JIM WADDELL: I started playing professionally when I was 15 years old in a cover band in Denver called Ridge Top. We covered songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Loggins & Messina, Marshall Tucker and others. Now almost 50 years later, we are finishing a new FIREFALL record which consists of songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Loggins & Messina, Marshall Tucker, and other groups that FIREFALL toured with back in the mid-1970s. So it seems I’ve come full circle.
My first instrument was piano when I was 11 or 12 years old. I took up saxophone in sixth grade and also worked in a music store. Many parents brought in the flutes that their kids didn’t end up liking much, and suddenly the store had dozens of flutes for sale. I looked over all of them and bought the one I liked best. Saxophone and flutes have very similar fingerings. I was off and running!
Later on in my first band, three of us from Ridge Top – Kerry Conner, Cactus Moser, and I – started working with Steve Taylor. At that time, Steve was a ground-breaking new wave / punk Christian Artist. We recorded an album in Denver called “Metdown at Madame Tussauds” on Sparrow Records, which ended up having several songs go into the Top Ten on Christian Charts and was nominated that year for a Grammy. We also toured nationally and internationally, including a few shows in Chile, one at a huge soccer stadium that got out of hand with a near riot, with armed police beating up crowd members in front of the stage, and other audience members yelling, ‘Death to the President’. The crowd started fleeing the stadium about the same time the band did. Ahh, the time of Pinochet!!!
I ended up moving back to Boulder, Colorado, and played with various bands, most notably Chris Daniels and The Kings. Besides playing locally, The Kings played a number of summer festivals in Europe, mostly in Amsterdam and other cities in The Netherlands. We went to Europe a dozen times. At the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival, we met and jammed with David Bromberg, which turned into me touring and recording with him. And at those summer Telluride shows, we’d frequently be joined on stage by Sam Bush, Bela Fleck and once, Lyle Lovett (who liked playing with a tight horn section and soon formed his Large Band). I also toured and recorded with Al Kooper, famous from those iconic Bob Dylan albums.
I lived in Nashville for a few years, playing some gigs and trying to get some action in the studios. Then I lived in Miami for a year and eventually moved back to Colorado. I got hired to tour the South Pacific for nine months with Elik Pink and Sticks & Stones, in Guam and on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii.
I’ve worked sporadically with FIREFALL since the 1980s, for roughly 14 years on and off. Firefall’s original sax/flute/keyboard player, David Muse, was in the Marshall Tucker Band for quite awhile, and I got the gig, touring all over the country and recording on the band’s ‘Messenger’ album in 1994. And sadly, as David’s heath slowly went downhill in 2019 and 2020, I toured more and more with FIREFALL, playing shows all over. Most recently, I was asked to officially join the band in 2022. It’s really great recording this new FIREFALL album, ‘Friends and Family’, due out in the Spring of 2023 – such fun respectfully putting our own musical slant on these rocking 1970s songs by other groups.