'80s - Rick Springfield (2006)
'Still With A Spring In His Step'
Rick Springfield started playing piano at age 9. He began playing the guitar at age 13, and writing songs at 14. In 1967, at age 16, Springfield dropped out of high school to begin his professional music career. His first appearance in a band was as a singer/guitarist in the band Rock House. In 1968, the band changed the name to MPD, Ltd, then embarked on a tour of Vietnam to entertain the troops stationed there.
In 1969, when Springfield returned to Australia, he joined a band named Wikety-Wak. Later that year, he joined the band Zoot. Zoot became one of the most popular Australian groups of the late Sixties. In May 1971, when Zoot broke up, Springfield began a solo career. He had a #1 hit single in Australia, "Speak to the Sky."
Springfield relocated to Hollywood, California in 1972. Capitol Records signed him, and he recorded his first album "Beginnings." Speak To The Sky was re-released as a single in the US. Exposure on American Bandstand, as well as being regularly featured in teen fan magazines like 16 magazine and Tiger Beat, sparked interest amongst teenage girls.
In 1973 he was signed by Columbia Records, who released his second album Comic Book Heroes (1974). It was hailed as a "concept record" but it failed to chart. In 1976, Springfield released a third album Wait For Night under the Chelsea Records label. While Springfield was out touring to promote the album, the record company went bankrupt, and the album fell off the charts.
Although his achievements are not well recognized in his homeland, Australia, Springfield has long maintained a large and fiercely loyal fan base in the United States, Canada, and Japan. His many career achievements include a Grammy Award, four platinum albums, twenty US Top 100 singles and seventeen Top 40 hits including a US #1 and #2 single. After releasing many albums with hit singles seemingly for fun, including many on the RCA label throughout the '80s - including the album Working Class Dog; which was notable for the smash hit singles, "Jessie's Girl" and "I've Done Everything for You" (not to mention a slew through the '90s also!), he still finds time to carry on his acting career on the set of 'General Hospital' as a recovering alcoholic and widower.
Chatting recently with Rick, I first wondered at what point had Richard Lewis Springthorpe become Rick Springfield? ”I was about 16 and I was in one of my first bands that was starting to work and one of the guys said that 'no one could understand Springthorpe. Everybody that says Springthorpe says Springfield so you’re gonna be Rick Springfield from now on.' So I say OK and just kept it!”
Is it true that at age 13 you received a guitar for your birthday that you proceeded to saw in half and then paint bright red?! ”Yeah. Well I grew up lovin’ Hank Marvin and The Shadows and he had that red strap and so it became the guitar that I wanted. But all I had was this crappy old acoustic that I played for a while. And then I had this brilliant idea that I could shape it into a red strat … and it didn’t really work,” he laughs. ”So, there I was in the shed, sawing it in half and painting it red, trying to glue it together with paper mache, thinking that it would actually work!”
Did it at least look cool though? ”It looked hideous. I don’t even have a photo of it, which I sure would liked to have had.”
At age 17 and in the group MPD, Ltd, you embarked on your first tour - which was of Vietnam to entertain the troops stationed there! That’s quite a place to kick off your touring life! How did that come about?! ”Yeah, it was pretty crazy. We were driven around down to Cameroon Bay - which is deep down South - and we slept with the soldiers in their firebases. And we’d get rocketed and mortared during shows! It was an experience I’d never want to repeat, but one that I’d never have missed for anything.”
Tell us more about your days in the band Zoot … and the need for dressing everything (including yourselves) in hot pink!! ”There’s a new web site called YouTube.com where they have all these old music videos and there’s quite a few Zoot videos out there. It’s pretty scary, but thankfully none of them are in the pink suits! I joined the band and then told them 'this pink things gotta go' so we dropped the pink thing … but I did wear it for a while!”
Having indeed already watched some videos of yours on there, I have to say that you sported some wicked hair styles in those days! ”Yeah, it looks like I’m wearing dead animals and trying my best to be David Cassidy for some reason. It’s very scary! I definitely went through some crazy phases.”
Was there ever a photo album cover of yours that in hindsight you now wished never existed? ”On an album, well, there’s been a Best of out of Australia that had this hideous photo that I just don’t know where they got it from. But, no not really. It was what it was in the day and we gave it the shot that we had, you know.”
You were in many bands growing up, but had your first #1 hit single in Australia in 1971 with "Speak to the Sky." Were you perhaps always aware – even at that young age - that being solo was where it was destined to be for you? ”Actually, I thought I’d always be in bands. But when I was in the Zoots back in Australia I met this writer who was very gung-ho about me going solo. And then when the band split up instead of joining another band I just started writing for myself and started putting out records. I then had a hit in Australia which got me a record deal over here and it kind of went from there."
So the chance to be in another band never arose again? ”Well, at one point I did think about trying out for Deep Purple! I even auditioned after Ritchie Blackmore left – at some point in the early ‘70s – and they told me they were doing auditions down at the Santa Monica Civic. So, I was gonna go down, but I chickened out in the end. I think I still didn’t think that the band thing was right for me.”
With you music career in the ‘70s at a lull you turned to acting. Was it an easy trade to make? ”Well, certainly I was way between record deals and was just walking around, living in Hollywood without any money and met someone who suggested that I went to this acting class. I’d always had it in the back of my head that I’d like to try it and it just really saved my life. I started working as an actor immediately, to my great surprise and was then able to pay the light bill! So it was really actually a very positive thing and something that was meant to be for me.”
And then you became a bonafide ‘Soap Star’ ”Yeah, I didn’t want to do that at first. I’d just recorded ‘Working Class Dog’ and didn’t think that there was any future in Soaps. I’d had three failed records before that so when they offered me this contract it was the first regular money that I’d made in my life. I was 29 and never drawn a regular paycheck anywhere. So, they were offering me this money so I said I’d take it and then see how the record does. And that summer that particular Soap Opera became the biggest show on TV - in kinda the golden age of Soaps - and the record hit. So, it was nothing that was ever really planned. It was just karma!”
And then came ‘Nick Knight’! ”Oh yeah, yeah, that was a great pilot. We made a great pilot for that. But I went on to something else. That was actually scheduled to go, but apparently the head guy - after he saw it - decided that they needed to go more family. He didn’t want people drinking blood on his network so he dropped it!”
And then when they decided to re-do it as ‘Forever Knight’ you couldn’t pick up the option? ”Yeah, I was doing ‘Human Target’ for ABC. I’ve always loved vampires and I loved the whole thing about Nick Knight, but it was a whole different thing the proposed TV show than the pilot. If the pilot had gone it would have been a blast. Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ was like my bible when I was 15. I kept it by my bed and kept reading it and re-reading it!”
So, have you ever bitten someone and drawn some blood there yourself, perhaps!? ”Er, not intentionally!”
You’ve been quoted as saying that you’ve “… always been a bit of a whore with my acting, to be honest, but never musically." Please explain this more! ”I would take something for the money for the acting, knowing that it was a piece of crap. But with music, because I wrote it, it always came from a true source in me. So I’ve always been very true to that.”
You won a Grammy in ‘81 for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for "Jessie's Girl,” a song that has since gone on to be your most recognizable track. But do you know what was it about that song that still to this day makes it as popular as it was back then?! ”No, I don’t actually! When I wrote it I just thought it was a good album track and I certainly never thought of it as a single – and neither did the record company! They released ‘I’ve Done Everything For You’ first and when nothing happened with that – as back then if radio liked the song they’d pick it up – they then decided to release ‘Jessie’s Girl.’ So, they released it and it just quickly seemed to take on a life of its own.”
Was there an actual Jessie and did he have a girl you wanted?! ”Yeah, oh of course! His name wasn’t Jessie – as most of the time I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty – but it was very much true what the song was about. It was unrequited sexual angst and she, of course had no idea I even existed!”
Did this guy ever find out that you were singing about him?! ”Oh no, not at all. I actually stopped associating with him before the record even came out. Every other friend I had was sure it was him and his girlfriend, but it wasn’t!”
Which of your albums still swell you with pride to this day as your best musical accomplishment? ”Erm, I have a cover record out now called ‘The Day After Yesterday,’ but the one before that ‘Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance‘ is the one that I’m proudest of so far. And hopefully the next record that I record will be that. But, I was very proud of that and it got the best reviews of any record of my career too. Which I was very proud of. I have a soft spot for all of them. They’re all from my heart and they’re all part of my life. Some hit and some missed, but they all have their high points.”
Are you currently working on a new album, perhaps? ”Yes, I am right now. We actually do one of the new tracks live so we need to get a new album done soon,” he laughs.
Does it have a working title? ”Er, … how about ‘Sex and Diamonds’.”
In the early success-filled days of your career, did you ever have posters of yourself up on the walls in your house?! ”Oh God no! I never even put the Gold and Platinum records up and those things. I never hung anything up on my walls. The only thing I ever hung up was a Gold disc I got for ‘Working Class Dog.’ Because it didn’t have a photo of me on the cover it had a photo of my dog on the cover! I was very proud of that. There’s no single photo of me anywhere in the house.”
Having suffered through life with both depression, accidents, and other such human ailments, I’m wondering what the mental and physical state of Rick Springfield is like these days? ”Probably healthier than it’s ever been. I meditate a lot. I have a great, great, great family life. I love drawing. I have my own studio. I am writing and so there’s new stuff coming in the future on the horizon. I’m just very excited.”
Did you have any involvement with the new 'We Are The ‘80s - The Best of Rick Springfield' CD? "I wasn’t involved in that particularly, but they did ask me my opinion and things. Which is nice because in the past companies have just slung out the greatest hits under a new cover every year. And I only hear about it when a fan tells me. So, since Sony got involved it’s all been pretty great.”
And the wonderful 'Working Class Dog' remaster? "After 25 years it’s finally come out! I was very involved in that one. They’re really great packages and really very informative and contain the kind of stuff that I like to get when I’m a fan of somebody. There’s always thing you read on these that are things you don’t know and a lot of facts like the original lyrics to ‘Jessie’s Girl’ and things like that. They’re both really cool packages.”
And, finally please tell us more about your involvement with the new ‘80's Hits Stripped' CDs "Yeah, for that one they came to me for that. They asked me if I wanted to do it. So I had this acoustic version and gave it to them to put on. And it’s actually gotten some good reactions. It was recorded about two years ago.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Additional Aid by Mufi Hayes
'We Are The 80's - Best of Rick Springfield' CD Purchase Link
'Working Class Dog: Remaster' CD Purchase Link
80's Hits Stripped' CD Purchase Link