Growing up in the 80s, everyone wished they had “Jessie’s Girl.” The kind of girl that watches you with those eyes, that’s lovin’ you with that body, and that’s wrapped up in your arms late, late at night. The kind of fantasy that made envious young men around the world wonder, “Why can’t I find a woman like that?”
With its catchy guitar hooks and tale of unrequited love, “Jessie’s Girl” was an instant smash hit in 1981, topping the Billboard charts and earning a Grammy for its rising superstar, Rick Springfield, whose combination of good looks and rock n’ roll licks were solid gold. Whether rocking out to the masses or masquerading on television as playboy Dr. Noah Drake on “General Hospital,” guys wanted to be Rick Springfield and girls wanted to be with him.
They still do.
Rick Springfield – “Jessie’s Girl”
After receiving a Grammy for “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” in 1981, Springfield assembled a series of Top 10 hits, including “I’ve Done Everything for You,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” “Affair of the Heart,” and “Love Somebody.” And went on to produce a dozen more adrenaline fueled, rock ‘n’ roll albums over the last five decades, including Rock of Life (1988), Venus in Overdrive (2008), and Songs for the End of the World (2012).
“At first, it was all about getting laid,” says Springfield. “But as you get older, other things take over. Life issues, having kids changes you, people die and that affects you – all of that is represented in my songs … And it’s changed so dramatically since “Jessie’s Girl” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers.”
His latest track, “The Man That Never Was,” was recorded for Dave Grohl’s documentary, Sound City, and just earned a Grammy for “Best Compilation Soundtrack” for Visual Media.
When he’s not recording, he’s continued to exercise his acting chops, returning to “General Hospital” last year, performing in the Tony nominated musical, Smokey Joe’s Café, and popping up on shows like “Californication,” “Hawaii Five-0,” and “Hot in Cleveland” (where he actually played a toll booth worker pretending to be Rick Springfield to pick up women!).
In 2010, he released his very own memoir called “Late, Late at Night,” which subsequently, was named one of “The 25 Great Rock Memoirs of All Time” by Rolling Stone. And as a result of its popularity, has led to a completely different kind of tour for the arena rocker — an intimate solo and acoustic set of music and storytelling, “Stripped Down.”
Friday, March 14th @ The Gothic
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Says Springfield, “I realized that I lived a fairly unusual life and had all kinds of stories to tell. All the songs I’ve written have personal stories connected to them. They’re all truthful … The idea of going out with a couple of guitars and doing a personal show — it’s incredible because you connect with the audience on a real deep level.”
Springfield’s unusual life began in the western suburb of Sydney, known as South Wentworthville. Born Richard Lewis Springthorpe, he began playing that ol’ six string at the age of 13 and joined several bands like MPD Ltd and Wickedy Wak. After replacing Roger Hicks as lead guitarist and vocalist for the Australian pop band, Zoot, things started to heat up, especially after a Think Pink publicity campaign helped attract teenage fans from all over the world.
Springfield wrote several hit songs for the group that included “Hey Pinky” and “Freak,” but despite efforts to shake the teen image and move towards a heavier, adult sound, the band eventually broke up.
Afterward, Springfield went to a London recording studio for his solo debut, Beginnings (1972), which featured the Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Speak to the Sky.” And needing a change of scenery, he relocated to the U.S. soon after and began plugging away for years, recording Comic Book Heroes (1973), Mission Magic! (1974), and Wait for Night (1976) — all before his breakout, Sound City recording, Working Class Dog (1981), nearly ten years later.
“The one thing I have, one of my greatest talents [or maybe it’s my only talent?] is persistence,” he adds. “I’m very bull-headed and persistent. I’ve never said die.”
That persistence has paid off, time and again. This year, in recognition of an amazing career that began long before “Jessie’s Girl” and is still going strong to this very day, he will have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — validation that he’s more than a teen idol.
Rick Springfield is a life-long rocker. Big beat talk to me.
What was it like working and performing with Dave Grohl on Sound City? What made the studio special and working on that project so special?
Well, the studio was my home for a while. My manager owned Sound City when I first signed with him in ‘76. And I signed because it was a really great studio, and I figured I could do free recording there. Eventually, we recorded Working Class Dog there for about $50,000, which was amazingly cheap.
That was the big in-house production that scored back then and there were so many great bands that recorded there. Joe Gottfried was the guy who owned the studio. And Nirvana did Nevermind there, which was Dave’s link to it.
So, when he [Dave] bought the board that we all recorded through, he had this idea of doing a documentary. And it turned into, ‘Let’s do songs together.’ And that turned into ‘Let’s go on tour together.’ And it just got bigger and bigger as it went along.
Rick Springfield – “The Man That Never Was” – Sound City Soundtrack
Where did your love for music really begin? Who or what influenced you early on?
My parents had the biggest influence on me because I grew up in the country in Australia and didn’t have a TV. So, we’d all sit around the piano. None of us could actually play it. Instead, we had a player piano where you have all these rolls, you pump them, and music comes out [Laughs].
So, we’d play all of these show tunes and sing along — Rodgers And Hammerstein and all of these old songs that my parents loved. That was our entertainment. Then I started listening to the radio and started to hear pop music. And thought, I could have my own music some day. Later, I met the guitar and fell in love. It’s the kind of love that never goes away. And that was really the genesis of it.
Songs For The End of the World — your latest album — has a big, bold, over-sized feel to it. It’s rock ‘n’ roll! But sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of albums made like that anymore.
I know! There’s not a lot of radio play for rock ‘n’ roll anymore. Rock may really be dead, I dunno? Or maybe it’s just sleeping? [Laughs]. But it’s still alive and well on the touring circuit. It’s still the stuff I love to hear. You can find it anywhere, really. There continues to be a lot of great music being made. But in the end, all you can do is write the best songs you can write and put it out. That’s all you have control over.
From “Hey Pinky” to “Jessie’s Girl” to “I Hate Myself.” How has your process for writing and creating songs changed over the years?
Usually, it starts with a germ of an idea or a title. And then you just have to sit down at a keyboard or a guitar and work it out. But it really hasn’t changed much from that.
I’ve certainly been very fortunate to work with other people. All the early stuff I wrote by myself. But doing the Dave Grohl thing, and then my last two records, I wrote with Matt Bissonette, who plays bass with Elton John, and has been a friend of mine for a long time.
Now, just because you get together with another guy doesn’t mean you’re going to write a different song. Most of the time you write a song that either of you could have written. But, when you get together and write something new, that’s really worth hanging on to. And that’s really been the only change so far — being open to writing with other people.
But there’s a maturation in your lyrics that comes from personal life experiences, right? You’re not still writing about getting laid.
[Laughs] Working Class Dog was the first album when I realized, ‘Hey, I can write about what’s really going on. I don’t have to make shit up!’ I can write about what’s really going on in my head.
At first, it was all about getting laid. But as you get older, other things take over. Life issues, having kids changes you, people die and that affects you — all of that is represented in my songs. My writing has followed the path that my head has. And it’s changed so dramatically since “Jessie’s Girl” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” Music has too.
I’m glad that it’s evolving and I’m not still writing about getting laid. It’s important, but it’s not the sole focus as it was when I was 27!
I always think it’s weird when older rockers write about the same stuff they were writing about when they were 18. There’s so much more going on in your head. I think you should always write the truth, which is the best advice I ever heard. You should always write what you know.
You’re in the middle of the “Stripped Down” tour. You’re unplugged and doing intimate venues like the Gothic Theatre here in Denver. And there’s a storytelling element. Where did the concept for the tour come from and why was it important to strip down now?
The idea actually came from my autobiography. When I wrote that, I realized that I lived a fairly unusual life and had all kinds of stories to tell. All the songs I’ve written have personal stories connected to them. They’re all truthful.
And I love playing guitar. The idea of going out with a couple of guitars and doing a personal show — it’s incredible because you connect with the audience on a real deep level. You have time to sit and think [Laughs]. It’s not like there’s this great big ball of momentum on stage with all this loud music. You actually have time to sit back and play and talk and think. It’s been lots of fun!
Late, Late at Night: A Memoir (Amazon)
It’s an 80’s anthem. A number one hit. It won you a Grammy. People go crazy for it. But let’s be honest, do you ever get tired of playing “Jessie’s Girl?”
I don’t really because you hook it up with the reaction you get. And it always gets such a positive reaction. [Your songs end up being] kind of like your kids. It’s almost like showing off your most successful kid to your aunts and uncles. They get so excited [Laughs].
What’s your favorite memory about the song itself?
I have a lot of memories attached to it, of course, but the wildest thing is seeing all the kids singing along with all the verses — not just the chorus, but knowing the words to all the verses. These kids weren’t even born yet when the song was written! It’s pretty amazing.
Your music career goes back to Beginnings (1972) and even before Beginnings with Zoot. What’s been the secret to your success all these years? What does it take to have longevity in the music business?
Three things I tell my kids: Never give up, never give up, never give up. The one thing I have, one of my greatest talents [or maybe it’s my only talent], is persistence. I’m very bull headed and persistent. I’ve never said die.
Like anyone in the music business, I’ve gone through many bleak times when it looked like nothing was going to happen or it was going to explode, i.e., there wouldn’t be anything left at the end of it. But, you pick up your guitar and play, and hopefully, get more inspiration. I’m very fortunate. I love what I do and that’s certainly a big driver. The whole “Stripped Down” thing. I’m just a guitar whore. And doing all of that creates great energy.
With all that you’ve accomplished in music, movies, television, books, what are some of your current goals and dreams? What would you like to do that you haven’t been able to do yet?
I love writing and want to keep writing. I want to expand that into different areas and keep upping the performance thing. It’s all kind of interrelated, but I want to continue taking everything further with what I know.
What are your thoughts on coming back to Colorado?
Well, the weed is legal now [Laughs].
I guess I set you up with that one.
(Laughs) You did. But in all seriousness, I really love the relaxed vibe in Colorado. I have a good friend who lives there and he says that’s what sets it apart. It’s a very mellow state. The people are great, and it’s one of those places you’re always thinking, ‘Man, I could actually retire here!’
All images courtesy of: Rick Springfield, 2014.
Rick Springfield – “I Hate Myself (Live)”
Rick Springfield – “Don’t Talk To Strangers”
Rick Springfield – “Love Somebody”