The Boulder, Colorado, music scene bubbled over with talented musicians in the early to mid-1970s. Many became legends in local clubs in the stunningly beautiful city next to the Rocky Mountains, but one group — Firefall — captured the ears of the entire country.
Led by ex-Flying Burrito Brothers lead singer Rick Roberts and lead guitarist Jock Bartley, who had toured with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, Firefall’s debut album roared out of the gates in 1976, propelled by this hit single “You Are the Woman,” which reached No. 9 on the Billboard charts.
Firefall’s Colorado-tinged country rock sound wasn’t all Roberts and Bartley. Mark Andes, formerly of Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne, played bass; songwriter Larry Burnette played guitar; ex-Byrd Michael Clarke was on drums; and multi-instrumentalist David Muse broadened the group’s palette with his saxophone, flute, keyboards and harmonica.
"On my first trip to Boulder, I just felt like I had come home,’” Muse tells me. “Being an old hippie, it was a perfect fit. I still love Boulder, but it's much more of a yuppie town these days.”
Muse, who was born in Rome, Georgia, and grew up in the Tampa area, got the invite to Boulder from Roberts. They had played together in two bands in Florida, and, after Firefall signed its initial deal with Atlantic Records, Roberts thought Muse could add some color to the group’s music.
The band, which last year was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, quickly meshed with Muse, and the six-man group headed to Miami’s Criteria Studios to record its self-titled debut album. Though Muse was a full member of the band, Atlantic Records didn’t allow his photo on the debut album released in 1976 because he was not a signatory on the contract Firefall signed before Muse joined the group.
Besides the big hit, “You Are the Woman,” the debut album included lesser hits “Cinderella,” “Livin’ Ain’t Livin’,” and “Mexico.” The album’s opening cut, “It Doesn’t Matter,” written by Roberts and Chris Hillman, was widely known, because another version of the song with different lyrics was written by Hillman and Stephen Stills on their groundbreaking 1972 double album Manassas.
Firefall’s second album, Luna Sea, also spawned a big hit, “Just Remember I Love You,” which hit No. 11 on the Billboard charts and featured Timothy B. Schmidt of Poco and the Eagles on background vocals. The group’s hit-making ability continued on its third album, Elan, which led off with “Strange Way.”
Muse, who now lives in Clearwater, Florida, says it’s difficult to pinpoint which Firefall songs mean the most to him.
"They all mean a lot to me,” he says,”because they've been a big part of my career. ‘Dolphin's Lullaby’ [on Firefall’s debut] does come to mind, as does my song ‘Dreamers’ [on the 1982 album Clouds Across the Sun]. ‘Dreamers’ was special, because it was such a gas to hear a song I'd written on the radio."
A year before Clouds Across the Sun was released, Muse released Tonal Alchemy, a solo instrumental album that combined jazz, funk, and New Age music. In April, he released another solo album, Firefall Revisited, recorded October 2015-February 2016.
Muse says on his website that Firefall Revisited offers his “re-imagined, instrumental take on some well-known Firefall hits, as well as a couple of originals.
“The musical style of this collection melds the pop-rock feel of the original Firefall recordings with some contemporary jazz, a little smooth jazz, and a shot of Latin fusion. The result offers something for Firefall diehards and new fans.”
I ask Muse why he felt the need to record Firefall songs in a different vein.
"As I'm mostly an instrumentalist, it just seemed natural,” he says. “The great chord progressions and melodies also lend well to instrumental versions.”
Another group with excellent chord progressions and melodies is a big part of Muse’s musical career.
"I was with the Marshall Tucker Band 1996-2000 and 2002-2008,” Muse says. “During that time, I played on seven Marshall Tucker Band albums. Firefall and the Marshall Tucker Band shared stages going back to the early days — about 1977 or so. Firefall's first show at Madison Square Garden was with the Marshall Tucker Band. When the Marshall Tucker Band needed a replacement for Jerry Eubanks, they reached out to me.”
Firefall and the Marshall Tucker Band offer very different slices of the rock and roll spectrum.
“The Marshall Tucker Band often mixes in a little jazz with their Southern rock sound, much like The Allman Brothers,” Muse says. "Firefall has a harder rock side that comes out between pop ballads. Both bands create songs with great melodies and lyrics."
With Firefall and the Marshall Tucker Band, Muse performed many excellent live shows, and he is now back in Firefall playing live gigs with two other original members, Bartley and Andes. On Thursday, Aug. 25, they will be playing on a ferry dock next to the Long Island Sound in Port Jefferson, New York. They also have upcoming concerts scheduled in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
Muse says the best concert he ever attended as a spectator was George Harrison with Ravi Shankar at the Omni in Atlanta in November 1974. “I love the Beatles, and George's eastern influences always appealed to me."
The concert that most influenced him as a musician was a Rolling Stones performance at the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training stadium in Clearwater.
“I think it was 1965. The vibe and energy made me think that I would like to play music more than football, which I really loved."