Despite a series of personal struggles, the multitalented Rick Springfield is still going strong—so don’t be surprised if he draws a large, female-dominated crowd to Fantasy Springs at 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 16.
The Australian-born Springfield is most remembered for his 1981 hit “Jessie’s Girl.” The single from his album Working Class Dog was an instant hit; it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, was played in heavy rotation when MTV launched later that year, and won him a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.
During a recent phone interview, Springfield discussed what made him want to play guitar.
“I was living in England when I was a kid, and I went to one of those horrible Christmas shows where everybody’s kid gets up and does what they think is a song,” he said. “This kid went onstage with a guitar, and I fell in love with it right away when I was about 10 years old.”
When Springfield was about 18, he joined a group called MPD Ltd.; they toured South Vietnam during the Vietnam War to entertain the troops. It was an experience that he would never forget and would write extensively about in his 2010 autobiography, Late, Late at Night.
“It was insane,” he said. “I could write a whole book on it. We were there for about six months. It was unbelievable. Looking back, it was a historic war, and we were right in there with the troops. We weren’t going out in the jungle fighting, but we were on the bases getting shot at, rocketed, mortared and almost killed by a hand grenade. When we got home, the band leader of MPD Ltd. died from a disease he caught over there, so it was a pretty brutal time. If you can survive rockets and mortars, someone throwing a beer can at you is nothing.”
After his stint in MPD Ltd., Springfield joined the Australian boy-band Zoot. When he joined the group, they were trying to shake their boy-band image. Their cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” became a hit in Australia, as did several songs that Springfield wrote, “Hey Pinky” and “The Freak.”
The group broke up in 1971, and Springfield struck out on his own, releasing his first album, Beginnings, in 1972; it was a modest hit in the U.S. and Australia. However, it wasn’t until Working Class Dog, with “Jessie’s Girl,” that he finally captured mainstream audiences.
One thing has been certain throughout his career: Ladies love him. He was the subject of a recent documentary, An Affair of the Heart, which showed some of his female fans talking about how much they love his live shows. Springfield said he’s experienced many instances of women hiding, sneaking into his hotel rooms, or otherwise trying to meet him.
“There was one lady in the ‘80s claiming she was an heiress to the Marriott family,” he said. “She just kind of got into the touring group and started getting us free hotel rooms at all the Marriott hotels we were staying at. After the tour, the FBI came looking for her because of all the bad checks she wrote to cover all the rooms. She was just a fan and made it all up. It was incredible; it lasted for three whole months, and she hung with the band the entire time on the road.”
Springfield laughed. “I’ve been looking for her, and I think I want her to work for me if she could fool us for that long.”
While he’s long been a hit with the ladies thanks to his music, he picked up yet more female fans with his acting. He was added to the cast of daytime soap-opera General Hospital in 1981, around the time “Jessie’s Girl” became a hit. He stayed in role until 1983, and has returned to the show several times since 2005. He’s also appeared in various films, as well as the Showtime series Californication. When he started his career, he had no idea that he would also be successful as an actor.
“I picked up acting later on after the music thing in between record deals,” he said. “… As I’ve gotten older and more into it, it’s more fun, and I have more to offer in the acting world.”
While he has achieved a remarkable amount of success, he’s long struggled with depression-related issues. In 2000, he was arrested for spousal abuse. He was also arrested for driving under the influence on the Pacific Coast Highway in 2011, and reportedly threatened to kill the deputy and his family if his 1963 Corvette was towed. Through it all, his wife, Barbara, has stayed by his side for almost 30 years, as he’s received treatment.
“It wasn’t hard to ask for help, but it took a long time to recognize what it was,” he said. “Now we know what it is. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I was just looked upon as a moody kid. It took a long time for me to really figure out I needed some help with it. I’ve been into a lot of therapy, which is great for a writer. I think that’s why a lot of writers are such depressed bastards.
“It’s a life sentence. It’s not like something you can go to rehab and fix. I just deal with it when it lands. I’m a lot more thankful for my life now, which is a big help. I meditate and do certain things I’ve learned that counter it. It’s all I can do.”
While music and acting are on his resume, you can also add novelist: He’s about to release his first novel, Magnificent Vibration, slated to hit shelves in May.
“My publisher pushed me to write more after I wrote my autobiography,” he said. “I wrote that without a ghost writer, and she really liked my writing voice and said I should be writing novels. I took up the challenge. I used to write when I was a kid, and I thought I’d be a writer before music took over, and it channeled itself into songwriting.”
In 2013, he collaborated with Dave Grohl on “The Man That Never Was” for the Sound City soundtrack. The release won the 2014 Grammy for Best Soundtrack.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “The Foo Fighters are all great musicians, and (Grohl) is a champion of music. He’s very open to everything. I’m still in touch with him, and I played a benefit with him a couple of months ago. The experience taught me that collaboration is a good thing. I kind of used to stay away from that in my younger days. It made me realize a lot of good things can come from it.”
While many artists who have had one song define their career get sick of singing their signature hit, Springfield said that he never gets tired of playing “Jessie’s Girl.”
“Joe Walsh had a great line when he played ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ for the 20,000th time: ‘If I knew I was going to play this song for the rest of my life, I would have written a different song.’ With ‘Jessie’s Girl,’ I think it’s a moderately complex pop song, and it’s really instrumental in my life. I have nothing but admiration and happiness for the song, and I’m glad that I wrote it.”
Rick Springfield will perform at 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $29 to $49. For tickets or more information, call 800-827-2946, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.