A Salute to Veterans Starring 38 Special and Lonestar: An Interview with Don Barnes of 38 Special

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WHAT: A Salute to Veterans Starring 38 Special and Lonestar
WHERE: Menominee Nation Arena, Oshkosh WI
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 10
COST: $38 – $128, 25% off Military and Veterans tickets
FREE TICKETS: for one day only – the Arena is offering free tickets to the show to past and current military personnel on Tuesday, November 6 by visiting the Arena box office or by calling (920) 744-2039 as part of a Veterans Appreciation Event. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
INFO: https://menomineenationarena.com/event/a-salute-to-veterans-starring-38-special-and-lonestar/
(920) 744-2039
http://38special.com/
https://www.lonestarnow.com/

Mark your calendars for a very special event! Southern rockers 38 Special and country music giants Lone Star join forces to present a “Salute to Veterans” on Saturday, November 10 at the Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh.

38 Special is best known for their monster hits like “Hold On Loosely,” “Caught Up in You,” “Rocking Into the Night,” “If I’d Been the One,” “Back Where You Belong,” and “Fantasy Girl.” The band has been performing their self-described ‘Muscle and Melody’ brand of rock ‘n’ roll for fans for over four decades. They have achieved numerous gold and platinum album awards. 38 Special’s very best powerhouse live performances can be heard on their Live from Texas (2011). Front man Don Barnes put out his ‘lost’ solo album, Ride The Storm, in 2017.

The “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys” of 38 Special consist of founder Don Barnes (guitar/vocals), Danny Chauncey (guitar/vocals), Barry Dunaway (bass), Gary Moffat (drums), and Bobby Capps (keyboards/vocals). They continue to play over 100 tour dates a year.

Don Barnes called me not long ago while the band was performing at Epcot at Disney World.

Jane Spietz: How did 38 special get its start?

Don Barnes: Jacksonville is a Navy town with four naval bases. As kids, we all played sailors’ clubs. You could make hundred bucks a week at 15 or 16 years old. Everybody did it. Duane Allman, Greg Allman, Ronnie Van Zandt, all the Lynyrd Skynyrd guys. Everybody played the sailors clubs. You learned the structures of radio songs. It’s a craft. You start learning at a young age. It created a fundamental foundation for going on and trying to do it. You play these cover songs, the hit songs of the day. It was Three Dog Night, Santana, and then you get cocky enough to say I can write my own songs. That’s when you go starve for 10 years. (Laughs) It’s not something that I highly recommend someone do. We were too stubborn to quit. We had played in about 15 other bands around with all the different conglomerates of different players. We eventually found people who are going to commit and show up for rehearsal every night. We would make sure they were serious about it. Donnie Van Zandt and I kept going at it. We had day jobs. We’d call each other and say “Let’s try one more time, we’re almost there.” And of course Ronnie, his older brother, was starting to happen with Skynyrd.

We rented this dilapidated old shack in the middle of nowhere to practice in. $50 a month and we couldn’t afford that even. We all had day jobs, and as soon as dinner was over we’d all pick each other up and go out there and try to hammer it out. And that’s how the name of the band came about. We had a condemned auto parts building out in the north part of Jacksonville. We had boarded up the windows. The front door the place was a regular door, but after we were done with it was like a vault door. We had rebar, two by fours and a tractor chain going through a cinderblock loop through the door with a giant lock on it. The door was about a foot thick. We had to keep our equipment out there and keep it locked up. At first the roof leaked and there was no running water so we had all of our equipment up on grocery store pallets. We were so irresponsible we lost the key to the lock on the door. We would climb up an old ladder we hid out in the weeds. (Laughs) We would go out there, pick up the ladder, climb up there and open up a window that looked like it was boarded up but it was on hinges. We would climb down and rehearse. We would exit the building the same way.

So we had been practicing out there about two months. The sound pressure inside there with the six foot amps was like 120 decibels. I guess the constables and sheriffs all around that area had heard that there was something going on in this building out in the middle of the woods and they decided to make a big raid on it. Twelve cop cars. The cops were out there. We were playing inside and as soon as we stopped the song, we could hear them banging on the front door and using bullhorns. I guess they figured there were wild parties or something going on every night. We yelled through the door that we didn’t have the key to the lock anymore and couldn’t open the door. We heard one of them say he could just shoot the lock off because he had a .38 Special that could do the talking for them. Just like in the old Wild West days! (Laughs) We just thought it was a corny little happening. At the time we didn’t have a name for the band and we were just rehearsing. Finally somebody gave us a job in a Gainesville club. Funny story – we said we’ll just call the band 38 Special for now and we’ll come up with something better later. That’s it, we never did! (Laughs)

JS: How has 38 Special been able to stand out from other Southern Rock bands?

DB: Our path has taken more of the radio hit path. I was always a big fan of hit songs on the radio. A lot of bands from down there, they represent a lifestyle. Lynyrd Skynyrd represented the biker crowd, the “Free Bird,” getting out there, but they really didn’t have a lot of radio hits. They were big in their own way. But I knew that we as a group didn’t represent a lifestyle. We had good songwriters, good elements there, that we wanted to get on the radio because that’s longevity. Once you get hit songs or top 10, top 20, you line up about 15 or 16 of them and you can work the rest of your life. We’re still out there unfolding that history. People come out and it’s amazing. They all want to relive youth and nostalgia. And of course it runs the age groups with several generations because younger kids grew up in households that played our records. So now you’ve got 20 to 60 plus year-olds out there.
We see instant reaction from people, singing along. It’s a great escape. Their familiar songs that are still played on the radio today. There are people high-fiving each other to their favorite songs. You’ll see a young group of guys that maybe have a little band and they high-five when “Hold on Loosely” comes on. It’s like, dude, you weren’t even born when the song came out! (Laughs) It’s kind of the backbone of their history and their life. Sometimes you see tears in their eyes. For someone it might remind them of someone they may have lost. It’s all about bringing that escape to people. And of course, keeping the standards at 100% all the time. Never slack up. We stack up over the years. We always revamp the show.

We’ve got a new show this year. We just take ‘em for a ride. We have a medley of secondary songs from movies and things like that. We have a lot of movie songs. We want to make sure that they hear their favorite song whether it was “Back to Paradise,” from Revenge of the Nerds, “Teacher, Teacher,” and of course, “Caught Up in You.” The big heavyweight songs we still play today. They’re just like nuggets of gold in your pocket.
We were recently inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and our producer of twenty-five years, Rodney Mills, was there to induct us. He called me and said can you believe that there’s little songs that we cobbled together 30 years ago are still played every day across the country. It’s really a remarkable thing. We’re definitely fortunate to have that. Radio stations tweet out coming up this hour are the Beatles, Stones, Boston, and 38 Special. Sure, we’re glad to be in good company!

JS: Ronnie Van Zandt died with two other members of Lynyrd Skynyrd in a plane crash in 1977, after which you pledged to carry on and do your best in Ronnie’s memory.

DB: There was a lot of emotion there. We all came from poverty. We didn’t have two nickels to rub together. (Laughs) There was an old amplifier I had that blew up. I was done for, I couldn’t carry on cuz I had no equipment. Donnie went to Ronnie and asked him if he could help me out with a used amp or anything. Ronnie told Donnie to have me meet him downtown and he would co-sign the loan for an amplifier. I was shocked because I didn’t know that he even knew that I existed. I met him down at the music store and he co-signed for an amp. A real nice, brand new, sparkly amp. That was monumental to me, to not have anything and actually have somebody lift me up and help. It was a traumatic experience when Ronnie died. He was a mentor for the band. He used to tell us all kinds of things, to be strong. He got us an old, broken down agent and told him, ‘Don’t go easy on them. Make them suffer together. Make sure they go through the hard times.’ Skynyrd, they went through hard times. They slept on amps in the back of a van. Ronnie knew that would create a lot of character and strength in a group.

After Ronnie died, in light of all that impact on my life, there was the guy that had helped me back in the music store when I was totally lost. Standing over his body there, I felt like I had only given 80% at this point, but I knew it would be 110% after this. That guy didn’t have his life and I was still here. I knew I had the talent and that we were going to go forward. You can either let tragedies in your life take you down or you can let them give you strength and lift you up.

JS: Your long-awaited, so-called “lost” solo album, Ride The Storm – please tell the story of how it finally came to be.  

DB: A&M Records, our record company through all of the hits, offered me a solo album deal. They said I could pick anyone I wanted in the world to be part of it. It was a great opportunity for me. I was trying to get outside of the Southern Rock thing. I was trying to put more of a British angle on it because we were big fans of the British invasion groups like The Animals and Beatles. Everybody was thrilled about the songs. Everything was up and positive. A & M records were happy about it. The album got mixed and mastered, ready to release. Then the whole record company got bought out by Polygram International. So all those people who championed my project were spirited away to other companies. So I was left with a finished album, and my manager and I go, ‘what do we do?’ We went through the process of trying to buy the masters. They weren’t interested in selling any properties that they owned. It was tied up in that kind of stuff. I figured they would put it in a climate controlled vault and release it posthumously or something! (Laughs)

Decades passed and we offered big money for these masters so I could go to another record company and try to release it. They weren’t interested. Then we found out that the masters had been destroyed. They just threw ‘em away. Just my luck. (Laughs) I had the only two track mix of that final album in the world. We took the two track mix and put it together with MelodicRockRecords. They put the nice cover art on it and put pictures in it. And, ironically and coincidentally, after all this time the album gets five stars across the world. The UK, Japan, Amazon Music, iTunes. That just shows you that somebody sitting on something that’s golden, that they never even realized it.
Funny thing was I actually couldn’t locate my only copy for a while. I had moved a couple of times and I couldn’t find it. I looked through all my things. I was pretty heartbroken about it because at this point, I thought, sure let’s get it out there. Then I saw one of my son Jason’s bins that I had been storing for him. I thought, maybe it’s in his junk over here. I opened it up and there it was, in the bottom. I remember the red lettering of all the songs labeled on the box. My son had borrowed it to play at his place. I told him about it and he was so freaked out. He said, “Dad, I didn’t realize I had the only copy in the world.” (Laughs) So that’s how I found it and it was a joyous day. We remastered it and made it happen.

JS: What’s on the horizon for 38 Special?

DB: We have been in the studio off the road. We’ve got some great songs. Kind of a nod back to some of the ‘80s style. We co-wrote with Jim Peterik, the guy from Survivor, an old friend of ours. We’ve got some really good songs. We’re about 75% done with it. We’re going to put out another album here in the off season. Some things are so great, better than we’ve ever done. Up tempo, good positive songs. It’s probably coming out the first part of 2019.

JS: What will it mean to 38 Special to honor veterans with Lonestar at your upcoming concert in Oshkosh on November 10th?

DB: It’s always an honor for us. We have a good relationship with a lot of the veterans around the country. We’ve been out to the bases. The lieutenants and commanders have introduced us. We have the utmost respect and it’s a big honor for us to be associated with that sort of thing. We back them all the way. It’s a big commitment for these guys and risk in their lives. Whatever we can do to give back.

JS: What can we look forward to at your show?

DB: Everybody knows we bring the party. It’s always a great time and it’s a great escape. People come and forget their troubles and sing along. It’s a joyous time. It’s a great job to bring that kind of joy to people. We’re out there and really love to unfold that history. It’s all positive and it’s all G rated. Our standards are always high to bring that good time during our shows. We look forward to it.

Photos courtesy of 38 Special, Lonestar, and Carl Dunn.

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Jane Spietz

Jane is a resident of Oshkosh. She has been covering large scale music acts for over 10 years.

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