Group formed in Jacksonville, FL, 1977; signed first recording contract with A&M Records, released .38 Special, 1977; released Special Delivery, 1978; released Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, which contained their first hit single "Hold on Loosely," 1981; released Numbers, 1986; Rock & Roll Strategy,1989, which included the top-ten single "Second Chance," their last hit song; composed soundtrack for the film Super Troopers, 2002.
Long-lived rock group .38 Special was formed in 1977 and is still together more than 25 years later. Best known for their hits "Hold on Loosely," "If I'd Been the One," and "Caught up in You," the band still has fans loyal to their distinctively Southern brand of rock 'n' roll. Formed by Donnie Van Zant, whose brother Ronnie was a founder of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special pumped out what a Rolling Stone writer called "the prototype of country-fried, down home, Southern style, rock 'n' roll." The band has had gold and platinum albums, top-ten hits, and sold-out stadium tours, and is still touring. The founding band members included Van Zant and Don Barnes on vocals and guitar, Jeff Carlisi on guitar, Ken Lyons on bass, Jack Grondin on drums, and Steve Brookins on drums.
In an interview with Scott Greene on the Gritz website, Carlisi recalled that the young members of the band often went to a bar called the Forest Inn to hear other musicians play. Because they were underage, they could not legally go into the club, so they begged the kitchen workers to let them sit in the kitchen and listen from there. "Over the course of time," Carlisi recalled, "we saw the Allman Brothers band form and take off. I think that was an inspiration to us all seeing them from the beginning and seeing them make it to the level we all wanted to reach."
The band members all lived within a few blocks of each other, and often grouped and regrouped informally, eventually coalescing as .38 Special. They signed a recording contract with A&M Records in 1977, which released their first, self-titled album that year and Special Delivery in 1978. Carlisi told Greene that although the band knew they had "something special ... the first two records were not very successful by record industry standards." Their third album, Rockin' Into the Night, released in 1979, had a single that hit the top 40.
In 1981 the group finally hit the big time with Wild Eyed Southern Boys, which included the top-40 song, "Hold on Loosely." Carlisi noted, "We really knew we had created something that was long lasting and that would stand the test of time." The following album, Special Forces, released in 1982, had two top-ten hits, "If I'd Been the One" and "Caught Up in You."
Their next two albums, Tour de Force (1983) and Strength in Numbers (1986) also did very well, although Rolling Stone writer Steve Futterman complained that they had lost their Southern edge and sounded more like a West Coast band. In 1989 they released Rock & Roll Strategy, which included their last hit song, "Second Chance," a single that spent time among the top ten and was the band's highest charting single.
In 1990 and 1991, .38 Special participated in a military tour sponsored by a cigarette company that took them to military bases all over the country. That kicked off a marathon 15-month tour that extended into 1992. Despite tough economic times, the band was heavily booked because they played in smaller venues rather than in expensive concert halls and arenas. Carlisi told Deborah Evans Price in Amusement Business, "A lot of the fans were telling us that because of the economy, and money being so tight, they had to make a choice between buying a concert ticket and buying the record." In order to help fans make both purchases, the band played less-expensive places where ticket prices were lower. "Last fall we saw a lot of bands that were unable to support themselves and had to go home," Carlisi continued. .38 Special, rather than folding, simply adapted to the changing times.
The band's agent at the time, Mark Spector, told Evans Price that the band had developed a good reputation and a loyal following because they gave good live performances, and had a series of successful songs. ".38 Special is one of a smallish group of American bands that has been able to endure on the basis of consistency." That's a fortunate thing, Carlisi told Evans Price, because, "[t]he primary thing is I love to play music. The whole band loves to play. We're happy to still be out there. It's what we live for."
In 1987 Don Barnes left the band and was replaced by Max Carl; Barnes returned to the group in May of 1992. The lineup now includes Larry Junstrom on bass, who formerly played with Lynyrd Skynyrd; Bobby Capps on the keyboards, who played in clubs all over Florida before joining the band and also fronts his own band, DownTime; Gary Moffatt on drums; as well as Van Zant on vocals and guitar; Barnes on vocals and guitar; and Danny Chauncey on guitar. Since Resolution, their comeback album released in 1997, they have released three more albums, one featuring Christmas songs.
Apart from .38 Special, Van Zant and his brother Johnny Van Zant have also collaborated on two albums, Brother to Brother and Van Zant II; in 2001, they went on their first tour as a team. Van Zant told Nick Marino in the Jacksonville, Florida, Times-Union, "This here is just a dream come true to get to go out and share the stage with my brother. What it really has allowed us to do is not only to make music together, but it's allowed us some time to actually just hang together as brothers and catch up on that."
In 2002 the band recorded the soundtrack for an independent film called Super Troopers that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Van Zant wrote on the group's website that the band continues to evolve as the years pass. "If we did the same thing over and over and over again, or like we did five years ago, it would be very boring for us. And I think as writers and musicians, we have matured."
Barnes added, "We'll just continue to grow and evolve into better songwriters.... And we will always tour if the fans are still with us. As long as it's still fun, we'll continue to do it. It's a great life to be able to see happy faces every night because of music that you've created. You can really take pride in what you do."