Firefall Reemerges with ‘Comet,’ Lacing Legacy and Modern Authenticity

As a 70s legacy band with hits like “Strange Way” and “You Are The Woman,” Firefall found that decade hard to match in the following years. With their forthcoming record Comet they have instead charted new waters instead of sailing the same ones they did in 1976.

Comet out December 11 follows up their previous release, 1998’s Messenger.  But Comet piggybacks on the band’s 1976 self-titled debut, which was paramount to their success, in ways none of their other records since were.  Aware of their legacy status that came from their ‘70s hits Firefall, with three original members remaining crafted a new record that is one half legacy and one half brand new renditions of Firefall with nuances of americana, rock, pop, and country. 

“I knew going in that about half of the record really needed to sound kind of like the ‘70s Firefall,” frontman Jock Bartley told American Songwriter. “Because of course, if every song sounded like 70s Firefall you know people would say, ‘ah, they haven’t evolved at all, they sound just like they used to,’ But you have you have naysayers no matter what you do.”

The new presentation of Firefall started with an americana tinged song “Way back When” a co-write with friend Terry Peacock. The album opener gave Bartley a chance to explore all the great music of the decade that most influenced the early sound of Firefall, and he started with the year 1965. Following verses traversed 1967 and 1969 and matched each with a portrait of the year’s culture.

“I kind of started thinking, I would like to write the lyrics in this song to be a loving remembrance of how great the music of the ‘60s was,” Bartley said. “The first verse was (about) the Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Bryds.” The second verse remembered Aretha Franklin and the Young Rascals and takes the listener through nearly every hit of that period. 

“Way Back When” is the all-encompassing track that does well to introduce an album that is both reminiscent and forward thinking. It was important for Bartley to present both old and new eras of Firefall, especially to fans that had been hearing the same 45-minute set at shows over the last 15 years.  That notion alone was enough to kick off all that was to become Comet

“For the last, you know, 15 or 20 years, we have been basically playing the same 45 minutes set or 60 minutes set whenever we play because that’s what the fans pay to hear,” he said. “Which is great. And that just says how wonderful our 1970 songs with Rick Roberts and Larry Burnett were, but it started to feel like we needed to make new music.”

The new music on Comet took over three years to complete with each member stretched out all over the US. But it was worth it as the band prepared to release their first new material in over twenty years. In addition to “Way Back When” was “New Mexico” that followed up 1976’s “Mexico.” The song was recorded with vocalist Mark Trippensee, as a result of the distance that sidetracked the band over the three years. The song needed to be completed as timely as possible and Trippensee, a friend of Bartley’s in their shared Boulder music scene, who  also fronts an Eagles tribute band, The Long Run, was honored and up for the task. “Mexico” was always a cherished song to Bartley. After all, the studio session for  “Mexico” was responsible for giving Bartley his first encounter with Eric Clapton. 

“Firefall was making its first record, in the winter of 1975,” Bartley recalled. “And suddenly, we were touring with all the big bands of the day and had a lot of hits. We went down to Criteria studios in Miami to record. The Bee Gees were down the hall, Stephen Stills was in and out. It was like the hit factory. And it was like a nobody knew who Firefall was.”

Basically unnoticed, or so Bartley thought, he went about their sessions, ready to record his solo parts for “Mexico.” But it didn’t really go to plan.  

“On stage when we play, I was just burning and it was great,” Bartley said. “So I kind of knew what I was going to play. And I thought in my mind, this is going to be my moment to shine as a lead guitar player on our first record. So I’m warming up back in the studio. And the day before, we had brought in the horn section, to play in the middle of my guitar solo. So suddenly I had something new to contend with. I had no idea of where they played. But I thought, let’s just go for it.”

As Bartley relaxed and started to enjoy the ride, things went aawry, at least in his mind. As a guitarist used to playing with a vocalist, the newly added horn section threw Bartley for a loop.  And just as he was ready to angrily waltz into the control room to give his engineer an ear-full and request to redo the part, he shut his mouth dead in his tracks.

“I took my guitar off and I stormed into the control room to give them a piece of my mind,” Bartley remembered. “And the first person I see in the control room was my guitar hero, Eric Clapton, who had been watching me play ‘Mexico.’”

With a cherished memory of Eric Clapton, “Mexico”, instantly and forever had a preciousness to it. And overall “Mexico” encompassed the 1970 Firefall sound many fans love to this day.  Which led Bartley to remake it with “New Mexico.”  And instead of recruiting the old band of songwriters from the original song like Rick Roberts and Larry Burnett to play on it, he knew it was his turn to show some guitar chops on the song. 

“I kind of started thinking we need a new mexico song kind of like ‘Mexico,’ where I can just burn, you know, as a lead guitar player” he said. “And I kept saying to myself over the months, a few years ago, we need a new ‘Mexico’. I started writing a song that was reminiscent of Rick Roberts’ song ‘Mexico,’ certainly not plagiaristic or anything, but had a lot of the same elements in it.”

Other songs from Comet like “Never Be The Same,”ushered in a new era of songwriting for Firefall. Guitarist Gary Jones who joined the band five years ago wrote the crushing song about the passing of his mother. In true Firefall fashion a number of songs like “Hardest Chain” were collaborations with great songwriters like Ficca and Tony Rosario.

“That’s another modern but different song that still sounds a lot like Firefall because we have lots of other minor chord, darker songs,” Bartley said about “Hardest Chain.”

Accounting for the country style on Comet is “Younger” a collaboration with Nashville celebrated songwriter Gary Burr.  And closing up the Firefall story is a remake of Spirit’s classic 1970 hit “Nature’s Way.”  The Firefall remake features Timothy B. Schmit of Eagles and John McFee of the Doobie Brothers. The song was consistently one Firefall included in their 45-minute live set over the years. Bassist Mark Andes reconceptualized the classic into a modern hit, promised to revive the original success. 

Comet intertwines classic Firefall with new experimentation, but the legacy is apparently clear on even the new rebirth of the band. And Comet is just the beginning. 

“A lot of the industry is not so much albums but putting out singles,” Bartley said.  “I’m writing all the time. And once the dust settles after this record and we hopefully get a chance to tour the gigs that are rescheduled for 2021, I think Firefall will have another new album or at least some singles in the future. Because you always have to grow.”

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