Colorado-based rock band Firefall was named after the Yosemite Firefall, the tradition of igniting a huge pile of logs and pushing the embers off a cliff in Yosemite National Park, creating a glowing cascade.
Firefall’s extensive list of hits includes “You Are the Woman,” “Just Remember I Love You,” “Strange Way,” “Cinderella,” “It Doesn’t Matter,” “So Long,” “Headed for a Fall” and “Livin’ Ain’t Livin.” The band was formed in 1974 and success came quickly for the band. Atlantic A & R representatives liked their demo and after seeing one of their performances offered Firefall a multi-album contract. In the first three years, Firefall’s achievements included two platinum and three gold albums.
The band has faced numerous personnel changes and other challenges over the years, but today Firefall is going strong. Fans can look forward to hearing new single releases beginning in 2015, with an accompanying album to follow.
The current members of Firefall include Jock Bartley – guitar/ vocals, David Muse – sax/flute/percussion, Mark Andes – bass/vocals, Sandy Ficca – drums and Gary Jones – guitar/vocals.
Firefall and Pure Prairie League (see December Concert Watch) will be sharing a bill on January 23 in Green Bay at the Meyer Theater. With these two amazing bands joining forces, this is sure to be one helluva super show that fans will not want to miss!
Firefall was my late friend Doug Boone’s favorite band. Doug was the originator of this column and a passionate community activist in the Fox Valley area. This one’s for you, Doug.
Jane Spietz: Did the development of Firefall’s sound come easily?
Jock Bartley: Actually it did. We were incredibly lucky because so many bands try to figure out ‘what are we going to sound like?’ and the continuation of their sound, whatever that might be. We were a pretty rare case of when you put the synergy of the musicians and the vocalists together, whatever we played – whether it was a softer love ballad or a harder-edged darker kind of rock song – ended up sounding like us. It was really great. Certainly not everything we recorded we used and not everything we put our hands to was magical! (Laughs) I know how lucky of a fellow I am to be in a band that made such great music. Now yes, we created it but it really started with how great the songs were. It was kind of a fated thing to throw us together. The synergy of the band members, the sum was greater than the parts. And it shows. Our songs still stand up and sound great today on the radio. There’s still that magic.
JS: There was a controversy that arose about the lyrics of the song “Cinderella.”
JB: It’s a totally fictional song. It is about a somewhat controversial subject about a guy getting a girl pregnant and pretty much telling her to leave. The third verse is vague enough to where you don’t know if he stayed and got to see his kid grow up. I’ve been asked hundreds of times over the past thirty years, ‘well, did he stay?’ That’s one of the cool things about songs – a) they don’t have to be true, and b) if you are a little impressionistic with the lyrics they can take on various meanings. We didn’t even really think about it. “Cinderella” had been a huge FM hit and had gotten so much FM airplay that Atlantic Records obviously decided ‘OK, that’s our next AM single.’ They put it out and within a few weeks it was climbing up the AM charts and doing well. All of a sudden it disappeared and went off the charts in about a week. We found out later there were a couple of women’s organizations on the East Coast who didn’t like the lyrical tone of that song. They called a number of critical radio stations on the East Coast and told them of their displeasure with that song and that if the radio station played it, there were certain threats made about, I don’t know, boycotting the radio station or whatever they may have been. Within a week or so that single absolutely died on the charts. We didn’t know what happened until about six months later when we heard the story about women’s organizations saying this is not appropriate to be on the radio. They pretty much squelched it.
JS: You and I are both huge Eric Clapton fans. Tell us how Eric became your hero and about your surprise encounter with him at a recording session.
JB: I bought the Fresh Cream album when I was a teenager. When I heard that first solo of Clapton’s on “I Feel Free,” it was literally like the heavens opened up and the sun came out and suddenly that was possible. Hearing Clapton play really changed my life almost equally as much as Beatlemania and the Beatles did. I’d never heard of Eric Clapton before and I went, ‘Who is this guy?’ Fast forward to when we were making our first album in Miami at Criteria Studios in the winter of ’75 – ’76. Clapton had just made his 461 Ocean Boulevard album. It was my time to start soloing and putting my solos on the records that we had been working on for a few weeks. So, I’m out in the studio warming up to play “Mexico,” the one song I knew that was going to be my moment to shine as a lead guitar player. We’d been playing that song for 2 ½ years on stage and kickin’ ass with it. I’m playing my old Les Paul through a Fender Super Reverb amp. The Bee Gees were recording down the hall, Stephen Stills was in and out, and all of these amazing people were coming in and out of the control room while I’m warming up.
The day before we had the Mariachi horn section come in to play their parts in the middle of my solo, which I never had to contend with before. I knew the horns were coming, but I had no idea when it was happening. So I’m playing my solo and the horns played their part. It kind of took me by surprise. It ended up that I played the 3 ½ minute song as a one take solo. The producer, Jim Mason, pushed the button and said, ‘That was fantastic! C’mon in.’ I said, ‘I wasn’t ready for the horns. Give me another pass or two.’ He said, ‘No, it was perfect. C’mon in.’ I storm into the control room to give him a piece of my mind and the first person I see is my hero, Eric Clapton! He had been watching me play. I just lost it. Eric Clapton – he was the guy! He stood up, shook my hand and said, ‘Keen playing, man,’ and he walked out. I just slumped in the chair and went, ‘Oh my God.’ So playing the original, one take, spontaneous solo with my hero – unbeknownst to me – watching from the control room, was fantastic! Later Jim shared that Clapton had come into the control room to say hi to him because they knew each other. Jim asked Clapton if he wanted to come out and play with me and Eric shook his head and said, ‘No, he sounds like he’s doing just fine.’ That’s probably number one on my magical moments that have happened in my career.
JS: Firefall will be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in January 9.
JB: The induction class is amazing. It’s Stephen Stills and Manassas, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Poco and Firefall. Stephen has chosen not to come. I hope at the last minute he changes his mind! (Laughs) Jeff Hanna from the Dirt Band, Richie Furay from Poco and Buffalo Springfield and I are going up to do three songs of Manassas as a tribute to Stephen, Chris Hillman and all of the Manassas boys. Being inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame is really humbling and it’s a huge honor for Firefall to be acknowledged.
JS: Is there a new album in the works?
JB: There is. We’re going to do it a little differently this time. We are going to release two or three songs every couple of months. When we have ten or twelve or thirteen songs in a year or so that have been released, then we’ll put out an album. I’ve been writing a lot of songs for the new record. I’ve been putting out a search for writers in Nashville. I know a lot of great writers there and a couple of writers out here in Colorado. I really don’t care who writes the songs. I just want to have a bunch of great, great songs for our record. I want to make the 2015 version of recorded Firefall be reminiscent of and sound like Firefall and yet be modern enough to be really accepted today. There’ll be some surprises along the way.
JS: Looking forward to an amazing show at the Meyer Theater in Green Bay on January 23 with Firefall and Pure Prairie League sharing the bill!
JB: As band leader of Firefall, I feel that a band owes the crowd a huge amount. People can expect a really good Firefall show sounding like we’re supposed to sound and we’ll also do some fun spontaneous stuff. Not a lot of people jam on stage anymore but we do. We have a lot of fun. We are going to give you guys a great show and play all of the songs you would expect.
Jane Spietz is a community activist and social worker who loves music.