recorded, I listened to it and thought Who the f**k is that? That’s not me.

Lita Ford couldn’t afford to let go of a handful of the tunes hammered out during those sessions, even if it was just bits and pieces that, however bad her memories of that time were, she felt were still too good to throw away. Referring to the title of the album, she teased as much as she was torn: “Hmmmmm. You think maybe I should still call the album The Bride Wore Black? I mean, I had this black bridal gown made, and now it’s just sitting here looking at me and saying You spent all that money to have me made, so when are you gonna use me?

Despite giving fans enough reason to share her hesitation, she remained hopeful as she concluded by saying: “I really miss playing live and travelling around, and I’m hoping to be back on the road by April or May. Please tell all my Circus fans to chill out and hang on. This record is coming OUT.”

The dress that Lita wore to promote the album (her third album) was designed by the rock music industry’s number one wardrobe designer – Ray Brown. In the March 15, 1986 issue of Billboard, a news item misspelt Chas Sandford as Chaz Sanford when they revealed that Lita was in tracking vocals for her new album with him as producer. In the March 6 issue of Kerrang, journalist Malcolm Dome noted that Chas was hired after Jeff Glixman had been poached by Iommi. The latter referenced drummer Eric Singer and bassist Gordon Copely as he said: “Lita was just beginning work on her latest album and had no intention of using Eric, so she loaned him to me. Gordon had plenty of spare time and so he was brought in as well. Lita had to go to Hawaii and wanted Gordon to go with her, so I was left looking for a replacement.”

Since Eric was poached, Lita hired a drummer named Jay Schellen. He played with Gordon in a band called Danny Johnson and the Bandits. On a site called Black Sabbath Online, it was disclosed that Gordon left Tony’s project to join Lita on the road in the fall of 1985. In Kerrang’s November 14 issue of that year, it was mentioned that Jeff Glixman replaced the original producer for undisclosed reasons. The original choice was Ashley Howe, who was primarily known for his work with Uriah Heep as an engineer as well as a producer. August 19, 1985 marked the release of the debut album that Ashley produced for Malice (In the Beginning). As for Lita’s The Bride Wore Black, it was expected to be issued through Vertigo (Phonogram’s subsidiary label). Chas Sandford being the third producer should have been a case of third time being the charm, but third time wasn’t lucky. I asked him about the experience and he said: “Don’t remember much to tell you the truth, but I liked her very much!”

In the February 1986 issue of Circus, Lita said: “I don’t want to go Top 40. I just want to write some kind of crossover song. His schedule is really tight, so what we’re trying to do is write some singles and get him to produce them. And if he’s got the time, get him to do the rest of the album.”

The May 1986 issue of Hit Parader (which is quite expensive to buy online) had printed an article with a rather foreboding title – Trial by Fire: The Metal Queen Returns with The Bride Wore Black. The introductory paragraph is weird because it gives the impression that the album was about to be released (?!): “With the release of her third LP, The Bride Wore Black, the beautiful, blond Californian is intent on proving there’s more to her than a pretty face and a leather G-string.”

Speaking of fashion, Lita revealed her plan: “I’m planning on going onstage in a black wedding dress then, when the music starts, the dress comes apart, leaving me in my stage clothes. So I’m doing this striptease that leaves me ready to rock (laughs). I don’t mind people thinking I’m sexy – Hell, I love it – but I want them to really listen to the music.”

When asked by journalist Rick Evans if she views the album as a make-or-break point in her career, she replied: “Well, maybe it’s not quite that heavy a thing, but it’s certainly very important. I’m planning on doing things a little differently this time. I really want to get a song on the radio, which I think would open things up for me. I’ve done some work with a guy named Chas Sandford who wrote Missing You for John Waite and Talk to Me for Stevie Nicks. He’s an unbelievable talent, and working with him really opened up my ideas about songwriting.”

Asked if she was concerned about what her heavy metal fans would think, Lita assured Rick: “Nah, it doesn’t worry me at all. No matter what I do, I’ll always be a hard rocker. If I had done a song like Missing You, for instance, it would have been a lot heavier than what John Waite did, even though I love his version of that song. I’ll always be into metal, but I see the need to crossover a little bit. It’s important for my career.”

Lita was asked to talk about some of the rockers on the album, to which she said: “There’s one song called Screams of America which I really like. A few months back, I met this kid in a bar. He didn’t have any idea who I was, but he came over and grabbed me by the arm and asked me to dance. I told him to f**k off, and he got a little pissed. I walked over to another part of the bar, and he followed me. He was very apologetic, and asked if he could buy me a drink. He asked me what I did, and I didn’t want him to flip him out, so I told him I was a cocktail waitress. He just looked at me and said You’re lying. I said Okay, I’m really an airline stewardess. He said You’re full of sh!t. So I told him I was a rock star, and his eyes kind of lit up. He started telling me how he was a guitarist too, and how he was going to make it big someday. He was so enthusiastic. It struck me that here was the scream of America – all the kids screaming for recognition.”

Her relationship with Tony Iommi was broached, to which she disclosed that they weren’t engaged anymore. She went on to say: “It was just your average, everyday, boring love affair. There’s really not too much more to say. Tony’s always been an idol of mine, and he’s great. But he’s busy with his career and I’m busy with mine.”

Lita was asked what is the most difficult part of rock and roll for her – writing, recording or touring. She admitted: “Writing really hurts. It can be very painful because you need a lot of discipline. Also, you sometimes have to deal with emotions that can hurt you, but that’s what makes a good song. I always feel better after it’s recorded. I kind of like recording. As long as we don’t get bogged down doing the same thing over and over again, it’s not bad at all.”

Duly note that her previous album, Dancin’ on the Edge, was released two Mays prior. Despite this, the interviewer said: “You took well over a year-and-a-half between the release of your second LP and the release of The Bride Wore Black. Why did you take so long?”

I was reminded of the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) being formed and debated with in 1985 when Lita said: “I was very concerned about putting the record out at the right time. I said earlier that this is a very important album for me, and I want as many people as possible to hear it. The last year wasn’t a good one for rock and roll on the radio. Even people like Motley Crue and Ratt had trouble getting their songs played. I didn’t want to put an album out if it was going to get trashed immediately. I figured I’d wait `til now. I don’t know if radio is any better at the moment, but I think I made the right decision. Hell, if they don’t play this record, it’s their loss.”

That final sentence would have been ideal to end this article with myself saying famous last words. The above page 40 is from the June 12, 1986 issue of Kerrang. Whoever wrote that caption doesn’t realize that the joke is on them because it’s supposed to be spelled Hiawatha. Thanks to an Instagram hashtag search, I recognise the get-up that Lita is wearing. Instead of having a pink streak of hair, there was a blue streak. By the time that the June `87 issue of Hit Parader came out, the new album was going to be called Kiss Me Deadly. This was producer Michael Chapman’s idea, but then it simply became known a year later as Lita. Her new record label, Dreamland Records, was owned by Mike. He had previously worked with The Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Blondie, as opposed to the PolyGram label who handled Scorpions, Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. Lita referred to Mike as the “executive producer” of her new album.

When asked why she broke away from PG, she did an about-face turn: “It was a mutual decision. Polygram is an excellent label but they just weren’t right for me. They didn’t know how to market Lita Ford – that was the problem pure and simple. They wanted me to be a pop star, to make safe music that would sell millions of copies. I don’t mind selling millions of records, but I want to do it my way. They wanted to limit me. They saw me just as a musician. While that’s my main love, there’s a lot more to me than that. I see my music opening up a lot of other doors, particularly in movies and TV. I want to try all the things that can possibly be done – there are no limits as far as I’m concerned. I want to see my picture on the cover of TV Guide as well as on the cover of Hit Parader.”

Lita talking about having a movie career may seem like an ego trip on par with David Lee Roth’s movie ambition, but the September 28, 1985 issue of Billboard contained this quote from ICM’s vice president and head of concerts, Alex Hodges: “You don’t even have to appear as a musical artist in a film. The seriousness of film to David Bowie is obvious, and to Grace Jones and Tina Turner. We’re currently negotiating for Lita Ford to appear in a Cannon film, and working on a project around Ozzy Osbourne and another for Jermaine Jackson.”

Back to Hit Parader, the article by Andy Secher’s was titled Beauty and the Beat. What’s fascinating was that the Kiss Me Deadly album was supposed to be released in June 1987 but it ended up being postponed until 1988…February 2 to be exact. This probably had to do with the fact that Lita was in flux with management or lack thereof. It was through Bill Elson, Ozzy Osbourne’s agent, that she was signed to Sharon Osbourne. Lita’s previous agent was Sharon’s father, Don Arden. He was Black Sabbath’s manager before managing Tony Iommi. Don was referenced as being Lita’s agent in the March 8, 1986 issue of Billboard. Ozzy’s duet with Lita, Close My Eyes Forever, was the final addition to the album. It wasn’t even referenced in the Hit Parader article because it was her collaboration with Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, Falling in and Out of Love, that was supposed to be the major draw for young rockers, thus allowing pulling power for magazines to display her on their covers. Ironically, Mike Chapman originally gave Lita a cassette of 10 songs where one of the songs was not included on the album. The song was titled No Space but it became known as Space when it was recorded by Cheap Trick for their 1988 album, Lap of Luxury.

Bearing in mind that Lance Quinn was the producer of her second album, Dancin’ on the Edge (1984), it’s baffling that Lita would have ran into some problems with him during the production process of The Bride Wore Black. Her fat boy joke wasn’t entirely to do with fat-shaming since he was a member of a band called Danny and the Fat Boys. Speaking of fat jokes, the below page was taken from a late `87 issue of Kerrang. In the December 10, 1988 issue, the story got odder. This is how she answered the question of where her career went after 1984 when she was last interviewed by Kerrang at the press office of Phonogram Records in London: “Well, I had that album out at the time, Dancin’ on the Edge, and I toured pretty hard with that for a while. But after the tour was over, looking at where I was, I wasn’t really satisfied with the progress my career was making. It was like we’d got so far, and hit a brick wall. And I felt I really wasn’t going to get any further with the same management, the same band, the same record company…I’d been with that record company for 11 years, and it wasn’t really their fault; I get on great with them now, but everything had got kind of stale. Everything had grown so stagnant between us that I knew it was time to move on and go somewhere else.”

Phonogram owns PolyGram, which owns Mercury. When Lita was a member of The Runaways, she was signed to Mercury in 1976. Taking you back to the December 1988 issue of Kerrang, she was asked if she was let go just like that. Lita replied: “Uh, not exactly. They put me back in the studio to do another album. But they set me up with some people to work with and I just lost my mind. I couldn’t work with those guys. I was miserable; we didn’t share any of the same ideas about what I should doing at all. They wanted me to sing all these Meat Loaf-type songs…”

The Kerrang interviewer comments that it sounds like they were trying to turn her into Bonnie Tyler, to which Lita answered by saying: “Yeah, I think maybe they were. But in the end I put my foot down and said Look, I just can’t work with these people, they’re not right. And the record company said Fine, let’s just go our separate ways. I said Great…

That sounds hypocritical given what she told Circus in the previous year about being enthused over Michael Chapman giving her a Holly Knight song to sing. Holly wrote for Bonnie Tyler and similar artists such as Pat Benatar. She was previously referenced in the November 27, 1986 issue of Kerrang as contributing a couple of songs to Lita. Anyway, the interviewer in the `88 Kerrang issue asked if Lita then fired her managers. She responded: “No, I got rid of my managers just a little before I left the record company. They now manage Vixen. And these guys…I couldn’t have took another f**kin’ day of them. They were full of sh!t. I didn’t like the way they treated me. And they were probably the main reason why I had such a hard time trying to get anything out of my record company. I just didn’t trust them. They always had something up their sleeve. There was two of them. One of them was rich – one of them was the bank. And the other one was the brains. And they nearly drove me crazy. I mean, they drove me to the point where I almost quit the business. In the end, I fired them on my birthday in San Jose, California at the end of the Dancin’ on the Edge tour.”

This would be September 19, 1984. When asked about the next manager, Don Arden, Ford said: “Well, I got mixed up with the wrong guy with Don. Because Don has his problems, and I have my problems; I needed him to help me, and he needed someone else to help him. So that was a f**kin’ big mistake, right away. Needless to say, we didn’t stay together very long.”

Arden had a reputation for being a hard man to say goodbye to. When asked if it was a problem getting away from him, Lita replied: “Naw…I just said Look Don, you need to do your thing. I need to do mine. Here’s a release, will you sign it? He said Sure, no problem. He was probably sick to death of my b!tchin’ by then, anyway.”

The hard rock queen had hit rock bottom: “Completely on my own. I’d split up with my boyfriend, I’d split up with my band – my drummer Randy went with Ozzy, I had gotten rid of my managers, my accountants, my record company – everybody was gone. I just cleaned house, man! Actually, I was really scared at first, because suddenly I had nothing and I was starting again from scratch. And everybody sort of put the whole blame for my predicament on me…like Lita’s an @sshole; Lita’s on drugs, don’t work with Lita. I mean, I spent a year just trying to clean up my reputation.”

When asked if that reputation of being an @sshole was completely unfounded, she responded: “No! No. I don’t think I was. It’s just that the producers would come into the studio and start telling me to do this, this and this, and if I didn’t like it I’d say No! And they’d try and push me into it, and I’d say No, no. No! I won’t be f**kin’ dictated to in the studio. F**k that. If I can’t stand the material, why should I have to sing it? It’s my f**kin’ album! So then the word gets back to the record company – Lita’s impossible to work with, she’s drinking too much. You f**kin’ bet I was drinking too much! I was losing my mind! In the end, I’d gone through four producers and still wasn’t getting anywhere. So word was out: you can’t work with Lita.”

At this juncture, I should note that the title of the aborted album wasn’t referenced in this article. Even Joan Jett hasn’t adopted this jettisoned approach. When asked how she hooked up with producer Mike Chapman, Lita answered: “Well, towards the end of this protracted period that I spent knocking my head against the wall with various producers, working in an adjoining studio was Mike. And every time I’d get bummed out with what was going on in my room, I’d go and see what Mike was up to. And Mike would be sitting there, cool as sh!t, drinking, smoking and kicking @ss with this album he was working on. And he was so nice to me; he’d sit me down, give me drink, calm me down. In the end, we became really good friends. Whenever I was really down, he would give me the vote of confidence that I needed to get me through all this bullsh!t. When everything finally came down, and I was finally free to do whatever I wanted, he was the first person I called. I called him up and explained the situation and told him I needed some help. I said I don’t have a label, I don’t have a band, I just have me and the guitar. I need some songs, will you help?

The new album, Lita, went platinum in 1988. It’s a curiosity that Lita’s former record label didn’t release The Bride Wore Black to capitalize on her belated yet ballyhooed mainstream success with the RCA label. However, an album’s success is primarily to do with touring and videos – neither of which were contractually permittable for Lita to partake in. As such, The Bride Wore Black would probably have only achieved gold status (i.e. half a million records). Better yet, she could have backmasked her 1988 album with the entire concept album. There is something to be said about an album that can only be heard via the backmasking method i.e. playing a vinyl in reverse. It would have been the ultimate example of what it means to have a hidden track (the equivalent to an encore when an album is played without having to backmask it). There could even have been an AC/DC pun in the form of Backmask in Black.

It speaks volumes (11 on an amplifier) that Lita refused to bring up the album when writing her memoir. It’s puzzling since she told the Sleaze Roxx site in November 2009: “It almost came out. One day I’ll have to dig that out and finish it. It never really got finished completely. It was almost finished, we even started the artwork and I don’t know what happened with that. Something happened with the record label. The head of the label, president of the record company, he was a big rock fan. He was awesome. He really helped me and believed in me and for some reason he got pushed out of the position that he was in. The label had agreed on replacing him with this other guy and when the president left and was replaced with this other guy, the vice-president quit and a lot of other people that worked at the label left and they hired a whole new staff. The new president was a country fan and he didn’t have a clue as what to do with me, he didn’t know. He actually wrote me a letter in his own handwriting saying Lita, I am so sorry, you are one kick ass lady, but I’ll have to let you go from the record label and I was dropped. What is weird is the very following week, I was nominated for a Grammy for best female rock vocal performance, and it just doesn’t make sense. Wow, it’s timing.”

In another interview for the site hosted in June 2012, she said: “As a matter of fact, there are 24 track tapes sitting at my old record company’s shelves. I came close to finishing it but I don’t think it will ever see the light of day simply because it wasn’t finished. The record company had gone through so many changes at the time — people getting hired and people getting fired. I really think that album got caught up in all the house cleaning that was taking place.”

Lita added an extra piece to the puzzle in an April 2013 interview for Norway Rock Magazine. She made it clear that she does want it released even if the powers that be are powerful enough to not let it happen. When asked if it will ever be released, Lita said: “Hmmmm…he he. Wait and see! I can not say anything more, yet.”

Knowing that she was in an abusive relationship with Tony Iommi, Lita might have been letting her repressed trauma getting the best of her in this June 2013 interview conducted by Gary Clarke for Screamer Magazine: The Bride Wore Black was never produced by Tony; actually Tony had nothing to do with that album whatsoever. The only thing Tony had to do with that, I was engaged to him at the time. It’s sitting on a shelf and err, I dunno, maybe we’ll have to finish it? It was not finished, that was one thing that it didn’t get finished. It was, I dunno, maybe halfway, halfway through.”

The pieces started to unravel for me when I came across Joel Gausten’s interview with Eric Singer about when he began working with Tony Iommi in 1985. In 2005, the Kiss drummer dropped this bombshell about the Seventh Star album: “When I got involved, I was playing with Lita, and Tony was dating her. Tony saw me playing with Lita, and he was actually producing some of the demos we were doing for Lita. He played on some of the demos, if I remember. One song we did was a version of B.B. King’s The Thrill Is Gone and Tony played the solo on it. Tony and Lita were engaged, and we did a song called The Bride Wore Black. I think that might have been the tentative working title for her album at the time. I did a lot of demos with Lita, and actually did pre-production twice for a record that never happened because Lita was going through different changes at the time.”

On this page of a site called Kiss Related Recordings, it was revealed that The Thrill Is Gone was sung by Lita for her album. In this interview for the Kiss Concert History site, producer Jeff Glixman corroborated Eric’s story by saying: “When I met Eric, I was doing some pre-production work with Lita Ford. Although the label ended up dropping the project, I went on to work with Tony Iommi and I was so impressed with Eric that I said Eric, you’ve never been in a session? Come on; come work with Tony for me. He did Black Sabbath’s albums for me. He went on to work with Gary Moore and tour with him. And he went on to join KISS.”

To give you an idea of how early in 1985 that the project came into fruition, there is a Spanish language newspaper in Los Angeles called La Opinión whose July 23 issue revealed that Lita’s album would be out soon. Speaking of Spanish and 1985, I purchased a couple of magazine clippings on eBay. There was no indication of what the magazine was. At the back of a page was a set of lyrics for a W.A.S.P. song called The Last Command, whose album of the same name was released in November of 1985. I will translate the relevant segments…

In recent years, Lita Ford has achieved practically everything a woman can dream of, The Bride Wore Black has just been released and she is about to marry one of her most admired idols.

Q: Is there anything else that can make you feel particularly happy right now?

A: I’m going through a very special stage, but I must admit that the album is perhaps the most important thing for me right now. In fact, I’ve already gotten used to the idea of being engaged to Tony. That’s why I’m so excited about the prospects that The Bride Wore Black has ahead of me, though on second thought, if I’m to take stock of the big things in my life, my engagement to Tony is undoubtedly the most exciting thing that could have happened to me!

Q: Your recent album is called The Bride Wore Black. Did you decide to call it that for some special reason or did your relationship with Tony Iommi have something to do with it?

A: In a way, yes. It was written by me and my bass player after Tony and I got engaged. I do not deny that the change that my personal life had undergone had an influence, but the title by itself seemed to me quite adequate. Comparing it with my image it is exactly my reflection, that’s how I am. I want to do a concept video with it, a sort of counterpart to that Billy Idol song, White Wedding.

Considering how long that the album was in the making, it’s a shame that there is a dearth of photos from the making of it. Def Leppard had a similar production history with their Hysteria album taking four years to come out. An auctioneer on eBay is responsible for the cover of my article – a test shot that I found on the WorthPoint site (an archived version of eBay). Lita gave him the photo in 1986 despite the fact that he wasn’t able to attend the photo shoot that was to provide the album’s cover. He claims to have been in her book. The photographer may have been PG Brunelli (Pier is his first name) since Lita did a photo shoot in London circa 1987 where she did 10 poses in front of a purple backdrop. At any rate, I bet the album was better than the output of millennial metal band Black Veil Brides.


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