Great songs lead to Firefall's longevity

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Great songs lead to Firefall's longevity

By Greg Summers

There’s a tradition at Yosemite National Park in California where a woodpile is set on fire and slowly pushed off a cliff, forming a burning cascade as it falls.

That image proved to be the inspiration that gave Firefall its name.

Formed in 1974 in Boulder, Colo., Firefall , with its string of top Country rock hits from two decades, is coming to the University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Bundy Auditorium stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Co-founder and guitarist Jock Bartley said in a recent interview that when he and Rick Roberts crossed paths in 1973, forming a band seemed to be an obvious step.

At the time, Bartley was touring with Gram Parsons as a member of Parsons’ back-up band, The Fallen Angels. Roberts was a former member of the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Bartley said Boulder was a hot bed for music. When Bartley and Roberts got together with Mark Andes and Michael Clarke for jam sessions, it was commonplace for Steven Stills or Dan Fogelberg to show up as guests.

Bartley said when they got together to practice, they already had 30 original songs – enough material for three albums.

“Everyone in the band had their own sound,” he said. “We didn’t need to copy other styles. It seemed that everything we played sounded like Firefall. I suppose you could say we had a natural sound.”

It didn’t take very long for that acoustically-driven, melodic sound to find its niche.

The self-titled “Firefall” was released in May 1976 and became Atlantic Records quickest album to reach Gold status. While Firefall’s first single,  “Livin’ Ain’t Livin” fell just short of Top-40 status, their songs were turning heads and gleaning radio play.

That lead to tours with Leon Russell, The Doobie Brothers and The Band. After their next single, “You Are the Woman,” cracked the Top 10, Firefall began touring with Fleetwood Mac as part of the “Rumours” tour.       

During the next several years, Firefall was at the pinnacle of commercial success with its acoustic brand of pop-rock and hits like the controversial “Cinderella” (Bartley’s favorite song), “Strange Way,” “Goodbye, I Love You,” “Headed For A Fall” and “Love That Got Away.”

But years of non-stop touring and recording took its toil. The band that burned so brightly had faded to the point that several of its members weren’t on speaking terms, which lead to an eventual break-up.

That implosion led Atlantic Records to drop Firefall in 1981, just after “Best of Firefall” was released.

Roberts left, but Bartley kept Firefall going despite several personnel changes. Roberts returned in 1992, but it was short-lived due to health problems.

The band came back to the national forefront while touring the Midwest in 1993 after a concert was canceled due to the Great Flood of 1993.

The impact of what Bartley saw led him to write the inspirational and upbeat “When the River Rises.” The song received heavy regional play from radio stations in flooded areas and was used by CNN in its coverage of the disaster.

That led to a new record deal and a renewed focus by the band that now includes an unwavering support to social issues like “Go Green,” child abuse and rape.

Firefall staged a reunion tour in April 2008 for its former members and recently released “Colorado to Liverpool – A Tribute to the Beatles.”

The CD isn’t comprised of the Beatles’ biggest hits, but contains album cuts that Bartley learned how to sing harmony on.   

On Friday, Firefall will take to a Las Vegas stage as part of a Toys for Tots benefit. 

After more than 30 years, Bartley said he still feels blessed to make a living doing what he wants to do.

“Here I am, in my late 50s, music is what I do well,” he said. “I’m also an artist, but music is what pays the bills.”   

Firefall in concert

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Bundy Auditorium

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $50 each and are available at the auditorium box office inside the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building. Tickets can also be purchased online at plittle@gwm.sc.edu.