Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Working Class Dogs Pays Sincere, Irony-Free Homage to Rick Springfield

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2015 at 4:26 AM

Working Class Dogs: A (100 percent sincere) Tribute to Rick Springfield - JARRED GASTREICH
  • Jarred Gastreich
  • Working Class Dogs: A (100 percent sincere) Tribute to Rick Springfield

By Jeremy Essig

In an era where every piece of nostalgia seems to require a heavy wash of irony, admitting a connection to Rick Springfield sounds like a scene from a Seth Rogen movie -- a moment wherein the character reveals a softness while allowing the audience a feeling of hipper-than-thou smugness, all while providing the protagonist "nerd points," requisite currency in this period of inverse cool.

For Whoa Thunder singer/Middle Class Fashion bassist Brian McClelland, however, the admission is made with tongue found nowhere in the vicinity of cheek. After being introduced to Springfield's 1981 hit "Jessie's Girl," McClelland found a deeper kinship with the Aussie pop-star-turned-soap-heartthrob's "April 24, 1981." The song detailed Springfield's initial feelings about losing his father -- a traumatic set of emotions the young McClelland had also faced.

"I lost my dad at three and heard the song at ten," McClelland says. "It has a sweet and heartbreaking sentiment that impacted me in a very personal way."

Written the day of Springfield's father's death, according to his autobiography, the song "April 24, 1981" is notable for its brevity. Clocking in at only one minute and thirty-three seconds -- "all I could manage to get out," Springfield would later write in his book -- the song is a brief declaration of joy that his father now knows the "great unknown" as he nears heaven, accompanied by a synth figure and arppegiated guitar.

McClelland describes the concise song as possessing a "simple grace" that may not have been apparent had it been drawn out into a longer piece. This grace found and connected with the young McClelland, whose father was a St. Louis County Police detective killed in the line of duty by a drunk driver while attempting to assist a disabled motorist.

Now, decades after first being introduced to Springfield, McClelland recruited Yankee Racers' Curtis Brewer, Andy Hainz and Jerry Mazzuca, as well as Thor Axe's Kyle Work and Syna So Pro's Syrhea Conaway to pay tribute to the man. Dubbing the band "Working Class Dogs," after Springfield's breakthrough album, the group will make its debut Friday, March 13, at Off Broadway.

Fronting a Springfield tribute band has been a "lifelong dream," McClelland says. As a nine-year-old McClelland would perform "Jessie's Girl" into a mirror while strumming a tennis racket, a memory he now cites as his inspiration for becoming a musician. (Also on the setlist of his tennis-racket mirror concert series: ELO's "All Over the World" and the Knack's "My Sharona.")

Around this time, McClelland says he also organized a "neighborhood kids full tennis-racket band" homage to Neil Diamond's "America" -- perhaps an early indication of his love for tribute bands.

As McClelland moved from his tennis racket guitar to the actual instrument, though, admitting an affinity for Springfield had fallen out of vogue.

"By the time I was learning guitar stuff, peer pressure had already moved my Rick Springfield jones firmly to the closet," McClelland says. "I never stopped listening, though."

One reason for Springfield's fall from popular favor to ironic punch line in the mid-'80s may have been his acting turn as Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital. According to his autobiography, the singer admits that at the time his record producer feared the soap opera would detract from his work as a musician. But nearing thirty and singing cover songs to tiny bar crowds for rent money, Springfield was taking every opportunity that came his way.

"People, especially dudes, definitely dismissed him for the soap-actor thing," McClelland says of Springfield's career choices. "I mean, I'm aware that his music in this period was aimed at teenage girls -- I get that. And a certain more serious-minded audience will never get behind straight-up pop like that."

Continue to page two for more.

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