The Musical Communion: A Conversation With Rick Springfield

During the latter part of the 1970s and through most of the 1980s, you could seemingly throw a rock in any direction and hit Rick Springfield. He was everywhere.

Whether it was in front of the camera as Dr. Noah Drake on the midday soap opera “General Hospital,” or behind the mic onstage with a guitar performing his million-selling albums with his band, the Australian-born Springfield was impossible to miss. His 1981 “Working Class Dog” album, featuring the hit single “Jessie’s Girl,” climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart, and follow-up single “I’ve Done Everything For You” climbed into the Top 10 as well, helping spur Springfield to a Grammy Award the same year for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.

Seventeen albums, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and four decades of life’s seasoning (both good and bad) later, the 69-year-old Springfield is showing no signs of slowing down.

Last year saw the release of his blues album, “The Snake King,” and on April 26, a rock-meets-orchestral take on Springfield standards, “Orchestrating My Life,” will see the light of day and include a new song, “Irreplaceable,” dedicated to his mother who passed in 2016.

For Springfield, being “done” isn’t an option. There’s too much left to do, including writing a third novel, a new album and watching for great acting roles.

“I think I may be part shark because I am forever restless,” Springfield said. “It’s annoying sometimes, but it keeps me breathing.”

Springfield visited with ListenIowa recently in advance of his April 19 performance at Prairie Meadows Events Center in Altoona.

ListenIowa: In your latest project, “Orchestrating My Life,” you perform your music in a “rock-meets-orchestral” style. What was the genesis of this idea to present your music in this fashion?
Rick Springfield: I was invited to Germany to do a six-week tour with a band and an orchestra, and it went so well we decided to check it out in the U.S. The maestro, Wolf Kershek, who wrote the charts, wrote more for other songs and even flew out here for some shows with local city symphony orchestras. It made for a really different type of show, and we decided to make an album of some of the songs. It’s a lot of aural material to put together so I was concerned it would just be a greatest hits with string pads, but the arrangements were really excellent and utilized the orchestra so it was featured throughout.

LI: Was it a big undertaking with regard to composing the music for the backing orchestras while at the same time staying true to the melodic cores of these songs?
RS: Yeah it was pretty huge — a lot of sonic information. I stayed very true to the original recording, but they now sound bigger and fuller than the originals just because of better recording techniques. I thought the arrangements fit well with the songs and added strength.

LI: Were there any songs that you were pleasantly surprised at the ease at which they lent themselves to being treated in orchestral fashion?
RS: I thought “My Fathers Chair” was a surprise because it’s just the orchestra and a single voice, and I think it’s way better, emotionally, sonically and arrangement-wise than the original. “Affair of the Heart” and “Kristina” worked better than the original versions even though they are rock songs. That was a bit of a surprise, too. There isn’t a lot of fighting for space; it all sounds really cohesive to me.

LI: Were there any songs that you tried that simply didn’t work for whatever reason?
RS: We tried “Love is Alright Tonite” but there wasn’t much room for the strings in an 8th note rocker like that. I would have liked to have heard “Rock of Life” with strings, or “Bop til you Drop,” but we had to stop somewhere.

LI: You’ve also included a new song, “Irreplaceable,” dedicated to your mother, who passed in 2016. That had to be a difficult song to cut.
RS: My Mum was an incredible human being although I didn’t think so when I was 15 or 16. She was a warrior and walked the walk. [She] had some real ups and downs throughout her 96 years and came out on the right side of it all. There is no one like her, so the title just came naturally, as did the lyrics. It was difficult to write, but I wanted something meaningful for her.

LI: Your 2018 album, “The Snake King,” is a blues/Americana album that sounds like it’s as natural for you to bounce in and out of a 12-bar blues shuffle as it is for you to create your radio-friendly pop/rock songs of the 1980s. Talk about your move into the blues realm with this album.
RS: I started out as a kid in love with the blues, and my first bands were all blues and Motown bands, so Ive always felt a kinship with the music. I have a lot of dark observations on the world as it is now and wanted to talk about all that on the record, and blues rock seemed to be an appropriate vehicle. It upset a few fans, but it’s my prerogative as a writer to talk about what I see and feel.

LI: Was there any concern before you began recording that your fans might not “get it,” or do you not worry about it at this juncture and create music that feeds your artistic soul?
RS: Yes, a little, but anyone who thinks the world and humanity aren’t in a deep shit is either blind or in denial. I question things and always have. I have questions about organized religion and our head-in-the-sand approach to the destruction of our planet and its amazing life forms. I see evil everywhere and wonder where God is.

LI: Lyrically, “Blues for the Disillusioned” shows a side of you that touches on religion and greed, as do other songs such as “Jesus Was An Atheist,” and “God Don’t Care.” They share a common thread in that they seem very introspective in nature with regard to your thoughts on God/religion and man’s propensity to turn to the “dark side.” Fair to say?
RS: Yes. We are a very selfish species. Entitled, ignorant and short sighted. I wish for our God nature to be more evident and don’t really know how to help create that other than to write about it and do what I can. Not in preaching, but in practice.

LI: When all was said and done with the album and it hit finally hit the streets, was there a certain amount of extra satisfaction for you knowing you could pull this off and have it fit within your body of work as well as anything you’ve ever done? A sort of, “for those of you who doubted I could do a blues album, how do you like me now?”
RS: Not really. I always doubt myself. [I] always think I could have done better, but that’s a personal demon that I have to deal with.

LI: You’re now 17 albums into your recording career. You’re in some rare air amongst musicians, having been productive this long. What drives you to continue through the massive shifts that have taken place in the business since you began, the changing tastes of listeners, and the rigors of touring?
RS: As Stephen King says, “What makes you think I have a choice?” I write and record and tour because I must. It’s a drive, but one that keeps me alive and more or less happy. Playing live is better now than ever, but the actual touring has always sucked. Traveling can be a drag, but it’s all worthwhile to be able to get up and play.

LI: On your 2016 album, “Rocket Science,” in the commentary version of “Miss Mayhem,” you give your take on writing music with others, saying, “It’s a weird thing, getting together with a stranger and proceeding to try to create a little magic and wizardry in the nebulous arena of songwriting…. You just pick up an instrument, face each other, and hope for the best.” Is it uncomfortable for you to co-write songs?
RS: Yes I always get nervous in case nothing happens or something mediocre comes from it, but it’s exciting because of that little bit of apprehension. Most of the time it produces a song that either writer could have written alone, but sometimes magic does happen, like when I write with Matt (Bissonette) who I wrote three albums with before I did “The Snake King.”

LI: I’ve asked some other artists if they tire of performing their “hit” songs, to varying responses. What’s your take on performing “Jessie’s Girl,” or “I’ve Done Everything For You,” for the 1,000th time and keeping them fresh?
RS: Sometimes, but mostly it’s the audience energy that gets me off and makes me want to present the song one more time. It’s a communion, of sorts, over music that is meaningful to you. That’s what keeps the songs fresh for me, the audience. We connect through these songs that have memories and positive feelings.

LI: What cover song would you like to pull out of the hat some night onstage, but for whatever reason just haven’t pulled the trigger on it?
RS: I always wanted to do “Jailhouse Rock” but felt it was just too obvious. But we played at Graceland not long ago and pulled it out and have been playing it on and off since.

LI: There’s a Facebook page called “Induct Rick Springfield Into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame ‘Cause Rick Rocks.” Do you give any thought to one day being inducted, or does it even matter to you?
RS: No. It’s a politically correct bunch of people who choose, and I definitely don’t fit their mold.

RICK SPRINGFIELD IN CONCERT
Where: Prairie Meadows Events Center
1 Prairie Meadows Drive, Altoona
When: Friday, April 19, 8 p.m. (Doors open at 7 p.m.)
Tickets: $55-$75
All concertgoers must be 21 or older to attend.