FIREFALL-FIREFALL, LUNA SEA AND ELAN.
FIREFALL-FIREFALL, LUNA SEA AND ELAN.
In 1973, Gram Parsons and The Fallen Angeles headed out on tour. Little did anyone realise that this tour would be Gram Parsons’ swan-song. By then, he had an insatiable appetite for drink and drugs. Sadly, this would result in Gram Parsons’ death on September 19th 1973.
The cause of Gram Parsons’ death was an overdose of morphine and alcohol. Sadly, the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle that Gram Parsons had embraced, had resulted in his death, aged just twenty-six. Gram Parsons’ friends, family and band struggled to come to terms with his death. This included Rick Roberts.
He had known Gram Parsons since they had been members of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Gram Parsons had been one of the founding members in 1968. Rick Roberts joined in 1970. However, when Gram Parsons embarked upon a solo career, Rick Roberts left The Flying Burrito Brothers and became a member of The Fallen Angels, Gram’s backing band. That was until that fateful night in September 1973.
After Gram Parson death, Rick Roberts began to think of the future. By then, Rick Roberts was back home in Colorado. So was Jock Bartley, who had replaced Tommy Bolin in Zephyr. They had first met when Gram Parsons and The Fallen Angels were playing two nights in the same venue in New York. Since then, they had kept in touch.
Now back home in Colorado, Rick Roberts and Jock Bartley were reunited. One day, Rick arrived as Jock was playing his guitar. Rick watched as Jock unleaded a virtuoso-like performance. This lead to Rick suggesting they practise together.
Soon, Rick Roberts and Jock Bartley were practising together regularly. Before long, they began to think about forming a band together. So they began to think of possible additions. The first name on their list was Mark Andes, a bassist and singer.
Mark Andes had previously been a member of Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne. That was until he decided to retire, albeit temporarily, and went to live in the rocky mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado. Rick and Jock were hoping to tempt Mark out of retirement. They succeeded, Mark Andes joined the nascent band. This left just three possible names on the list.
The first was Larry Burnett, a singer, songwriter and guitarist. Rick had met Larry on his travels, and when it came to putting a new band together, decided Larry Burnett fitted the bill. So did
keyboardist and guitarist Mark Hallman, who knew Mark Andes from the band Navarro. However, when Mark Hallman was asked to join Firefall, he rejected the opportunity, and eventually joined Carole King’s backing band. While this was a disappointment, the search for a drummer went on.
Various local drummers were auditioned, but failed to make the grade. Eventually, Rick Roberts decided to phone an old friend…
Chris Hillman. He had an impressive C.V, and previously had been a member of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers. That was where he met Rick Roberts. However, since leaving The Flying Burrito Brothers, Chris had lived first in Hawaii and then in Washington. When Rick phoned Chris, he agreed to head to Colorado and join Firefall.
For their first year together, Firefall played in the pubs and clubs around Colorado. Quickly, Firefall became a popular draw in Boulder and Aspen, where the nascent band honed and tightened their sound. After just over a year of playing live, Firefall decided to record a demo.
Firefall recorded a three song demo, which was produced by Chris Hillman. The demo was shopped to the major labels, but failed to find a taker. Things weren’t looking good for Firefall.
So much so, that in 1975, Rick Roberts, Jock Bartley and Mark Andes were drafted in to Chris Hillman’s band for several performances. This included a gig at The Other End in New York, during June 1975. Not long after the band arrived in New York, Chris Hillman became ill, and couldn’t continue the tour. So Larry Burnett and The Byrds’ drummer were drafted in to play at The Other End and finish the tour.
At The Other End, was Atlantic Records’ A&R executive. He listened to Firefall’s demo tape, and then made his way to the front of the stage. After Firefall’s set, the Atlantic Records’ A&R executive returned, and signed Firefall on a multi-album contract. At last, Firefall were signed to a major label.
There was a problem though. Rick Roberts had agreed to head out on tour with Stephen Stills during the summer of 1975. This meant the recording of Firefall’s eponymous debut album had to be postponed until Rick’s return. It wasn’t until late 1975 that work on Firefall could begin. Firefall, Luna Sea and Elan have all been remastered and were recently reissued by BGO Records as a double album.
After Rick Roberts returned from touring with Stephen Stills, a decision was made that David Muse should join Firefall in the studio. He was a talented multi-instrumentalist, who could seamlessly switch between saxophone, flute, keyboards and harmonica. David Muse would add a new dimension to Firefall’s sound. So would Jim Mason, who had been chosen to produce Firefall’s debut album.
For Firefall’s eponymous debut album, Rick Roberts penned the album opener It Doesn’t Matter with Stephen Stills and Chris Hillman. He was no longer a member of Firefall, and had been replaced by Michael Clark. Rick Roberts also wrote Livin’ Ain’t Livin’, Dolphin’s Lullaby,You Are The Woman and Mexico. Larry Burnett wrote Love Isn’t All, No Way Out, Cinderella, Sad Ol’ Love Song and Do What You Want. These songs were recorded at Criteria Studios, in Miami.
When Firefall arrived at Criteria Studios, the lineup featured a rhythm section of drummer Michael Clark; bassist Mark Andes; and Larry Burnett on electric and acoustic rhythm guitar. Jock Bartley added lead, slide and pedal guitar; while Rick Roberts added acoustic guitar. New recruit David Muse played piano, clavinet, synths, flute, tenor sax and harmonica. Guest artist Joe Lala was drafted in to add a myriad of percussion. The man tasked with producing Firefall was Jim Mason. Once the album was recorded and mastered, the release of Firefall was scheduled for May 1976.
Before that, critics had their say on Firefall. They were won over by a polished and accomplished album where soft rock rub shoulders with folk rock, country and Americana. It Doesn’t Matter opened the album, and was a slice of Californian soft rock, which whetted the listener’s appetite for the rest of Firefall.
This included songs like No Way Out and the ballads Dolphin’s Lullaby, Love Isn’t All and Sad Ol’ Love Song, which lead to comparisons with The Eagles. However, for many critics, one song stood head and shoulders above the rest; the soft rock classic You Are the Woman. It oozed quality, and had single written all over it. So had Livin’Ain’t Livin’, and the wistful country rock ballad Cinderalla. You Are The Woman with its close harmonies was a fusion of soft rock, folk rock and country. Then it’s all change on Do What You Want, as blistering guitar licks augment the rueful vocal. It shows Firefall’s versatility, and showcased a tight, talented band who put all their years of experience to good use on Firefall. So it was no surprise when critically acclaimed reviews accompanied the release of Firefall in May 1976.
When Firefall was released, the album reached number twenty-eight on the US Billboard 200, and was certified gold. By then, Firefall were being compared to The Eagles and Poco. This was a lot to live up to. However, Firefall had just enjoyed their first hit single.
You Are The Woman had been released as a single, and reached number nine on the US Billboard 100 and number six on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Charts. Livin’ Ain’t Livin’ then reached forty-two in the US Billboard 100; while Cinderella reached just forty-two in the US Billboard 100. Partly, this was because of the controversial lyrics, which meant that radio stations didn’t play the single. However, two hit singles and an album that had been certified gold was the perfect start to Firefall’s recording career. It was no surprise that they had embarked upon such a gruelling touring schedule.
Over the next two years, Firefall were constantly touring. They shared the bill with everyone from Leon Russell to The Doobie Brothers and Tom Waits to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Roy Buchanan, Electric Light Orchestra and The Band. However, Firefall had to fit in the recording of their sophomore album Luna Sea.
Originally, the working title for Firefall’s sophomore album was Tropical Nights. Just like their eponymous debut album, it was scheduled to be recorded at Criteria Studios, in Miami. This would be David Muse’s debut as a full time member of Firefall. However,
percussionist Joe Lala, who returned for the recording of Luna Sea, was still a guest artist. So were The Memphis Horns, who join Firefall at Criteria Studios. When recording of their sophomore album got underway, Firefall were joined by Poco’s Timothy B. Schmidt and a trio of female backing vocals. They joined percussionist Joe Lala, and the newly expanded lineup of Firefall. Again, Jim Mason had been drafted in to produce Luna Sea. Everything seemed to go to plan, and within a month, Luna Sea was completed. However, there was a problem.
Once Luna Sea was completed, the album was sent to Atlantic Records. They decided after hearing the final mix, that the album would have to be recorded.
This time, Fireball headed to Los Angeles, where some of the songs on Luna Sea were rerecorded. Other songs were discarded, and replaced by new songs. By the time Luna Sea was complete, Rick Roberts had written four songs, and Larry Burnett three songs. They also cowrote Even Steven, while Just Think and Piece Of Paper were credited to Firefall. This was the first time the band had written songs together. Both made their way onto Luna Sea, which was released in 1977.
Prior to the release of Luna Sea, critics received advance copies of the album. Just like Firefall, Luna Sea was a slick, polished and accomplished album that attracted critical acclaim from critics. Again, soft rock rubbed shoulders with folk rock, country and Americana. So Long the album opener, was a guitar driven slice of soft rock. It gives way to one of Luna Sea’s highlights, Just Remember I Love You. Just like Someday Soon and Only A Fool, it’s a beautiful country-tinged ballad, that’s reminiscent of The Eagles. These ballads offer ample opportunity for Firefall to showcase their trademark close harmonies. However, other tracks find Firefall showcasing their versatility.
Someday Soon is a fusion of blues and country; while Just Think finds Firefall heading in the direction of blues rock. Getaway features The Memphis Horns, who add stabs of horns on a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Eagles album. Head On Home, a mid tempo country rocker, where the trio of female backing vocalists add the finishing touches. Very different is Piece Of Paper, which is a melancholy ballad. It features Firefall at their best. This leaves just Even Steven, another catchy country rock track, which bookends Luna Sea perfectly.
When Luna Sea was released in 1977, it reached twenty-seven in the US Billboard 200. The lead single, Just Remember I Love You reached number eleven in the US Billboard 100, and number one in the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Charts. However, the followup So Long, stalled at just forty-eight in the US Billboard 100. Despite this, Luna Sea had built on the success of Firefall. The future it seemed looked bright for Firefall
Behind the scenes, it was a different story. All was not well within Firefall. The band had spent nearly two years touring nearly nonstop. That had been the case since the release of Firefall in May 1976, right through to 1978 when the band’s thoughts turned to recording their third album Elan. By then, Firefall had toured with the great and good of music. This included opening for Fleetwood Mac on their Rumours’ tour. For Firefall, this should’ve introduced their music to a wider audience. Instead, it almost tore Firefall apart.
During the two years of nonstop touring, some of the members of Firefall had acquired expensive habits. Rick Roberts, Larry Burnett and Michael Clarke all began to drink heavily and began to experiment with drugs. Soon, things had escalated, and drink and drugs became a problem within Firefall, as Rick, Larry and Michael became heavy drug users. This started to affect the group dynamics. To further complicate matters, Firefall were having problems with their management. For a group who were at the peak of their popularity, and about to record their third album, this didn’t bode well.
For their third album, Firefall decided to bring a new producer onboard. This was a huge risk, as Jim Mason had played an important part in the rise and rise of Firefall. However, their minds were made up, and Tom Dowd was brought onboard to produce Elan.
By 1978, Tom Dowd had an enviable track record. His career began in 1947, and over the last thirty-one years he had produced everyone from Charlie Mingus and Cream to Dusty Springfield and Eric Clapton, to Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, The Allman Brothers, Chicago and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Now Tom Dowd was tasked with uniting a band divided.
For Elan, ten new songs had been penned. Just like Firefall’s two previous albums, they came from the pen of Larry Burnett and Rick Roberts. This time around, Larry Burnett wrote three songs, while Rick Roberts wrote five new songs. Rick also wrote Sweet and Sour with Jock Bartley; and Anymore with Mark Andes. These tracks were recorded at Criteria Sound with Tom Dowd.
When recording began at Criteria Studios, Miami, Firefall were joined by drummer Jim Keltner; vocalist Laura Taylor and percussionist Steve Forman. They would augment Firefall as they recorded ten new tracks. However, the Firefall and Tom Dowd partnership proved not to be the dream team everyone had hoped.
While the members of Firefall got on well with Tom Dowd, the problem was he had a different ‘vision’ for the band. They were content to stick with the formula that had served them well for two albums. Rather than trying to sort out their differences, Firefall continued to record Elan. Eventually, Firefall’s new management company decided to intervene. By then, Elan was recorded, and a large amount of money had been spent. This was money wasted, in light of what happened next.
Firefall’s management company approached Mick Fleetwood, who the band had recently befriended. He was part of one of the most successful bands in the world. So if he spoke to executives at Atlantic Records, maybe they would allow Firefall band to rerecord Elan? So Mick Fleetwood got in touch with Atlantic Records. They agreed to let Firefall rerecord Elan. However, Firefall would pay for the rerecording of their third album. While this put the band into debt, they were willing to do so.
For the rerecording of Elan, Atlantic Records brought onboard Howard and Ron Albert to coproduce the album. The sessions took place at Criteria Sound in Miami, and the Record Plant in Los Angeles. By the time the sessions were complete, Elan was transformed and was a very different album. Firefall’s decision to rerecord Elan paid off.
Before the release of Elan, critics had their say on Firefall’s third album. They hailed the album Firefall’s finest hour. That is not surprising; given the quality of songs on Elan. Strange Way opens Elan, and is a heart wrenching ballad, where Rick Roberts is accompanied by harmonies and strings. It’s a quite beautiful ballad. So are Baby, Goodbye, I Love You and Sweet Ann. They’re a reminder of the songs that introduced the world to Firefall. However, they change tack on other tracks on Elan.
Sweet And Sour is a mid tempo country rocker, while Wrong Side Of Town heads in the direction of blues rock. Then it’s all change, as Count Your Blessings becomes a wistful, country rock ballad. It comes complete with lush strings, and is a beautiful and memorable song. However, then Firefall change direction.
Get You Back features Firefall at their rockiest. Coming a close second is Anymore, which heads in the direction of country rock. It comes complete with horns, and shows another side to Firefall. So does the album closer, Winds Of Change, which is a bluesy rocker. While Elan was different from their two previous albums, critics agreed it had one thing in common…quality.
When Elan was released in 1978, it reached number twenty-seven in the US Billboard 200, and was certified platinum. The lead single Strange Way reached number eleven in the US Billboard 100; while Goodbye, I Love You stalled at number forty-three. Despite this, Firefall had just enjoyed the most successful album of their career. It should’ve been a time to celebrate.
Sadly, it wasn’t. The three years Firefall had spent constantly touring and recording, had caught up on the band. Firefall were almost burnt out. Michael Clarke was drinking heavily, and sometimes, missed shows. Other times, Michael was ‘unfit’ to play. It got that German drummer Dan Holsten was on standby, and was ready to replace Michael. However, before long, Firefall realised there was another problem.
After three successful albums, which had sold over 1.5 million copies in America alone, the members of Firefall must have thought there was a nice nest egg awaiting them. Alas, that proved not to be the case. Firefall’s finances weren’t in the best of health. That wasn’t surprising. They had rerecorded two of their three albums, and embraced the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. That could prove expensive, and something that Firefall would regret.
Firefall never reached the same heights as Firefall, Luna Sea and Elan, which were remastered and reissued by BGO Records recently as a double album. The sound quality is stunning, and this is the perfect introduction to Firefall’s music. Their first three albums were their best, and most successful albums of their career.
While Firefall record another six studio between 1979 and 1994, their best days were behind them. Following Elan, Firefall released Undertow in 1979 and Clouds Across The Sun in 1980. By then, Firefall’s career was on the slide, and they were dropped by Atlantic Records. It looked as if this was the end of the road for Firefall.
Then in early 1982, Jock Bartley began putting together a new lineup of Firefall. This new lineup of Firefall signed to Atlantic Records, and released two albums. Break of Dawn was released in 1982, with Mirror Of The World following in 1983. However, neither album matched the success of Firefall’s first three albums. After Mirror Of The World failed commercially, Firefall were dropped again by Atlantic Records. It would be another eleven years before they released another studio album.
By the time Firefall released Messenger in 1994, they were a very different band. However, this didn’t stop Jim Mason returning to the produce Messenger. It featured Firefall’s usual mixture of ballads and rockier songs. When Messenger was complete, it was released on Redstone Records, and regarded as a return to form from Firefall. Some critics went as far as compare Messenger to their early albums. This was stretching things somewhat. However, Firefall’s fans welcomed the release of Messenger. However, Messenger wasn’t the end of the Firefall story.
After a gap of thirteen years, Firefall returned with Colorado to Liverpool–A Tribute To The Beatles in 2007. Then in 2009, Firefall Reunion Live was released some forty-three years after Firefall released their eponymous debut album. Firefall were still making music, and still continue to do so.
Seven years later, and Firefall continue to play live. The only original members of the band that remain are Jock Bartley, Mark Andes and David Muse, who featured on Firefall, but only became a permanent member on Luna Sea. They’ve not lost their appetite for music, and continue to play live and bring back memories of Firefall’s glory days.
Alas, Firefall’s glory days were short lived. Between Firefall in 1976, through 1977s Luna Sea and 1978s Elan, Firefall looked as if they would enjoy a long and successful career. Sadly, the constant touring and recording took their toll on Firefall. So did the lifestyle problems and problems with their new management company. After three critically acclaimed albums, Firefall’s career went into decline and never fully recovered. Sadly, Firefall would never come close to rescaling the heights of Firefall, Luna Sea and Elan. These three albums feature Firefall at their very best, when anything seemed possible for the Colorado based band.
FIREFALL-FIREFALL, LUNA SEA AND ELAN.