Gary James' Interview With Jock Bartley of
In 1976, Firefall enjoyed considerable success on 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 in the picture today.
Original member Jock Bartley talked with us about Firefall.
Q - Jock, did you ever think you'd still be playing music all these years later?
A - Of course, the obvious answer to that would be no, oh God, that as a 45, 50 year old guy that I would. But actually, I kind of did. I knew from the time maybe when I was eleven or twelve 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 eight years old and within a few years I was pretty good. I was actually pretty good long before it was hip to be in a band playing guitar. I had already been playing six or seven years when my friends were thinking it would be cool to be in a band. So, yeah. I kind of thought that I would be doing this most of my life.
Q - Firefall has never stopped touring. You're doing what you've always been doing.
A - That's true. After the original band broke up, I kind of realized I owned the name. 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 '80s was about to change drastically. Anything that had acoustic guitars or three part harmonies on it was considered Country. We do tour a lot. We travel around. We have a big fan base. After 9-11, things got pretty weird. The bands that were a $20,000 act are suddenly playing for $10,000. The bands that were playing for $10,000 are out playing for $6,000. The bands that were a $6,000 act are out scrambling for $2,500. It's tough out there.
Q - Why did 9-11 impact the price a band can get? Are fewer people willing to travel?
A - No, nothing to do with that. No matter what kind of job you're in, after 9-11, everybody's tightened their belt significantly. It's the same thing with concert promoters and buyers. They don't have quite the same amount of money to work with. Instead of doing ten concerts a year, they might only do three or four. I've definitely noticed the difference. It has pretty much impacted all industries. 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, "The arts will never suffer. Even in really bad financial times people still want to escape with music and movies." And it's true. But, the people who put all that stuff on are even tighter with the money strings. They want to cut back. Everybody's trying to save money. It's not quite that balls to the wall thing that it was before hand.
Q - Your first album went Gold in three months.
A - Yeah.
Q - That was a new achievement for an Atlantic recording artist. Why was that?
A - How'd you find that out?
Q - From your website I believe. That's a tremendous accomplishment.
A - I think so too. Actually, when you think about it, on Atlantic Records was Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and some unbelievable acts. It really is kind of surprising. 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, yet kind of familiar enough. When it came out in 1976, it was in every college dormitory. You go to any floor and hear that Firefall record. It just was really good timing. 1976 was the year that Boston, Heart and Firefall all came out. Really a good year for music.
Q - Do you think "You Are The Woman" would've been as big of a hit on FM radio as it was on AM?
A - Absolutely not. In fact, "Mexico" and "Cinderella" were considered really big FM hits, but never really charted. "Cinderella" ended up being an AM single that ironically enough we found out later was climbing the charts and got into the 40s and suddenly dropped with an anchor. We went, "What the hell happened?" We found out later that a number of women's organizations on the East Coast; Baltimore, D.C., New York, Boston, kind of banded together and used their clout to say this song was an inappropriate lyrical song that basically says a guy kicked out a girl because she got pregnant. It was a fictional song. We certainly were not holding up the banner for any abusive kind of behavior or chauvinistic bullshit. It was a great song and one of my favorite Firefall songs. We found out that on the AM hits, it really dropped off the charts after there was an exerted effort put by some feminist groups, which was fairly ridiculous. But hey, stuff like that used to happen a lot. We got so much saturation airplay with the AM hits, which Atlantic just loved. They wanted us to be "You Are The Woman". They wanted ten "You Are The Woman" on a record. We were a Rock band that would have two or three ballads or love songs that Rick Roberts wrote, these kind of formula ballad love songs. In fact, it's funny because not only did Firefall never really establish our name as the name of the band or put the name with the songs. Everybody knows "You Are The Woman". It ended up kind of being a hindrance because people would only hear "You Are The Woman" and would think, oh, that light Rock band from Colorado. We're actually a pretty smokin' Rock band that really has fun onstage and cooks and jams and plays "You Are The Woman" also. So, we do a wide range kind of stuff. People are surprised to see we smoke as much as we did.
Q - It probably doesn't help much when these TV commercials come on and advertise the greatest love songs of all time and play "You Are The Woman".
A - Right, Time - Warner. And you know what? Every time they contact me for a song it's always "You Are The Woman", rarely "Just Remember I Love You". Because Rhino Records has made the decision to stop releasing our second, third and fourth albums and are just putting out the "Greatest Hits", there's a lot of people who might like the totality of what we do and they get a very narrow view of what we do. All they hear is "You Are The Woman". Hey, that's OK. Shit happens.
Q - Some people would just give anything to have one hit record.
A - You're absolutely right. I know how lucky I am to be the leader of a band who can play a sixty minute set and play nothing but radio songs that people are very familiar with. It's really great to be able to have all of those songs and see the crowd sing along. We're one of the better priced bands touring now that have that many hits. I feel very fortunate to have been able to make a living for my entire adult life on what I do best in the universe, which is play guitar. I know that 98% of the public cannot say something that cool. I know how lucky I am. I count my lucky stars.
Q - 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. All business. particularly The Beach Boys. If they gave you a forty-five minute set, the wanted you done at forty-three. And, then sometimes when you're thinking OK, this is our last song, we gotta be out of here in two minutes and I'm watching the clock to end the song, the road manager might come out at the very end of the song and say "Their plane has not landed yet. Stretch! Add another thirty minutes!" But it was real business. Touring with The Doobie Brothers and Fleetwood Mac...Fleetwood Mac doing "Rumors", how much better could you get than that?
Q - Not too much.
A - I was one of the few that knew that this isn't really our crowd out there and we're really lucky to be able to join into this stadium show stuff. We're not this big yet by ourselves, but it was just so much fun. I still have a relationship with Michael McDonald and some of The Doobie Brothers and I see them play. The reason Fleetwood Mac love us is because we could go up and play a thirty-five minute set of nothing but hits, have the crowd love us and not be threatening to them in anyway 'cause they were like the hugest band in the world. We could go onstage without a sound check. We were really a tight, concise unit who could do what we needed to do. Also, if they sold 90% of the tickets, we could be counted on for 5% or 10% and they'd go on percentages. I remember playing gigs with Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Doobie Brothers. We played the next to last gig with Lynyrd Skynyrd before the plane crash. I think it was in Orlando or Jacksonville.
Q - 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 was going to be their last tour. But then, we used to hang with them. I got pretty close to Rick Danko. I remember in the last few days of the tour the word got out that these were the last gigs they were going to play and they're going out to make a movie and all the superstars are going to sit in with them in a movie. It was like...wow! It was quite an honor. They were one of the bands that were not a really big slap in the face band, but they really changed things. "Up On Cripple Creek", "Big Pink", all that great funky music that they made...man! The waves they made opened so many doors for Folk-Rockers and people years later of what would be acceptable. It was great.
Q - If things were going so well for Firefall, why then did the band break up in 1981?
A - Well, it was funny because when we formed the band we picked this guy because he was a great singer / songwriter and this guy because he was a great player...one of the main lessons I learned about bands from Firefall is that you also have to be pretty damn good friends if you're gonna be on the road and conquer the world. Though we were good friends and we went and made certain amount of waves in the industry, we had some diametrically opposed personalities. When you throw in half of the band with their feet on the ground and half of the band with total alcohol or drug addictions of varying kinds, ups and downs and trying it out on the road where moderation was not a word many of the Rockers I knew back in the '70s had in their vocabulary. And, we made some really bad business decisions. We never had a manager for more than two years. So, a three or five year plan to go and conquer Europe or we're gonna do this with the third album, didn't exist. We didn't have consistent management.
Q - I don't understand. Why did you run through managers?
A - Well, ultimately you have to take responsibility. We chose badly, number one...number two, one time we had a really good manager that everybody was excited about and one of the guys in a rage called up and after one call, the manger quit. And the rest of us when "what? We got a new album coming out. What'd you say to him?" And it was done already. It could not be re-called. The problem would be without consistent management and with us out there playing big gigs...unfortunately the sad fact of the matter is that the two lead singers in the band, Rick and Larry, who wrote all the hits and made most of the money and were the lead singers every night, were the two that had the most severe drug problems. On any given night one or both of them might not be able to sing at all. We'd been together a couple of years before our first album hit and lasted four or five years and pretty much kind of burned out. It was really a shame 'cause we had it. If we had it together and had good business sense and a really strong manager and could of reigned in a few of the substance problems, who knows what we could have done? But, I feel fortunate that I was part of what we did do, whatever mark that we made...I don't know.
Q - Why are you known as Jock. Were you into sports as a kid?
A - I was into sports as a kid and I was a prolific scorer on my basketball team in high school. But no, it was my grandfather's name, who had Scottish - Irish heritage. Jock is a good old Scottish name. And, it's actually my middle name. It's James Jock, but I've always been called Jock. It was funny because by the time I got into fourth grade, I'd heard every jock strap, rot, itch joke you could imagine. I got fairly thick skinned about it. So, that's my real middle name and my grandfather's name.