Rick Springfield celebrates 40th anniversary of ‘Working Class Dog’ with new film and novel
Rick Springfield can’t wait to get on the road again to play live shows when the coronavirus pandemic fades and concerts are safe again.
“We’re all anxious to get out and play again,” he says by phone from his home in Malibu recently. “And I think audiences are desperate to get that communal thing going again, too. Everybody’s missing that.”
But while the pandemic forced most live shows to cancel, including the co-headlining dates Springfield had booked with the band Chicago last summer, the musician-actor-and-author has not been idle in the interim.
Just in 2021, Springfield has published his second novel and released a single recorded with Joey Molland, the last surviving member of Badfinger, for an album of cover versions of that band’s songs.
A new concert documentary, filmed with the Santa Monica High School orchestra, arrives on Sunday, Feb. 14.
And the 40th anniversary of his best-known album, “Working Class Dog,” which included Springfield’s signature hit, “Jessie’s Girl,” is set for celebration this month and throughout what he’s calling The Year of the Dog.
Springfield has plenty of things going on, so we started talking about the new documentary, which captures Springfield reinventing some classic songs with orchestral backing.
‘Orchestrating My Life’
A few years ago, Springfield was invited to Germany for Rock Meets Classics, an event that pairs rock musicians with an orchestra for a night of classical classic rock.
He liked the results so much that he asked conductor Wolf Kerschek to orchestrate a full show of Springfield songs, which led to a 2019 tour, an album and now the documentary “Orchestrating My Life.”
“I wanted to film it because it was such a different show,” Springfield says. “We’ve had live performances out there, but not one like this.”
So instead of the professional orchestras, such as the Pacific Symphony which accompanied him and his band in Costa Mesa that year, Springfield invited the Santa Monica High School orchestra to back him at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills and share the spotlight.
“The idea, to a degree, was promoting music in school, and don’t let that be (the subject) that everybody drops,” he says. “I think it’s majorly important. It’s a great way for kids to focus, and to possibly have a career later on in music.
“We had 100 kids on stage, all of them very proficient at their instruments,” Springfield says. “I always say, you’re not going to get 100 mathematicians out of a math class, but you might get 100 musicians out of a music class. So don’t drop music.”
Kerschek flew to Los Angeles from Germany to conduct the show. He only had one day to rehearse with the students.
“It could have been a gigantic train wreck,” Springfield says of the tight timetable. “But it turned out actually really good. They did the homework and it worked out really well.”
Between songs, director P.J. Wolff included interviews with some of the students and segments on Springfield’s life and career illustrated by film, video, and photos from the 71-year-old Australian-born musician’s archives.
‘World On Fire’
After his 2010 memoir, “Late, Late at Night,” Springfield switched to fiction for the comic sci-fi mystery “Magnificent Vibration.” He’d planned a new standalone novel but the cliffhanger on which he’d ended the first book lured him back for a sequel, “World On Fire,” which arrived — initially as an Audible exclusive — in January.
“I kept going back to that because I wanted to know what happened,” Springfield says of his characters Horatio “Bobby” Cotton and ex-nun Sister Alice Young, who this time around fight to save the planet from environmental collapse.
“It’s about my concern for the earth,” Springfield says. “I figured I can’t change it personally, just by myself, in real-time. But I can change it in fiction. It’s pretty scary — we’re at a tipping point, for sure — but it’s also a humorous book. I mean, I’m trying to do it with some humor so it’s not all bleak.”
There’s also a pandemic, a storyline Springfield started writing years before an actual pandemic arrived.
“It was weird to finish this whole story, the editing and story, during an actual pandemic,” he says. “That was very odd.”
‘Working Class Dog’
By the end of the ’70s, Springfield had earned a small measure of success and then seen it slip away. But his manager owned Sound City recording studio in Van Nuys, so Springfield would record new tracks when the studio emptied out.
“It was a very inexpensive record,” he says. “Mainly because I played most of the instruments, but also because we got in between big acts that were paying big money.”
And at first, it wasn’t even going to be an album, Springfield says.
“I wrote the songs, not for a record, because I’d kind of given up ever being able to get a record deal,” he says. “I had been on probably four different labels, and nothing had really happened, except for one hit in 1972 when I first came over.”
The Los Angeles club scene was hot though with bands like the Knack of “My Sharona” fame having just been discovered. Springfield says he hoped his new hook-oriented pop-rock material that might help him reclaim the spotlight through gigs around town.
The album, which eventually delivered the iconic hit “Jessie’s Girl,” also featured strong tunes such as Springfield’s cover of Sammy Hagar‘s “I’ve Done Everything For You” and “Love Is Alright Tonight.” Yet after RCA signed him, the label sat on it for months without releasing it.
Then Springfield signed on to play Dr. Noah Drake on the soap opera “General Hospital” around the same time “Working Class Dog” dropped, though no one — not Springfield, the network or label — thought there’d be any crossover appeal between songs and show.
“I just took (“General Hospital”) because I didn’t have any money,” Springfield says. “I think my view was it all 70-year-old blue-haired ladies ironing or sitting back with their cats and it would have no bearing on my music career.”
But “General Hospital” clicked with younger viewers in ways that most soaps had not, and the album broke big. “It was one of those truly serendipitous moments that you can’t plan,” Springfield says.
As for “Jessie’s Girl,” he says in the new documentary at one point that it’s been a double-edged sword, granting him access to fame and success, while at the same time defining him so sharply that it’s sure to be the headline of his obituary one day.
“It overshadows a lot of new work,” Springfield says. “But every writer wants to write at least one song that has some kind of legs and some kind of place in the pantheon of whereever they come from. So I’m very proud of that, for sure.”
And now, dogs
In the documentary, Springfield is seen driving to the show with his Norwich terrier Bindi. And his novel “World On Fire” begins with the character Horatio adopting the name Bobby in honor of his beloved late dog.
And then there’s Ronnie, Springfield’s bull terrier who ended up on the cover of “Working Class Dog” dressed in a shirt and tie.
“Dogs have always been a really important part of my life,” he says. “I actually got the idea for the shirt and tie thing because my old manager had an Irish Setter.
“He and his wife would leave it with me when they went out, and I would basically be bored and get stoned and dress him up in all kinds of my jackets and my hat. I’d take photos of him and I’d laugh my ass off all evening dressing up this dog.
“So when this album came along, I didn’t want to put my photo on it because I’d had my photo on the last three albums that I’d released. So I dressed Ronnie up. He was a champ, just the look on his face, you can tell he was digging it.
“Got nominated for best album cover, so I was happy about that.”