Dave Grohl’s directorial debut, Sound City, is a celebration of so many of the musicians who called the Van Nuys, California studio home at one point or another. From Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham to Trent Reznor and Neil Young, the remarkable film showcases decades of music’s biggest stars.
But the film’s breakout story is arguably Rick Springfield. The “Jessie’s Girl” singer has a deep history with the studio, with his one-time manager, Joe Gottfried, having also been the building’s owner. An emotional Springfield recounts his relationship with Gottfried, one that suffered when the singer abandoned him for another manager.
The two did eventually make peace before Gottfried’s passing, making the film a celebration for the singer, who released a new album, Songs for the End of the World, last November. At the Hollywood Palladium, where Springfield joined Grohl, Nicks, John Fogerty, Corey Taylor, Rick Nielsen and many others as part of the Sound City Players, Springfield was clearly having as good a time as anyone.
Some of that is due to the always-enthusiastic Grohl, who says in the film, “I’ve been bragging to everyone, I’m calling Rick Fuckin’ Springfield tonight!”
The day after the Palladium show Rick “Fucking” Springfield spoke with Rolling Stone about being featured in the same film as Paul McCartney, meeting Elvis and Elizabeth Taylor and why watching the movie is tough on him emotionally.
Did you know Dave was such a big fan before you worked together?
No, not at all. In fact, when you walk into someone else’s kind of play area, you’re kind of the new guy in school. Everyone’s got their little clique going, and you don’t really know what to expect. That’s kind of how I felt walking into the studio with [Foo Fighters] the first time. They’d been together for years and had a lot of success, and I didn’t really know what it was going to be like. And they were just all so welcoming and saying that they were fans. It instantly relaxes you, because you go in a little protective in situations like this. I even saw it with Paul McCartney – he walks in, and even though he’s Paul McCartney, he’s still being a little protective, and [then] he loosens up. And the whole band’s attitude is they’re music fans, and you get that right away. Dave comes from the perspective that great music’s great music.
That shows in the movie, where it seems very natural for you and Lee Ving to be in the same setting.
For musicians, music is music, and we all started idolizing somebody and we all came from the same garage. We all were that same 14-, 15-year-old kid trying to bang out a decent cover of “Can’t Buy Me Love” or something.
And now here you are featured in the same movie as Paul McCartney.
Yeah, that’s a pretty big one for me [laughs]. I was talking to Pat Smear about it and he said, “He knows how you feel, because he’s been around it all his life.”
Did you actually get to meet McCartney?
I didn’t meet him on this project, though that may still happen. But I’ve met him a couple of times. The first time it was actually when I was dating Linda Blair. She’d just come off The Exorcist and was in a Broadway show of Equus, and Paul and Linda were, like, five people down, and he leaned out and waved and I kind of waved back. And I went, “Holy shit, Paul McCartney just waved at me.” Then I realized he was waving at Linda.
I think the movie does a good job of showing how those hierarchies dissipate when making music, though it also has fun with it. I love when Grohl says, “Yeah, Butch Vig, tell Paul McCartney what to do.“
You’re always aware of it. I remember when I was first on General Hospital Elizabeth Taylor came on – she was a big fan of the show. I’m doing a scene with her, and I keep going in and out of doing the scene and going, “Holy fuck, that’s Elizabeth Taylor.” That kid never leaves. I know when I do shows and there are these 30- and 40-year-old men and women coming back going, “God!” – still in touch with the 12-year-old or 14-year-old, and you can see that. And I don’t think that ever leaves. Everybody’s a fan of somebody.
Besides McCartney who are those artists that still inspire that fandom in you?
The Who. I was a huge Pete Townshend fan. Love his solo stuff too. I did a movie with Keith Richards‘ wife and he came down, and that was kind of a pretty big moment – him coming down to check me out. I met Elvis too. I wasn’t a giant Elvis fan, but since then I’ve gone, “Holy shit, I met Elvis.” Just seeing John Fogerty, too – I remember being a kid in Australia listening to all the Creedence Clearwater stuff, and then chatting with him backstage. You drift in and out of having a regular conversation with another musician and going, “Holy fuck, that’s John Fogerty.”
How did you meet Elvis?
I originally came over from Australia with Steve Binder. Steve had directed the  Elvis special, the NBC one. And I was going back to Australia one time, 1971 I think it was, and I got on the plane, and there was Elvis in the front seat in first class. I walked by him and I’m like, “Shit, there’s Elvis.” He’s the only person I’ve ever seen do this, but as soon as the plane was landing he walks back along the plane signing autographs. And I had a chat with him, saying, “Steve’s my manager.” “Oh yeah, Steve. I love Steve.” So had a bit of a connection more than just, “Would you sign this for my girlfriend?” He was really sweet, and I thought it was an amazing thing to do. I’ve never seen any celebrity ever come close to doing that.
I even love all those corny fucking movies now. I have them on my iPod, like Fun in Acapulco and all that stuff. Of course I love all his early rock stuff, his best musical stuff, but there’s something amazing about what he did through his whole life.
Are there moments in the film that are tough for you to watch, or that surprised you?
Yeah, it was hard for me to watch the whole thing with Joe [Gottfried] dying and my reaction to it. That was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting emotionally to go there, and it kind of caught me by surprise. It got me down – both times it’s made me kind of depressed. But as far as watching a performance, I never, ever watch my acting back, ever. The Californication stuff and all that people like, I don’t watch it back, so once it’s done it’s kind of done. Music, I’ll listen to after, because you have to listen to it to make it right. The movie itself, that was the toughest thing for me, that moment, because I still obviously have a lot of pain about it. Joe was such a great guy, and I was very selfish with the way I kind of initially [left him]. Like I said in the movie, it was fortuitous that I did hook up with him again, hug him again and tell him I loved him before he died.
Do you feel like doing this film is a way of making amends?
Yeah. He deserves a lot of attention, because he was the heart of the whole studio. He’s why I signed. He’s why Lindsey and Stevie were able to hang around the studio for four years. I’m very happy for him – great seeing all the great photos of him smiling. He loved the studio and he was really proud of his car, and he was real happy when he got the license plate that said Records. It’s what he lived for.
Every artist goes through ebbs and flows in a long career. I find that most artists have a greater appreciation of success later on in their career. Is that true for you?
Yeah, very much so. For me, I was 30, and I’d been struggling since I was 14. I had success in Australia with bands and record success, and I had one hit when I came over here in ’71 with Steve Binder – that was a song called “Speak to the Sky,” that was like a Top 10 Billboard single. And then that was it – there was nothing up until 1980. By the time it finally did hit it was like, “Fuck, finally.” When it first hits, you really do think it is about you and you got something pretty fucking special and people are lucky to hear it. But I think part of me enjoying that now is that turned around, and at some point I actually realized it was about the audience, and I was here because of them. And I became real thankful and humbled by that. And Dave gets that, too. He gets it’s the audience – he wouldn’t be up there if the audience didn’t like what he was doing and didn’t show up. You get a certain confidence, too, from just having been around long enough, and you carve your niche. It’s a lot of things. It’s certainly playing with a band like that, too, and the whole attitude of their band is similar to my band. It’s all about having a great time onstage and that’s what people go away with. I’ve never been a musician that stared at my feet and tried to play all the right notes. I’m more in the Pete Townshend style. I want to get up there and play loud and have fun.