Jock Bartley and Mark Andes of Firefall

by Corey O'Flanagan

On "You Are The Woman," the 1970s LA-to-Boulder migration, and their latest album.

Firefall at Lattitude Studios in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee

Firefall didn't set their sights on soft-rock stardom, but they were stuck with it when "You Are The Woman," from their debut album, dug a trench on Adult Contemporary radio, enduring as a staple of at-work listening.

On this episode of the Songfacts Podcast, we welcome founding members Jock Bartley and Mark Andes. Jock, on guitar, is Firefall's mainstay, part of every iteration. Mark, their bass player, left in 1980 and returned in 2014. Pre-Firefall, Jock toured with Gram Parsons' band; Mark was a member of Spirit when they toured with Led Zeppelin in 1968 and 1969 - their song "Taurus" seeped into "Stairway To Heaven." He left Firefall in 1980 and picked up with Heart a few years later, just in time for their astounding resurgence.

The main songwriters in Firefall were Rick Roberts, last with the band in 1992, and Larry Burnett, who left in 1981. Roberts delivered "You Are The Woman" and the mellow follow-up, "Just Remember I Love You"; Burnett came up with the fan favorite "Cinderella."

Firefall has been mostly a live act the last few decades, but they put together an album called Comet that was finally released in December 2020 following coronavirus-induced delays. The lead single, "Way Back When," is a trip through three distinct years: 1965, 1967, and 1969. Jock does an acoustic version at the end of show. The transcript is below.


"Way Back When"

Jock Bartley: Firefall has a really rich history and genealogy tree that includes The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, and up in the higher branches, Poco and the Eagles and Loggins & Messina. When Mark re-joined the band five or six years ago, he suggested that we kind of play that up, and we started playing "Nature's Way" in the set, from Spirit, and after we recorded "Nature's Way," which by the way, Timothy B. Schmit from the Eagles and John McFee from the Doobie Brothers play on and sing on, that kind of opened the doors.

I wanted to write a song that was reminiscent of the '60s and particularly The Byrds, and when I wrote the first verse about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, I realized it had to be 1965 because the Byrds didn't really get happening in '64 - that was The Beatles and The Stones and all those other great bands. So I finished the first verse and the first chorus, and then what's kind of funny is I wanted to be historically accurate, so I Googled "top 100 songs of 1967" and then there's Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and the Rascals with "Groovin'" and Marvin Gaye. Then I did the same thing with 1969 and got Led Zeppelin and "Let It Be" and Music From Big Pink by The Band... Firefall had the great honor to open The Band's last tour with them. To me The Band is one of the best American bands and rock bands ever.

I wanted to tell the story of a guy and his girlfriend in the '60s listening to some of the greatest music ever, and incorporate either the titles of the songs or the bands that recorded them, and I'm really happy with how that turned out.

Back in the '60s, we were experiencing everything really for the first time. It was the counterculture and it was smoking pot. It was sex, drugs and rock and roll - not for all of us, but that was one of the phrases that rolled off my tongue.

If you're right-brained enough about writing lyrics, you can just be playing and sing two or four lines and you're done - you don't even need to think about what it is you're trying to say. The line, "We were older than our age," we felt like we were really mature and older, but hell, we were maybe 20 years old at the time.

What's really interesting is that all that great music of the '60s showed everybody that you could write your own songs, and suddenly all the bands were writing their own songs.

When Jim McGuinn, Richie Furay, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young moved to LA and then Bernie Leadon and later Don Felder moved from Florida to LA, they pretty much invented folk rock music, which later became country rock with The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album and Gram Parsons and Poco. The point I'm making is that music of the '60s lead directly to how great the music of the '70s was, because suddenly bands were good at writing their own songs, and groups like the Eagles had their vision. All the amazing music of the '70s, which Firefall was a small part of, really came from how great the music was of the '60s.


How Firefall Formed

Mark Andes: I lived about 40 miles west of Boulder at the time and Chris Hillman wound up being a neighbor. I had known Chris since the early days of The Byrds because his first wife and my first live-in girlfriend were best friends. He asked me to join the band he was putting together to support a new solo record. Jock became involved and we had a really good drummer, Michael Wooten, and then the steel guitar player was great.

Bartley: And Rick Roberts was in that too.

Andes: And Rick. So the nucleus of Firefall really began playing together supporting Chris, and we were in Chris' band.

Bartley: We were between Pinecliffe and Rollinsville, up there past Nederland.

Andes: It was beyond Nederland, and ironically Chris moved to Boulder, selling the house there, but he sold it to Dan Fogelberg, so Dan was my neighbor for a while. But anyway, I did wind up moving to Boulder with my now family.

Bartley: A lot of those LA guys got tired of living in LA after they got off the road. There was a two- to three-year period when Stephen Stills, Chris Hillman, Richie Furay, Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg, Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, and Mark Andes - all rock stars from LA - moved to the mountains above Boulder. And me being a Boulder guy, it was amazing to have that kind of influx of music. Of course, we had Caribou Ranch up in Nederland, and Red Rocks was just down the hill toward Golden.

I met Rick Roberts when I was playing with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris in New York City, and Rick, who replaced Gram in The Flying Burrito Brothers, came and saw our show and said, "You live in Boulder? I live in Boulder, we should get together." And when Rick and I started jamming, it was going to be for Rick's third solo record that he was thinking about recording. But as soon as Mark Andes got in the project, it felt like it could be a band. Rick said to Mark and I, "I know this guy Larry Burnett - a singer-songwriter in DC. He and I blend really well together and he writes a lot of songs. Do you want to hear a song?"

He brought out a tape - it must have been a reel-to-reel tape because cassettes weren't invented yet - and he played Larry Burnett singing "Cinderella."

Jock Bartley and Mark AndesJock Bartley and Mark Andes
Bartley: We went, "Get him out here!" So Rick flew Larry Burnett out.

We had 20 to 25 original songs to play on our first week of practice. Unbelievable! And a lot of those songs - "Mexico," "Livin' Ain't Livin" and "Cinderella" - would be on our first album a year and a half later. So it was really amazing to have that many great songs to play on.

Then Michael Clarke came in. He had been driving his VW van around the great Northwest and Rick said, "We should get him down here."

So we had the rhythm section of Michael Clarke from the Byrds and Mark on bass. Mark wasn't a traditional bass player, he was kind of progressive and a little jazzy in Spirit, and then the two of them together, for me as a lead guitar player to play on that rhythm section was just fantastic. We'd be playing at a club in Boulder in the early, early days of Firefall, and on any given night, Stephen Stills or Dan Fogelberg would sit in. Boulder was a hotbed for about five years.

Andes: Yeah, and we played at Aspen many times and the Dirt Band would come in.

I was unaware of the migration. I left LA in a fit of being disgusted with my situation at that time, and I knew a family in eastern Colorado. I really did not know anyone else, but I had to get out of LA. So I really started from beyond zero there.

Bartley: And then you suddenly became neighbors with Chris Hillman and then Dan Fogelberg!

Andes: But the irony was, there I was, leaving LA, and little did I know that LA was moving to Colorado without my knowledge. I get there and I go, "Oh, you guys again."


Firefall Songs, Roberts Vs. Burnett

Bartley: Rick was a really speedy, uptempo kind of guy. He'd play a song for us and go, "How about this one?" I remember when I heard "Mexico" I told Rick I was born to play on that song because it fit my style perfectly.

Once we started to have some hit records and he was making a lot of money from publishing, Rick wrote a lot of his songs as a formula, and he kept thinking about getting radio play and getting young women to call the radio station to request his songs. So he was writing formula kind of songs, and Larry Burnett wrote songs as the purging of his soul. So we had Ricky's upbeat stuff and Larry's darker stuff and hard rock and roll. The magic of Firefall was our songs.

"You Are the Woman"

Andes: Initially, Firefall was a rock band, and during all of those years of learning the songs, performing them live, it was a five-piece with two electric guitars, one acoustic guitar. And when Rick came up with "You Are The Woman," the band did like a collective eye roll because it was so obvious, so syrupy and formulaic. We knew it was going to be hugely successful, but we resisted. I remember feeling like, "Oh God, really?"

Bartley: When we were rehearsing for the record we had our producer picked out: Jim Mason. And we needed other guys to play on it so we got David Muse on flute, sax and keyboards. We were rehearsing songs that Mark and I and Rick and Larry and Michael had been playing for a year and a half, and we knew what we were going to do with "Cinderella," "Mexico," and "Livin' Ain't Livin." We had seven or eight songs we knew would be on the record, and Rick brought in "You Are The Woman" one day and I remember a couple of the guys in the band really didn't like it and thought it didn't fit. But Jim Mason, the producer, went [pounds table] Hit record!.

I've been playing "You Are The Woman" for 40-plus years and we are so lucky to have a hit song that is that big. It isn't totally representative of what all the rest of our songs sounded like, but that song has kept me working for 40 years and has kept Firefall together, so I'm happy to play it. And it's a good thing I like my guitar solo because I remember one time about 20 years ago I decided to play something else. I played a good solo in D, and it was not what everybody expected. I saw the people in the crowd looking like, He's not doing it right. It took me one time to realize that's my solo and I'll always have to play that.

There are certain artists and bands that have a big hit and they're so tired of the song that they change it to keep their excitement. To me, the band owes the audience a lot - they are keeping you in business and they're buying tickets, and for me as a bandleader, there are certain songs that we need to sound as much like the record as we can: "You Are The Woman," "Just Remember I Love You," "Strange Way." Certain songs need to sound, for the fans, like they expect. But having said that, we still have flexibility, like on "Mexico" when I'm soloing or on David's flute solo on "Strange Way," we can happen upon new places, so it's a balance between the familiar and the different.

Andes: What I enjoy about Firefall is that very point, Jock. You mentioned "Mexico" and "Strange Way," which we play pretty exactly, pretty much try to nail the song, but when it comes to the solo time, Jock and David Muse, who is a brilliant flute/sax guy and can play some keys, they get into these improvisational solo things, and the audiences really respond to that because they know the songs and they know we're going to come back to it eventually, but they're going to get this amazing display of musicianship during the solo.

Bartley: There's a lot of groups - I won't name them - that want to sound like the record on everything, and the guitar players play the solo everybody heard on the record 30 years ago. I like to have some flexibility to play something different or just throw something out. A lot of times I'll walk over to Mark and go, "Here you go." and I'll play some lick and just challenge him to come out there with me, and we'll get these musical conversations going between Mark and I, or David and I, or David and Mark, and it's really so much fun.


Touring With Fleetwood Mac

Bartley: We toured with them our first year during their White Album [Fleetwood Mac's 1975 self-titled album; their first with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham], which was great and just opened the door for them. And because they liked our music and we could play a kick-ass 35-minute set even without a soundcheck, they used us as one of the prime opening acts on their Rumours tour, and we were playing in front of 50,000 to 100,000 people a day.

Firefall on the Rumours tour

Touring With The Band In 1976

Bartley: We played with them a lot the month leading up to The Last Waltz. I wish I would have had a camera. I sat on the side of the stage maybe 10 or 12 feet from Levon Helm every night just watching them play, and sometimes they had that five-piece civil war horn section playing with them behind Garth Hudson and it was just amazing.


Making The New Album, Comet

Andes: Since it was pre-Covid, we were on the road and our lead singer lives in Nashville, when we would play Nashville or close by, Gary Burr would put us all up and we would rehearse and then record. That's how the first few tracks were recorded: We just went into a very funky little studio and laid down bass, drums, and a rhythm guitar. And one of those songs was "Nature's Way."

It got virtual when I saw Timothy playing in Texas where I live, and John McFee was in his band. I asked him if he would consider singing with me on "Nature's Way" and make it a little tribute to Rand [Spirit guitar player Randy California, who drown in 1997 at 45]. You know, do one for Randy, because we had just lost the lawsuit - the Led Zeppelin tour was the "introduction to 'Stairway'" thing - so I wanted to give Randy a little love and I had been asked by lots of different people to record their version of "Nature's Way" with them. I resisted because I felt whoever I do "Nature's Way" with, it's like I'm endorsing or acknowledging that it's worthy of that.

When Firefall started to mine the depths of the root system of the group's family tree, those songs really got a great response, so we started to play "Nature's Way," and the way we played it was pretty much how we recorded it. Timothy recorded his vocal in his studio and we sent that to John McFee, who put on a little pedal steel. So it was a fun deal and it was to honor Randy. It took almost four years to finish.

Bartley: Yeah, almost four years to make the record. I was going nuts because we had a song we'd recorded a month or two earlier in Nashville and I wanted to get background vocal parts on it, and the next time we could get together was nine months away.

When it's all said and done, the only thing that matters is what the record and the song sound like, and I'm really happy to say that the whole record sounds like the same band and it all flows together. Firefall records had no fancy production in the '70s - you could hear the vocals, you could hear the lyrics, the lead guitar, the flute, the drum fill - we didn't fill it up. So I wanted to keep it really sparse, and when you listen to that song written by Gary Burr from Nashville - great song, "Younger" - that thing is wide open. It's so sparse and I love that.

Jock Bartley in the '70s with his 1968 SunburstJock Bartley in the '70s with his 1968 Sunburst
Andes: There was a concerted effort to really make it sound more like a Firefall record, so it wasn't out of context.

Bartley: The cover of that record with the picture of the comet is reminiscent of our first album cover, and in the back of my mind, the entire many years that it took to make this record, I wanted us to sound like Firefall, and even though certain songs may go a little bit out of the ballpark, a lot of those songs needed to sound like Firefall.

Our strength in the '70s was the singers, and then the synergy of the players - Mark Andes, Michael Clarke, myself and David – and one of the things that we do live that I captured somewhat on the record was the interplay between David playing sax or flute and me playing lead guitar.

I'm really glad that the record is out. We had the record finished last December and then the pandemic happened. We decided to put it out even with the pandemic and not being able to tour.

Andes: The Firefall fanbase is really dedicated and enthusiastic, and I didn't want them to think we had forgotten about them, so that was my motivation for getting this out.


"A New Mexico" and Whitesnake

Bartley: For years, I thought we needed a song like Rick Roberts' "Mexico," but a new Mexico, and all of a sudden, the lightbulb went off: "A New Mexico"!

I wrote this song and we've never played it live together. I recorded the acoustic guitars and some rhythm guitars and brought in Tudie Calderone to play congas. I sent it off, emailed it to Sandy [Ficca] and Sandy put drums on it. He sent it to Mark, and Mark added his bass part. So we've never played that song as a band yet surprisingly it sounds like a band.

Firefall used to take a month making a record back in the '70s, and then there were bands like Little Feat where they would go in with the songs and they would take three days and make a whole record. This new way really misses the mark in that connection between the musicians, but at least on the one song, "A New Mexico," it sounds like we were all playing together but we really weren't.

Andes: Jock is right about being in the same room cutting the song. I did a session with Denny Carmassi, the drummer for Heart. He and I were asked to play on the single versions of "Here I Go Again," Whitesnake's big record.1 So it's Dann Huff, Denny Carmassi, myself, and Keith Olsen was the producer - he was the best producer Heart ever used.

And I'll tell you what, we cut that exact way, and David Coverdale, who had a cold or something, was such a pro and really sang the song, and that translates into the vibe of the musicians playing the song. So, good point, Jock. It's the three guys playing, so even if we're not in the same room, you and David and I just have this synergy thing anyways.

Bartley: When you go back to the '40s and the '50s, you see the orchestra or the band and then the singer. They put like two mics on the orchestra and the singer would have one, and then they would cut the song. Everything was done at once and there it is - that's the old way to make records. This overdubbing stuff was a much later invention.

March 10, 2021

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More at firefallofficial.com/

And check out our interview with Larry Burnett

photos: Jamey Bartley (2,3), Dan Fong (4)

Footnotes:

  • 1] Whitesnake first released "Here I Go Again" in 1982, but the hit version - the one with the Tawny Kitaen video - was re-recorded in 1987 with a set of studio musicians, including Heart's rhythm section: Mark Andes and Denny Carmassi. See the Songfacts entry for the full story. (back)

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