It All Started Here... (Rick Springfield: A Lifetime in Music, Excerpt # 1)

On January 30, 2001, nearly twenty years after he stole the hearts of teenage girls across America playing the dual role of soap opera heartthrob and chart-topping rock star, Rick Springfield expanded his entertainment repertoire in yet another direction.  On the same day that he released his first live CD, Springfield took over the lead in the multi-million dollar Las Vegas production EFX Alive.

Virtually every person who had a radio in the 1980s knows Rick Springfield and his #1 hit “Jessie’s Girl.”  Good looks and the mass appeal of the most popular of his songs won Rick Springfield fame and fortune, but there is much more than meets the eye to this versatile singer/actor/song-writer/producer and self-taught musician.  The seventeen top-forty songs, four multi-platinum albums and long-remembered role of Dr. Noah Drake barely scratch the surface of the story of Rick Springfield the artist.

That story began on August 23, 1949, when Richard Lewis Springthorpe was born in the small town of Merrylands on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia.  Rick’s father, Norman, was a career military officer.  Like most long-term military officers, Norman was obliged to more frequently.  His wife, Eileen, and two sons, Rick and his older brother Michael, traveled with him.

[Photo of Rick with first guitar, not licensed for web use.]

The first of these moves in Rick’s lifetime was to Melbourne, shortly after he was born.  Another took the Springthorpe family to England in the late fifties.  There, in his early adolescence, Springfield was exposed to a musical revolution that had not yet reached his native Australia.  Music had been a part of Springfield’s life since early childhood: music was Norman’s first love, although he never pursued a musical career, and song was a staple of Springthorpe family life.  Already an avid music fan, Rick was fascinated by the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and other popular British bands that he discovered during his time in England.

It was just a few months after the family’s return to England that thirteen-year-old Rick met twelve-year-old John Kennedy, who would ultimately be memorialized in Springfield’s 1983 song, “Me & Johnny.”  Kennedy says the friendship began over the Beatles, a secondhand guitar that Kennedy brought to school and Cliff Richard and the Shadows.  “Cliff and the Shadows were a huge sensation then,” he remembers.

[Photo of Rick and John Kennedy, 1964, not licensed for web use.]

Not long after the boys met, Kennedy recalls, “We got together in the music room at one stage, which was really just a big classroom with a piano in it…started playing a few chords and sort of didn’t look back from there.  Formed an instant friendship, you could say, and it was a really good one.”  That friendship might originally have been based on a common “massive interest in learning every song the Beatles ever recorded,” but over time would grow much deeper and still endures nearly forty years later.

[Photo of Rick and John Kennedy, 2001, not licensed for web use.]

This was the same year that Rick would get his first guitar, a gift his parents purchased at Woolworth’s.  Dreaming of an electric guitar like the ones played by his idols, Rick promptly sawed the guitar in half and painted it red. 

The next year, Kennedy changed schools and the boys weren’t in daily contact, but they still got together on the weekends, teaching themselves to play along with records and writing what Kennedy describes as “a couple of pretty ordinary songs.”  Making music wasn’t as common a pastime for teenage boys at that time as it is today, and Kennedy says that he and Rick saw it as “our passport to stardom.”  Kennedy’s brother played bass, and during Rick’s fifteenth year the three of them recruited a drummer—chosen for the equipment he could provide—and formed what would be Rick’s first band, the Icy Blues.

The band rehearsed at the home of “whoever’s parents would put up with the noise best,” and played on and off “at parties and gigs at the high school and the like.”

Like the songs he and Rick wrote, Kennedy says that the performances “[weren’t] really groundbreaking stuff,” but that “it was fun, and we actually got paid sometimes.  Specifically, he recalls band members receiving two pounds each for one performance at the high school.

[Photo of Rick playing guitar, 1964, not licensed for web use.]

Ever the perfectionist, Ricks’ judgment of those early performances wasn’t quite so charitable.  He closed an October 2, 1965 journal entry with “We could have done much better, and next time will have to get our sound balance perfect.”  Five days later, he noted, “We turned down a job at a footy social, because we thought we better get in a bit more practice.”

The next year, new guitar in hand, Rick would audition for…

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