Houston Press Talks To Firefall’s Jock Bartley about their new album FRIENDS & FAMILY (Get it here), their tribute to the great bands (and friends) of the 70s!
The country-tinged Classic Rockers in Firefall first ignited their musical ember in 1974. That means they’ve had nearly five decades worth of touring with other bands, while various members have also played with big-name artists or been in noted groups.
The band is best known for a trio of big ‘70s hits, all written by original guitarist/vocalist Rick Roberts (“You Are the Woman,” “Just Remember I Love You,” “Strange Way”). As well as some more minor charting tunes (“Livin’ Ain’t Livin’,” “Cinderella,” “Mexico”).
On Friends & Family (Sunset Blvd.), their latest record set for release next month, the group pays homage to acts they’ve crossed paths and guitar wires with over the years with 13 cover tunes. But they’re not straight reproductions—all have been “Firefalled up” to reflect the band’s own sound.
“The truth is, I know how to make good Firefall records. The main thing about this album was to treat these songs and the bands that made them with respect and love and reverence,” guitarist/singer Jock Bartley offers via Zoom. “To do right by them. But give them a sound like us.”
Friends & Family includes material from frequent tourmates like Fleetwood Mac (“World Turning”), Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Simple Man”), the Marshall Tucker Band (“Can’t You See?”), and the Band (“Chest Fever”).
And groups that current or former members were part of like Spirit (“I Got a Line On You”), Heart (“What About Love”), and the Byrds (“I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better).” Tunes by pals and collaborators Dan Fogelberg, the Doobie Brothers, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, and Loggins & Messina also make the cut.
There are musical tweaks. An accordion intro to “Simple Man” gives the song a more down-home feel. “My mom was an accordion player!” Bartley laughs. It is also the record’s first single. Slide guitar replaces synthesizer parts from “What About Love.” Bartley’s own playing doesn’t exactly replicate those original versions either.
“I’m aware that I’m playing these guitar parts originally done by amazing players like [Marshall Tucker Band’s] Toy Caldwell and Lindsay Buckingham and Jim Messina and Dan Fogelberg,” Bartley says.
“And Randy California’s signature solo for ‘I Got a Line on You?’ I used to play that song when I was in a club band in college! Later, I got to know Toy a little bit. We’d compare Les Paul guitars!”
Friends & Family also features guest appearances by former members of Heart, Bad Company, Chicago, Desert Rose Band, the Subdudes, and the bands of Kenny Loggins and Elton John.
The last time we spoke with Firefall was for the release of 2020’s “Comet”, their first original studio effort in over 25 years. Since then, original member David Muse died from cancer in 2022 and near-original member Mark Andes retired.
That leaves Bartley with Last Man Standing Syndrome. Though it’s not for the first time.
“I was the last man standing when everybody quit in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. And I kind of didn’t like that. It was great when David would come back for a year or Mark came back,” he says.
“I’ve even heard arguments that we’re a Firefall cover band and not the original guys. Look, Michael [Clarke] died. Rick and Larry [Burnett] aren’t in good voice and don’t perform anymore, and David passed away,” Bartley offers. “I don’t feel bad about continuing. We sound like Firefall in 2023. And when this project was put in front of us, we couldn’t pass it up!”
The current lineup includes members who have been on-and-off with the band since the mid-‘80s and in addition to Bartley include Steve Weinmeister (co-lead vocals/guitar), John Bisaha (co-lead vocals/bass), Sandy Ficca (drums), and Jim Waddell (flute/sax/keyboards) – on his fifth stint with Firefall.
“I tell you, the vocals on this record with Steve and John as the main singers, we can do anything. They’re fantastic,” Bartley says. Though he himself does sing lead on “Can’t You See?” “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” and album closer “Ooh Las Vegas.”
Of course, as scores of Classic Rock-era bands have discovered, putting out new music only brings in limited results. The records are usually sold only to diehard fans or at the gigs, and there’s no radio station on the ground or in the sky that will play it. That leaves more contemporary social media and streaming as the only way to get this music heard to new potential buyers.
“The truth is, moneymaking on royalties for selling albums doesn’t even figure into [a reason for] putting out new music. The industry and publishing are so weird now. Songwriters and publishers used to make fortunes back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. You could make millions,” Bartley says.
“That’s all gone now. Look at Toto! They put out new music, and there’s no support or airplay. The station will just play ‘Africa’ again. Same with the Doobie Brothers! Even the Eagles only had one new airplay song with [2007’s] Long Road Out of Eden.”
Instead, he says he looked at picking and playing the tunes on Friends & Family as “an opportunity and a challenge.” He also admits that though he’s “in his seventies and pretty arthritic,” he wanted to “burn” with his playing on the record where it counted.
Mortality is on the mind. Bartley says he turned in the final tapes for Friends & Family just over a year ago. And just in that time a number of people in the bands covered on the record have died: Christine McVie, Gary Rossington, David Crosby, and Robbie Robertson.
In fact, Bartley says that two of his favorite tours ever were when they opened for Fleetwood Mac on the massive Rumours stadium jaunt, and on the Band’s last tour. But he plans on continuing the tributes in Firefall’s future.
“I got a scoop for you too, Robert! We’re at the start of making Friends & Family II!,” he says.
“I’ve got a list going, and it will definitely have the Byrds’ ‘So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.’ We’ve got another song by Fleetwood Mac and one from Stephen Stills. I also want to do a Beach Boys song. Brian Wilson came out to see us in Japan once. But I don’t want to do any of the car songs.”
As for their own hits, Bartley knows that’s the band’s bread and butter which brings people to their live shows. And while other bands often try to “reimagine” their hits to stave off boredom or lethargy, he says Firefall will not mess with the music—or people’s memories.
“As a bandleader, I know there’s a lot of people in the audience paying to hear ‘You Are the Woman’ and ‘Just Remember I Love You’ just like the records. Some bands like to change it up and the crowd doesn’t recognize it until two minutes in!” he says.
“We do have room every night on solos to stretch out and be spontaneous. But I’ve been playing ‘You Are the Woman’ the exact same way for 45 years! And that’s not changing.”
Click here to pre-order or save Friends & Family (September 22 release)
For more on Firefall, visit FirefallOfficial.com
HOUSTON PRESS | CLASSIC ROCK CORNER
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