Rock's Lita Ford, Would-Be Queen of the Headbangers

updated 05/02/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/02/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

They're gone now, those romantic, scuffling days when Lita Ford and Nikki Sixx, a couple of crazy kids with a dream, lived on macaroni and cheese in a dingy L.A. apartment while scratching to make their mark in the music world. "Nikki used to turn on the oven," recalls Ford, perhaps a little wistfully, "and watch the cockroaches dance in the heat."

Ah, well, you can't go home again, and these days neither of them has to. Sixx long ago became the bass player for rock's Mötley Crüe, and now Ford, following in her ex-beau's bootsteps, is rattling metal heads with her third LP, Lita, and a hit single, "Kiss Me Deadly." It's enough to warm a girl's heart—and, in this case, the dragon-wrapped-around-a-guitar tattooed nearby. "It symbolizes my guitar playing," says Ford, 29. "It's in my blood, something I'll always be good at."

Ford took up guitar at age 11 and composed her first song soon after. "It was a fancy Spanish piece," remembers her mother, Lisa, a dietary supervisor at a Long Beach, Calif., hospital. "I loved it. Of course, then she started bringing home Jimi Hendrix records, and her music changed."

Considerably. At 16, she joined the Runaways, a successful all-girl band. In 1980 Ford went solo, figuring, "Hendrix sang and played himself, and no other women were doing it." She helped pay the rent by pumping gas and selling cologne. "I like money," says Ford. "It sucks when you don't have a job." She also endured the slights of macho metalists. "She doesn't like guys to say chicks shouldn't play guitar," says her current boyfriend, guitarist Chris Holmes, 29, of the band W.A.S.P. "She plays better than 90 percent of the guys I know."

"Rock and roll is basically a man's world," says Ford, suggesting it may be even more demanding for a woman. "You have to play, sing and shake your ass onstage—and not be afraid to let your makeup run."

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