Longtime band 38 Special keep rocking tonight at Riverbend

With the exception of a 5-year separation from 1987 to 1992, Don Barnes has been vocalist and guitarist of 38 Special since 1974.

If you are going to

– What: 38 Special

– When: 9:30 p.m. tonight

– Where: Coca-Cola stage

Jacksonville, Florida’s Navy bars and clubs in the 1970s were the testing ground for the city’s novice groups. Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers Band and 38 Special, which is making headlines on Riverbend tonight, are just a few.

“We played in about 15 other bands before 38 Special,” says Don Barnes, the band’s singer and guitarist. “38 was the last attempt to really give it a shot, keep it serious and rehearse every day.

“Coming from that area we could see that the Allmans had already taken off, and Lynyrd Skynyrd had just started, we realized it was possible,” said Barnes. “When you see other people doing something on their own, no matter how far back you were going back then, it was you were going to try to make a living from it.”

Hard work paid off. Between 1981 and 1984, the group sold three million albums: “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys”, “Special Forces” and “Tour de Force”. Add to that several songs that have been aired almost constantly on rock radio – “Rockin ‘Into the Night”, “Hold On Loosely”, “Caught Up in You”, “If I’d Been the One”. The latter two reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Rock Album chart.

When the first line-up of 38 Special reunited in 1974, it included Barnes on vocals and guitar, Donnie van Zant on vocals and guitar, Jeff Carlisi on guitar, Ken Lyons on bass, Steve Brookins and Jack Gurnard, both on drums. To avoid arrests during rehearsals, the group performed in dilapidated buildings on the outskirts of town. The cops arrived one night, but the group had barricaded the front door and “lost” the key.


Of text
With the exception of a 5-year separation from 1987 to 1992, Don Barnes has been vocalist and guitarist of 38 Special since 1974.

“A die [cops] Said he was going to shoot the lock, like in the Old West days or something, ”Barnes says. “He said his .38 Special was going to speak for him. ”

At that point, the band hadn’t yet chosen a name but, with the cop’s words in mind, 38 Special was born.

At the start of the group, Barnes says the group tried to emulate all the groups around them, whether it was the Outlaws, Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers.

“Ronnie Van Zant, lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd and older brother of Donnie Van Zant, was a great mentor for the group,” said Barnes. “He was five years older than us, and he said, ‘Stop trying to be someone else’s clone. It won’t get you anywhere if you just dwell on it. “‘

While the Allmans were blues and Skynyrd was tough and southerner, 38 members of Special were fans of British Invasion, its melodies and its big guitars.

“We just put a style together; we called it ‘muscle and melody’. You have that awesome growl, aggressive guitars in your face and you have a great melody and a great story on top of it,” says Barnes.

As the ’70s drew to a close and the’ 80s began, 38 broke away from its musical roots and moved on to arena rock, hoping to appeal to a wider audience, a change that would lead to hits such as “Hold on Loosely” and “Caught Up in You.”

“All of those songs since then have all been about little experiences that have really happened to us,” Barnes said. “If it’s something real, people think, you know, ‘I felt that too, the same thing happened to me’ or ‘I had the same feeling.’ It attracts them to this kind of situation. ”

But with the success, life got a bit hectic for the band and Barnes grew weary of his demanding lifestyle.

“When success finally knocks on your door, you have to be prepared to go the distance and are contractually obligated to keep releasing another album,” he says. “You push really hard and there’s a lot of pressure with a lot of personal appearances and promotions and everything, and it consumes your whole life.

“I was a bit fractured personally; it was not all there; I just wanted to get away from the madness. “

He left in 1987 and, far from 38 Special, he filled those gaps. He met his wife, learned to ski on snow and traveled. He also recorded a solo album, “Ride the Storm” from 1989, with A&M Records, but the label was bought out by Polygram and Barnes’ album was never released.

In 1992, however, 38 Special reconnected.

“They called and wanted me to come back,” Barnes says. “They wanted to get the old sound back.”

Things were going well until 2013, when Donnie Van Zant had to resign. His demand to have the amps on stage turned towards him during performances took its toll. He had to make a compromise: stop playing music or lose his hearing.

“It was heartbreaking for him, me and everyone,” Barnes says. “I told him, ‘Donnie, we’re so proud of you, you’ve come this far, decades later.’ “

With the departure of Van Zant, the group’s setlist had to be reworked.

“So we took all the hits and put them all together and did a different show with more dynamic,” says Barnes.

Contact Hayden Seay at [email protected] or 423-757-6396.


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Evelyn C. Tobin

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