"It boils down to the songs; whether it's my song, "Way back When" or "Real Fine Day," a number of those songs really sound in the spirit of Firefall. So, we're really happy with it and really happy to hear that we accomplished sounding old and reminiscent of how great the music of the '70's was but also with our eyes on the future."
From its inception and through the mid 1970's, AM radio was the place to go for a multitude of sounds, styles and and genres of music. There were personalities like Jerry "Geator with the Heater" Blavat, Robert Smith aka"Wolfman Jack, "Bruce"Cousin Brucie" Morrow and countless others. The AM air waves popped, crackled, alerted us to oncoming thunderstorms, disappeared when travelling under bridges, brought us news, time checks and more songs under three minutes and five seconds than we could fathom but one band seemed to transition from those fading days of AM dominance to the album oriented FM radio format and that band was Firefall.
Formed in Boulder, Colorado in 1974 from good stock; guitarists Rick Roberts and Jock Bartley had toured with Graham Parsons, add in guitarist Larry Burnett, former Spirit bassist Mark Andes and The Byrds drummer Michael Clarke and you had the makings of one of the first "Super groups."
Despite multiple changes over the years, the band managed to produce an impressive catalog of work and several members of the band's original line-up have recently released yet another studio album. Jock Bartley recently discussed the unit's formation and the how and why behind their latest effort.
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"It's pretty amazing; as you can well guess, for the last 15 or 20 years, when Firefall goes out and plays concerts and particularly when we're on a bill with three or four other 1970's "Yacht Rock" kind of bands, we get 45 minutes to play and because we had so many hits and so many fans expect those songs like,"You Are The Woman," "Just Remember I Love You"and "Strange Way;" I've known what songs are going to be in our 45 minute set for the last 15 or 20 years; we've been kind of coasting; ya' know? What was really cool was when Mark Andes re-joined the band maybe five or six years ago, he was saying that we should honor our band history. Firefall was really fortunate to be in the upper branches of the genealogy tree that started with The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, The Eagles, Poco, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Loggins and Messina and all of that. Michael Clarke from The Byrds was our original drummer; it's really cool having that early folk and country rock history in our band. Then you throw in Mark Andes from Spirit who were maybe one of the first progressive rock bands out of Southern California; Firefall's history is really amazing. So, Mark said that we should start doing some songs from our past and I immediately suggested "Nature's Way" by Spirit from Randy California which was one of his great songs and from that point on whenever we would play "Nature's Way" on stage the crowds just loved it and they loved hearing Mark's stories or my stories about the 60's and the 70's and once that started getting so much attention, I told Mark, man we should record this song. When we said that I immediately started thinking, we haven't had an album out in forever; we should make a new record and that's what we started doing and "Nature's Way" was the first song that we recorded for this new album. Amazingly, a year or so into that Mark asked Timothy B Schmit from The Eagles if he would sing on the record and Timothy graciously said yes and he loved the song because he used to be a huge Spirit and Mark Andes fan when he was growing up in Sacramento, California and then John McFee from The Doobie Brothers played steel guitar on the song and it was just great having all of those big name people contribute to that Randy California song which was such a big song at the end of the 1960's and early 70's; it was a big environmental hit at kind of the end of the hippie generation. That really put me in as leader of the band and I ended up being the producer of this record on the song search because I know the main thing that matters to get people interested in any band, not just our band; is how good the songs are. I'm a really good lead guitar player but I'm really lucky to have met Rick Roberts back in the day. Back in the 70's, Firefall, when Rick Roberts and Larry Burnett joined Mark Andes and I on our first day of rehearsal to form a band that would become Firefall, we had 20 or 25 original songs to choose from, including three, four or five that would be on our first album a year and a half later. So, the songs have always been the reason that Firefall was a success and yes, we had a lot of other things and had a distinctive sound and the interplay of my lead guitar and David Muses's sax and flute; there was a lot of signature things going on with those Firefall records but the main thing was how great the songs of Rick Roberts and Larry Burnett were."
Aside from their aforementioned hits, Firefall always had a distinctive sound and style; as the producer it was very important to Bartley and the rest of the band to stay true to that sound yet still create something that was new and fresh.
"I have to say that when we started this album and started looking for songs, not only did I encourage anybody in the band to present songs; I wrote four songs on this record, I knew that it didn't matter who wrote the songs and we looked outside and found four outside songs that totally fit in with the package,"he continued."I knew right away that at least half of our record really needed to sound like Firefall from the 70's and those big albums from the 70's and with three guys from the original band; Mark, David and I, we know how to make good Firefall records. I really wanted to make half of the record sound like the old 70's Firefall and I think we succeeded and if we wouldn't have done that, people would've said, this doesn't sound like Firefall; why are they still calling themselves that? Just like the old records from the 70's we also had a couple of songs that kind of broke the mold and sounded different than "Just RememberI love You" and "Livin' Ain't Livin''' or "You Are The Woman" and that's what a good album does. I was conscious and really trying to make the record sound enough like our 70's records; enough where people would say, God this is great, it sounds like the band but also have a new twist to it."
"Going back to those early days of practice when we were just putting the band together, we never had to try to sound like us. When we worked out Rick or Larry's songs with a configuration of myself, Mark Andes, Michael Clarke and David Muse as the really good players in the band; we sounded like us without even having to try. I know because I've known a lot of bands and a lot of musicians who, when they are putting a band together kind of look around the room at each other and say, OK; what are we shooting for here? What are we going to sound like? Firefall fortunately had that kind of just built in with the synergy of the musicians and the songs and the singers; we sounded like us. There are certain bands, when you hear them; you know who it is; The Doobie Brothers, Led Zeppelin and also the singer; Heart fits in that. Whenever you hear Ann Wilson belting it out you go, wow that's Heart! Same thing with Steely Dan, who I loveand Little Feat which were totally different kinds of bands in the 70's but Steely Dan; what sophisticated music they made but they made it sound so popular and accessible that you didn't realize it was three chord rock 'n' roll."
The new album, titled "Comet," is 10 tracks of vintage Firefall and the effort to stay true to their style has paid off in a big way. Somewhere Albert Einstein is smiling as their past collides with the present. Each cut has one wondering if time travel really is possible as they seemingly bounce back and forth bewteen old and new school material. Bartley recalled a special player who helped form that sound when they first began recording their first record.
"You know what's interesting? The kind of un-official seventh member of the band was the amazing percussionist Joe Lala who played all over our first three records. He was in Manassas with Stephen Stills and Chris Hillman and down in Miami at Criteria Studios where we recorded our first couple of albums Lala was king. Joe passed away about six or eight years ago and evidently he had something like 30 gold or platinum records on his wall having played on everything from Stephen Stills and Crosby, Stills and Nash and Firefall to The Bee Gees. He was, "The guy" and he sure made a big impact on our records and our sound in those days. We were real fortunate and Joe Lala was a big part of our sound and for people like those who liked Firefall songs that had lots of congas or timbales it was great."
"Comet" is their first new studio release since 1994 and the first album with vocalist Gary Jones, who along with drummer Sandy Ficca completes the current line-up. So, with new faces once again in the fold; why a title that seems to reference the past?
"The title of the album and the picture of the comet on the front,"he started to explain slowly;"I wanted it to be like our first album which had such a beautiful striking cover of the comet in the lake but when we were trying to figure out what the title of the record was, I was either going to go with "Comet" or Yosemite. Yosemite of course is where the fire fall happened as a tourist attraction. They'd push a bonfire off a 2,000 foot tall cliff and it would cascade down the side or Honesdale Falls where two weeks a month every February the setting sun illuminates a waterfall and makes it look like a fire fall. Our manager said, "No, no, no; "Comet" that's great" and I found about 20 different really great pictures of comets and the one we chose is just astounding and that's actually of the recent comet "Neowise" and that's from the coast of Oregon. I wanted to make the front cover be reminiscent of Firefall too so, that's why we named it "Comet."
Originally scheduled for release in the fall of 2019 but delayed by COVID-19, they held off until December of 2020. They have released a single called "Way Back When" which has an accompanying video as well.
"Way Back When;" there's a really good video out for that song. Firefall hasn't made a video in over 20 years and my son Jamie made that video. When I started writing the song it was really just kind of an homage and acknowledging of how great the music was of the mid and late 1960's and when I wrote that first verse about The Beatles and The Stones and The Byrds and Bob Dylan; I kind of thought wow, this is great. Then I realized that The Byrds didn't really come out and have hits until 1965. So, the three years that I was going to make the song about, '65, 1967 and '69; the way I got the second and third verses was; I went toGoogleand I typed in "Top 100 songs of 1967." Suddenly it came back Aretha Franklin "Respect," then The Young Rascals, "Good Lovin'" and all of these things. So, I wanted it to be kind of a history lesson to people who saw the video and also to show how great the music of the '60's was; which by the way, the music of the '60's and those great bands and artists that I named on the song really kind of led the bands of the '70's. The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Eagles; that set the stage because before The Beatles no bands really wrote their own songs. Then when bands wrote songs that got on the radio and sold a lot of records, they realized that there was a lot of money to be made too. So, by the time the '70's rolled around, bands and songwriters were just writing great songs. Think about Dan Fogleberg or Little River Band or any of those bands from the '70's that just had such great songs and I'm really happy to have Firefall be a legitimate part of that '70's and have played a small role in."
The phrase, "Less is more" is often use in creative circles and Jock was well aware of that in the production of this new album; taking great care to let the music breathe while yet again staying true to Firefall's sound.
"We are so happy to have new songs and a new album out that's just amazing after all of these years and decades and again, I think the quality of the songs really comes through when you listen to the record. I've always been a really melodic and tasty guitar player and I'm proud of the lead guitar stuff that I put on this record because I'm trying to play what the song deserves and play melodies and not just a lot of fast licks. The record is kind of understated which is rare these days; if you listen to our song "Younger," I could've as the producer, filled that thing up with a lot of keyboards or said, hey let's put some more guitar in there or hey, let's put more lead guitar. I wanted to keep it really sparse so that the listener could really just listen to the lyrics and groove on the song."
Now that they are back in force with a great new record, a fresh sound and some new faces; where do they go next?
"I don't know what the end game is but I do know that most of our huge fan base, not only in America but around the world; they're in their late 50's, 60's or maybe 70 years old now. It is interesting when we play at shows and everyone in the crowd is singing along with our big '70's hits; there are a lot of people that are in their late 20's or 30's that are much younger than us that are singing all of the lyrics to the songs. How that happens was, they grew up as children in a family that played Firefall music all of the time and they have an appreciation for the melodic quality of the '70's music and here they are only 30 years old. We are always looking to expand our fan base and maybe certain people who like this album will go back and for the first time listen to albums of the '70's. I have to tell you, I did an interview with a guy who had been an AM disc jockey for his entire radio career and he said, "I apologize Jock but the only Firefall songs that I've ever really heard were "You Are The Woman," "Just Remember I Love You" and "Strange Way" and he wasn't familiar at all with any of our other stuff. Then after he heard this new album and said, "Wow, this is great," he went back and listened to all of the album cuts that had not been hit songs and went, "Wow!" So, there's a lot of people that still think Firefall is just "You Are The Woman" or whatever and we've always just been a rock band that had some really good ballads on every album."
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!
This week's event listings
Championship Bar 931 Chambers street Trenton (609) 396-5457 Tuesday 8 p.m. "Jam Night" Hosted by Nikki & Caleb Ages 21+COARadio.com 125 South Main Street Hightstown (609) 241-7103 Sun. 7 p.m. "Rock On Radio" feat. Rick Winow w/ Cold Weather CompanyCooper's Riverview 50 Riverview Plaza Trenton (609) 393-7300 Thurs. 7 p.m. Time Peace Fri. 7 p.m. The FredZ Sat. 7 p.m. Fish Out Of Water Sun. (11 a.m.) "Sunday Latin Brunch" (6 p.m.) Metallica Tribute w/ "Obey Your Master" Mon. 7 p.m. "Sunny Monday Blues Jam" and Country Music Night Tues. 8 p.m. Karaoke w/ Karen and Mark All Events Ages 21+Dog & Bull Brew House 810 Bristol Pike (Rte. 13) Croydon, PA. (215) 788-2855 Fri. 6 p.m. Brian Elliot Sat. 4 p.m. Monaco & Manley Sun. 4 p.m. Mia JohnsonHopewell Valley Vineyards 46 Yard Avenue Pennington (609) 737-4465 Fri. 4 p.m. "Music & Merlot" feat. The Mac Paige Band Sat. 4 p.m. "Music & Merlot" feat. Rainbow Fresh Sun. 1 p.m. Zachary DrewKillarney's Publick House 1644 Whitehorse-Mercerville Road Hamilton (609) 586-1166 Thurs. 5 p.m. "Girls Night Out" w/ Radio FictionMamma Rosa's 572 Klockner Road Hamilton (609) 588-5454 Wed. 7 p.m. KaraokeMcGuinn's Place 1781 Brunswick Avenue Lawrence (609) 392-0599 Tues. 9 p.m. Karaoke Ages 21+ Newtown Brewing Company 103 Penns Trail Newtown, PA (215) 944-8609 Sat. 7 p.m. Mike EstabrookPalmer Square Nassau Street Princeton Thurs. 4 p.m. "Skating On The Square" $10/$12 (Includes skate rental) Fri. 4 p.m. "Skating On The Square" $10/$12 (Includes skate rental) Sat.12 p.m./4 p.m. "Skating On the Square" $10/$12 (Includes skate rental) Sun 12 p.m./4 p.m. "Skating On the Square" $10/$12 (Includes skate rental) Patriots Crossing 1339 River Road Titusville (609) 737-2780 Thurs. 8 p.m. Open Mic Night Wed. 7 p.m. "Quizzo" The Cool Cricket 216 Burlington Street Fieldsboro (609) 291-9110 Fri. 9 p.m. Karaoke Sat. 7 p.m. Drunken ClamsTindall Road Brewing Co. 102 Farnsworth Avenue Bordentown (609) 526-8651 Sat. 6 p.m. The WilliamsboyTriumph Brewing Company (New Hope, Pa. Location) 400 Union Square New Hope, Pa. (215) 862-8300 Thurs. 8 p.m. Trivia Sun. 7 p.m. Open Stage All shows 21+ Vault Tap Room 19 West College Avenue Yardley, PA (267) 907-8550 Sat. 7 p.m. Jon Savage & The Classic RockersWorking Dog Winery 610 Windsor Perrineville Road Hightstown (609) 371-6000 Sat. 1 p.m. Chris Giakas Sun. 1 p.m. Love and Duffy DuoWWFM 89.1 FM HD2 Radio MCCC Old Trenton Road West Windsor Jazzon2.org Mon. 7 p.m. "Danny Coleman's Got The Blues"