GARY JAMES talks to Firefall guitarist Jock Bartley
the successful seventies band who still perform today
|Jock Bartley formed Firefall
with Rick Roberts, after he found himself 'between jobs' following the sudden
death of his band-leader Gram Parsons.
In 1976 Firefall enjoyed considerable success in the Top 40 charts with a song called 'You Are The Woman'. They followed it up with 'Just Remember I Love You'. Formed in 1974 in Boulder, Colorado, Firefall is still very much a going concern today.
GJ: Jock, did you ever think you'd still be playing music all these years later?
A: Of course, the obvious answer would be, no, as a 45 or 50 year old. But actually,I kind of did. I knew from the time, mybe when I was 11 or 12, that this is what I was going to do. I used to think it would be so great to hear myself on the radio, and be famous. I started taking guitar lessons when I was 8 years old. I was into playing the guitar long before it became hip to be in a band. I had already been playing for 6 or 7 years when my friends were thinking that it would be cool to be in a band. So yeah, I kind of thought I would be doing this most of my life.
GJ: You've never stopped touring the world have you? 'Firefall' might not be in the news but you're doing what you've always been doing.
A: That's true. After the original band broke up I kind of realised I owned the name. I thought I would keep it together for the primary reason that I thought the songs were really strong and the style of music was still very viable. Little did I know that the musical landscape in the early eighties was about to drastically change. Anything that had acoustic guitars or three-part harmonies on it was considered country.
We do tour a lot, we travel around and have a big fan base. After September 11 things are pretty weird. It's kind of hard to make a living, for everybody. The bands that were a $20,000 act are suddenly out playing for $10,000. the bands that were 10,000 dollars are playing for $6,000. The bands that were a $6,000 act are out scrambling for $2,500. It's just like it's tough out there.
GJ: Why did September 11 impact on the price a band can get? Are fewer people willing to travel?
A: No, nothing to do with that. If you are a huge rock star making millions of dollars, that's not real world stuff. But after September 11 everybody has tightened their belts. It's not the same thing with concert promoters. They don't have quite the same amount of money to work with. Instead of doing, say, 10 concerts a year they might only do 3 or 4. It ahs prettymuch impacted all industries but definitely in the entertainment industry.
I remember one time I was with Rick Roberts who wrote most of Firefall's hits. We were hanging with Stevie Nicks and she said something to the effect that the arts will never suffer: even in bad financial times people will want to escape with music and movies. And, it is true. But the people who promote all that stuff are even tighter with the purse strings.Everybody's trying to save money.
GJ: Your first album went gold in three months that was a new achievement for an Atlantic recording artist?
A: I really think that Firefall was fortunate to have the timing element go just perfect. We had a really good first album that was distinctive sounding. When it came out in 1976 within a few months it was in every college dormitory. You go to any floor and hear that Firefall record.
1976 was the year that Boston, Heart, and Firefall all started. A really good year for new music.
GJ: Do you think 'You Are The Woman' would have been as big a hit on FM radio as it was on AM?
A: Absolutely not. 'Mexico' and 'Cinderella' were considered really big FM hits but never really charted. 'Cinderella'ended up being an AM hit but we found out that a number of women's organisations on the east coast - Baltimore, New York, Boston - kind of banded together and used their clout to say that this song had inappropriate lyrics. Basically the song says a guy kicked a girl out because she got pregnant. It was a fictional song and we were certainly not holding a banner for any kind of abusive behaviour. It was a great song and one of my favourite Firefall songs.
We got saturation airplay with the AM hits which Atlantic records just loved. We were a rock band that would have two or three ballads or love songs. It ended up being a kind of hindrance because people only associated those songs with Firefall. We were really a smokin' rock band that really cooked on stage.
GJ: It probably doesn't help with all those commercials advertising 'the greatest love songs of all time' and that includes 'You Are The Woman'.
A: Time Warner. Right. Every time they contact me for a song it's that one, rarely 'Just remember I Love You'. Because Rhino Records have made the decision not to release our second, third and fourth albums and are just putting out a greatest hits, there's a lot of people who might get a narrow view of what we do.
GJ: Some bands would do anything to have one hit record
A: Well, I know how lucky I am. You're absolutely right. I know how lucky I am to be leader of a band that can play sixty minutes of radio-friendly songs that people are very familiar with. I feel very fortunate to have been able to make a living for my entire adult life from playing guitar.
GJ: Firefall was on the same bill as The Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac and The Beach Boys. How were you treated by these people?
A: We were treated very nicely. If the Beach Boys gave you a 45-minute set they would want you done at 43. And then sometimes the road manager would come out at the end of the last song and say that their plane hadn't landed and would we extend and add another thirty minutes. Touring with The Doobie Brothers and Fleetwood Mac during their Rumours perios - it doesn't get much better than that. I knew at the time we were really lucky to be able to join this stadium show circuit.
I think bands like Fleetwood Mac liked us because we weren't threatening in anyway. We could go onstage without a soundcheck, we were really a tight, concise unit. If they sold 90 per cent of the tickets we could always pull in five or ten per cent. We also played gis with Lynyrd Skynyrd , we played the next to last gig before the plane crash.
GJ: What was it like to be on the Band's last tour?
A: That was unbelievable. Now of course we didn't know in the middle of that tour that it was going to be their last. I got pretty close to Rick Danko. The doors they opened for folk-rockers and the like was significant.
GJ: If things were going so well for Firefall why did the band break up in 1981?
A: One of the lessons I've learned from bands like Firefall is that you have to be good friends if you're gonna go out on the road and conquer the world. Though we were good friends we had some diametrically opposed personalities in the band. We also made some bad business decisions. We never had a manager for more than two years and no long-term strategy. We chose them badly. One time we had a really good manager but one of the guys in the band called him in a rage and after that call the manager quit.
Unfortunately the sad fact is that the two singers in the band had some severe drug problems. On any give night the two of them might not be able to sing at all. This, together with the lack of any consistent management was Firefall's downfall.
© 2002 Gary James. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.
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