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Firefall pays tribute to legendary bands with new release

Colorado’s own Firefall’s latest album pulls together the greatest hits not from its own albums but its tours with other legendary bands to pay tribute to its “Friends & Family.”

The album, to be released Sept. 22 by Sunset Blvd. Records, will feature top hits from late ’60s and ’70s bands such as the Doobie Brothers, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Loggins and Messina, and Marshall Tucker. 

“That opened up dozens and dozens of some of the best songs of American music of the late ’60s and ’70s,” said Jock Bartley of Westminster, lead guitarist and vocalist and the only remaining original member of the band. “I knew that our versions, whether they were very similar to or different from the originals, had to be really good. We treated the whole project lovingly with great respect and honor for the bands and the songs they were doing.”

Many of the original band members like Bartley, Rick Roberts, Mark Andes, Michael Clarke, Larry Burnett and the late David Muse played with famous bands that included the Byrds, Flying Burrito Bros, Spirit, Dan Fogelberg, Heart and Gram Parsons. 

Bartley and Roberts started the band in Boulder in 1974, and Roberts and Burnett, who joined soon after, wrote most of the band’s hits as original singers and songwriters.

“When we first got Larry out here (from Washington, D.C.) and started the band, we had 25 original songs in our first week of practice,” said Bartley, a classically trained guitarist who had been Tommy Bolin’s replacement in rock band Zephyr and also played for country rock band Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels.

Having songs to play for a new band typically is unheard of, since the players are trying to feel each other out, figure out their sound and begin writing their songs, Bartley said.

“We had amazing songs from the first day,” Bartley said. “We sounded like Firefall early on, because we sounded like the songs those guys were singing.”

Songs, particularly the lyrics and melodies, are the most important part of a band and often are what makes it successful, Bartley said. That’s because fans like lyrics they can sing along to and that hit them in a certain way, he said.

“Firefall got to be really successful because of how good the songs were and how much they meant to people,” Bartley said. “Half the guys were in real successful bands and had tasted success, which meant bigger gigs, more money and more records. We were kind of in a unique situation because we were set on the big time when making records with all those great songs.”

Firefall came out at the time of folk rock’s morphing into country rock, a movement originating in LA that spread east. Many of the rock stars of the time relocated from LA to Boulder, like Dan Fogelberg, Chris Hillman from the Byrds, and Joe Walsh, now in the reformed Eagles. Firefall originally was a rock and a blues band with Burnett writing heavy, dark, full-of-messaging songs and Roberts, lighter, pop songs that were performed with a guitar and acoustic base.

“Our sound included the older genres of folk and country rock, but we put a harder rock, big balled spin on it,” Bartley said. “It was called Colorado sound, which was them trying to describe what Firefall was. We were just a rock band that had a lot of ballads that became huge hits.”

Firefall’s success can be attributed to those songs and the fact it is unique and doesn’t sound like any other band, Bartley said.

“They named our sound the Colorado sound because they couldn’t come up with anything else,” Bartley said.

Firefall’s first three albums were released in 1976, 1977 and 1978 during the band’s heyday when it “toured with all the best bands in the world,” such as during Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” album release tour in 1977 and 1978, Bartley said. 

“It was amazing because our first album was so successful,” Bartley said about the band’s self-titled debut, “Firefall.” 

That album sold more than a million copies. It featured hit single, “You Are the Woman,” which reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, has been played on commercial radio more than 7 million times, and appeared in movies and television shows. 

Firefall has three Gold albums, two Platinum albums and 11 chart-topping singles and has performed nationally and internationally solo and with other bands. The band performs in concert and at casinos, festivals and fairs, and large clubs.

The original band members produced five albums, then in 1980, the band started breaking up, and a year later, Atlantic Records put out “The Best of Firefall.” During the 1980s, the band continued to tour without a record deal, putting out more albums in the 1990s and 2000s. The band released its ninth album, “Comet,” in 2020, waiting until 2023 for its 10th and most recent album, “Friends & Family.”

“It had some attention and sold a little bit,” Bartley said. “When the dust settled and the last guy quit the band, I realized I was the only guy who didn’t quit, and I got title to the name. If I wanted to, I could keep the band going.”

Steven Weinmeister, lead vocalist and a guitar player, returned to the band in 2022, and John Bisaha, longtime drummer, and Jim Waddell, bass player and lead vocalist, also came on board. 

“Our vocals in Firefall are better than they have been in a decade,” Bartley said. “Those two guys (Weinmeister and Waddell) are fantastic and have upped the Firefall game.”

Weinmeister, the longest tenured singer in the band, originally joined in 1993 after working for a successful cover band opening for Firefall a couple of times. He remained with Firefall until 2014, when he got a remote design job and joined The Long Run, an Eagles tribute band, where he stayed until 2021. He also worked in journalism for several years, including doing sports and byline writing for the Denver Post for five years and design at the Loveland Reporter-Herald for seven years.

After leaving Firefall, Weinmeister still saw the band play a few times and filled in on some shows. When Andies, who was in Heart, knocked on his hotel door after an Arizona show and asked what it’s going to take for him to come back, he couldn’t refuse.

“I consider myself to be completely blessed to do what I am doing to do it at my age,” Weinmeister said, adding that the band’s success comes from “the songs and the fact that we have been able to play them well and go out and make them sound like the record.” “We’re nice people. We go out after shows and talk to people and sign autographs and don’t charge for them. … and I get to make people happy, hopefully.”

Firefall plans to release “Friends & Family 2” in 2024 with additional tributes to the bands it’s worked with over the years. 

“It’s so nice to have a resurgence and people wanting to talk about our history,” Bartley said. “It’s a blessing. It makes you humble. It makes you appreciate the gifts you have and that people enjoy.” 

Source: BizWest