A sense of validation; Lengthy career rewarding for 38 Special


By Jim Davis

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TROY — The journey may have started out bumpy, but members of southern rock band 38 Special are definitely enjoying the ride these days.

Fifty years after forming, lead singer and co-founder Don Barnes said years of hard work and criss-crossing the globe touring have left the band with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude.

“It’s a great validation for everything,” Barnes said during a recent interview with AIM Media Midwest. “We were all young boys with a dream, and our goal was to have longevity.”

They’ve met that goal … and then some.

Now in its sixth decade of touring, 38 Special returns to Hobart Arena Saturday, Feb. 24, for a 7:30 p.m. concert. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with special guest Rusted Reserve set to help kick off the evening.

“Its always a great time up there in Ohio. We have fans that go all the way back to the late 70s … and when you see the high fives and see people are singing along to every word, it’s just great,” Barnes said. “Sometimes the sound guy will tell us (the crowd) was singing so loud he couldn’t hear us.”

Barnes admitted the success was sometimes difficult to capture as the band strived to find it’s own sound in rock music’s competitive landscape. Formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in the mid-70s, 38 Special needed a couple of albums to gain traction.

“We were just trying to get (songs) on the radio. That’s the hardest thing to do — just get your foot in the door,” he said. “Eventually we kept learning from making our own mistakes.”

Advice from the late Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant — the brother of 38 Special co-founder Donnie Van Zant — struck a chord with Barnes that left a lasting impression.

“We realized you have to put more truth in your songs. I had had a troubled relationship at one point and Ronnie Van Zant had said ‘put your truth in there. If it’s something that comes from real life experiences, write it,’” Barnes said.

And they did.

“Jeff Carlisi and I were writing with Jim Peterik (from the band Survivor) … and I had a notebook with titles and song lyrics and I had ‘Hold on Loosely’ written in there and he said ‘But don’t let go …’ and we were off to the races,” Barnes remembered.

That song —1981’s “Hold On Loosely” — found a home on both radio and fledgling cable TV channel MTV, and helped pushed 38 Special to the next level.

“We were trying to find a sound that moves you and makes your heart sing, so we kind of crafted a sound for ourselves and it started working,” he said. “It’s a real surprise that we hadn’t anticipated — that those songs would become the fabric of peoples’ lives. People were relating to them … and it started off a good run through the years.”

Collectively, the band has enjoyed nearly 20 top-40 radio hits, ranging from “Rockin’ Into the Night,” “Hold On Loosely,” “Caught Up In You,” and “You Keep Runnin’ Away” to “If I’d Been the One,” “Back Where You Belong,” “Teacher, Teacher,” Like No Other Night,” “Back to Paradise” and “Somebody Like You.”

Fans — and the band, too — have found particular favorites from the 38 Special’s extensive catalog of hits.

“We were always big fans of the big guitar guys — ZZ Top and Mountain, Clapton and Cream — so ‘Chain Lighting’ is a really great live song for us to play. It encapsulates all those ingredients — big guitar in your face — and with all the lights (onstage) it looks like a storm going on. We’ve always liked that.

“And there are several songs that resonate with people who have lived those experiences,” he continued. “‘If I’d Been the One’ — as soon as we start it — people are like ‘ohhhhh,’ — and ‘Caught Up In You’ is happy and joyous.”

Essentially, Barnes said the show is one hit after another.

“The show runs like a ride. We bang these songs up against each other and change rhythm patterns. There’s never dead space. It’s always moving.” he said. “We see people out there with tears in their eyes and it transform them. It makes them young again … and it make US young again. That’s the best.”

By the end of the night, Barnes said he and hisband-mates (Bobby Capps, Gary Moffatt, Barry Dunaway and Jerry Riggs) hope fans leave with a memorable experience.

“We understand that it takes a lot to get to a show or venue. Maybe they have to get a babysitter or something. That’s why we always want people walking out saying ‘That was great.’ Spread that joy,” he said. “There’s a lot of darkness in this world, so it’s all about the release … the escape. We’re there to provide the escape. And it’s a great job to be able to bring that kind of happiness to people.”

For ticket information, visit the Hobart Arena website at www.hobartarena.com or call 937-339-2911.

Visit www.38special.com to learn more about 38 Special.

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