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‘Southern’ no more, now 38 Special is just a band from the South
By Mary Campbell
June 8, 1986
The Associated Press
“You can’t sing about alligators and whiskey forever.” “I’ve always felt there’s a difference between a Southern rock band and a band from the South. We are the latter.” So says Don Barnes, vocalist and guitarist, as he explains how 38 Special went from being a Southern rock band to becoming an American rock band whose last three albums sold platinum. The group’s seventh album, “Strength in Numbers,” jumped onto the best-selling charts May 17 at No. 81 and hopped the following week to 52. The first single from it, “Like No Other Night,” was No. 36 and climbing on its fourth week on the charts May 24.
All records have been on A & M Records. “We only started getting considerable success from the first tune we took some risks,” Barnes says. “We felt we were supposed to be a Southern band; we were kind of following what other groups had done before us Then we realized some of the best Southern music had already been made by Southern bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, one of the greatest Southern rock bands there ever will be.
“Around our fourth album we started realizing Southern music had had its day. Southern rock was blues-based and every group was being an underdog We became a three-chord-boogie, rock till-you-drop band.” Barnes says, “We give 110 percent in our live shows We went to Japan on our last tour. The promoter said not to be surprised if they were reserved. We felt that was a challenge for us. We had them rocking from the first note.
“Everyone knows we go out there to really entertain and make sure people walk away almost exhausted. Our time on stage is like we’re kids again. We try to create a party atmosphere.” The first three albums, before “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys,” “Special Forces” and “Tour de Force” didn’t sell well, Barnes says, but A & M didn’t drop them. “We’ve always been a great live act. We had to get our recordings together and get radio exposure.
“We had a semi-hit, ‘Rocking into the Night,’ from the third album. ‘Hold on, Lucy’ was our first big hit, off the ‘Wild-Eyed Southern Boys’ album in 1981. The title was a send up of the fact we kept being categorized as just another Southern band. The single wasn’t Southern at all.” Guitarist Jeff Carlisi adds, “Our first top 10 single was ‘Caught Up in You’ off ‘Special Forces.’” Barnes continues, “We knew you can have one hit. It’s that follow up — if you can do that, people won’t think of you as a flash in the pan.
“Every time we just try to top our last project. The new album, I feel, is the best one yet. We wanted to make sure every song had quality and stood on its own and there’s no weak spots. We topped ourselves again.” The group 38 Special was formed in Jacksonville, Fla., by Donnie Van Zant, younger brother of Ronnie Van Zant, vocalist of Lynyrd Skynyrd, which was formed in Jacksonville in 1965. Ronnie Van Zant was one of those killed when Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashed near Glllsburg, Miss , in 1977.
Donnie Van Zant sings the harder-edged songs in 38 Special and Don Barnes sings the romantic pop. “We feel as long as we win, it doesn’t matter who carries the ball,” Barnes says. For the last eight years group personnel has remained the same, with Larry Junstrom on bass and drummers Jack Grondin and Steve Brookins. They take turns drumming on album cuts and both drum on stage. Barnes says, “We’d played together since we were kids. Before we did this album, we took a break of about a year. We had never taken a break in 10 years. We want to be together another 10 years.
“We cut our hair to get away from the ’70s look of groups from the South. We trimmed down. I lost 40 pounds, the most of anybody. It shows in your creativity, when you feel better about yourself “This album smiles more than our other albums. It has happier songs and more positive statements are made. In the past we’ve explored heartbreak and pain.” Carlisi says, “Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance wrote ‘Teacher, Teacher’ for the film ‘Teachers.’ Bryan said if someone else was going to do the song he thought 38 Special could do it justice. We received a demo tape from him in August 1984, two weeks before the last tour was over. We cut it two days after the tour was over.” Barnes adds, “We were on vacation, watching one of our songs become a hit. We’re usually working hard to keep a hit going.”
The next tour starts June 14, with a silver and black setting, huge stages and a computerized lighting system. Honeymoon Suite will open the shows in the summer and Bon Jovi in the fall. Barnes says, “The last tour had Donnie making rock ‘n’ roll concert history in a flying rig going 200 feet over the crowd. We won’t have such a circus this time. We thought it started detracting from the music itself. “We’ll cover the United States about three times and Canada and Japan.”
The name 38 Special used to be .38 Special. The period was dropped several years ago, Barnes says. “People would bill us without it. And it has the connotation of a handgun.” A club they were playing at in Charlotte, N.C , had a sign out, “.38 Special Tonight,” and people showed up thinking it was 38-cent drinks. The place was packed, Carlisi said. The name originally came, Barnes says, from an incident when they were rehearsing near Jacksonville. “A policeman came up. We thought it was some big wild party. He said, ‘Come out peacefully. If you don’t want to come out, we’ve got some .38 Specials that say you will.’ “We didn’t have a name yet. We thought, what’s better to derive a name from than something that happened to you.”
38 SPECIAL DISCOGRAPHY:
1977 38 Special
1978 Special Delivery
1980 Rockin’ Into the Night
1981 Wild-Eyed Southern Boys
1982 Special Forces
1984 Tour de Force
1986 Strength in Numbers
1988 Rock & Roll Strategy
1991 Bone Against Steel
1999 Live at Sturgis
2001 A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night
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