There is a band that originated quietly enough in Jacksonville, Florida way back when. That band is called .38 Special and they are coming to the Youngstown/Warren area to perform on March 17 at Packard Music Hall. Songs like “Caught Up In You“, “Back Where You Belong“, “Hold On Loosely“, and many other recognizable classics are sure to be a part of this big show.
In the eighties, .38 Special dominated MTV, Billboard Charts, and arenas around the country. One of the coolest things about this band is they are the prototype of what a blue-collar American group boundlessly strives to become. They are charged up and ready to put on a great show worth seeing. Don Barnes, along with Donnie Van Zant, is one of the founding members of the band which has exceeded the 20 million mark in sales. I was recently lucky enough to speak with Barnes via telephone in hopes of asking him a question or two he may have never heard. Enjoy the interview, but more importantly, grab some tickets and enjoy the concert!
Paneech: How did your band, .38 Special, end up on A & M Records? Was it a luck thing or a case of knowing someone?
Don Barnes: Back then, there were bidding wars going on between A & M, Arista, and CBS. Southern Rock, at that time, was a pretty big deal, kind of what grunge was to Seattle in the nineties. We went with A & M Records because it was run by musicians. They had a strong commitment to sticking with up and coming artists and aiding with artistic development.
Paneech: How can a band as big as yours endure personnel changes and retain that magical chemistry?
Don Barnes: When you do this for as long as we have, some will grow tired of living out of a suitcase. There are musical differences that can push a band apart, like a marriage. Over time, there will be a difference of opinions, and we have to do what is ultimately best for the band. Jeff Carlisi had a little girl and took a different avenue in life. He runs something called Camp Jam where they bring in a bunch of kids every Summer and have a smaller version of a rock and roll fantasy camp. It is a great program and we all wish Jeff the best with it! Our original drummer, Jack Grondin, was probably the wildest guy in the band and is now a world traveling evangelical minister and spends time raising money for orphanages. You just never know.
Paneech: If the opportunity ever presented itself for Don Barnes to be on the panel of American Idol, would you take the opportunity, or do you think Steven Tyler of Aerosmith did the wrong thing by selling out?
Don Barnes: (laughs) You know, people take everything way too seriously. An old gentleman who I remember seeing when I was much younger always used to tell me “Don’t forget to have fun”. Steven Tyler has been laying the groundwork for over 40 years. If he wants to step away for a bit, more power to him, just as long as he is having fun.
Paneech: Something I find particularly disturbing in today’s music is the use of Autotune. What do you think of it?
Don Barnes: I dislike it because it used to be that a good singer had to learn control and pitch, and now it’s all synthesized. We like to mess around with Autotune on a bass guitar from time to time. Overall though, I am not a big fan of Autotune.
Paneech: How much longer can you and your bandmates keep up with the fast lane of touring?
Don Barnes: Ah, we are rolling until the wheels fall off. We set out to create a heritage and we take great pride in the longevity that we have achieved. Longevity is a goal, and that goal is reached when everybody gets along and respects each other. We are laying some tracks at our studio in Atlanta with some new material. We also just completed video production of some live performances we did in Texas that will be available for purchase real soon. We have even had some fun with some of our hits in the sense that we have stripped them down and experimented with many different genres. For example, we did an acoustic version of If I’d Been The One where the arrangement is very stringy and vibrant. We are also tinkering with doing some soundtrack stuff, so we are keeping really busy.
Photo Courtesy of Carl Dunn
Paneech: Having done some research on you, I know you are an avid fisherman. What else do you do in your spare time? Are there any sports that the band follows?
Don Barnes: I am a football fan. We all follow football through the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Personally, I left the band for a few years because this career was hammering me. During my time away, I loved to spend time in or near the water and would take my boat out. I also started playing golf. I even went snow skiing – imagine that, a guy from the South trying to ski. I still try to relax and enjoy my time away from the touring as much as I possibly can.
Paneech: You have listed Eric Clapton as an influence. Were there other influences?
Don Barnes: Growing up, I had pictures and posters of Eric Clapton all over my room. My father would come in and I would say, “Hey dad, listen to this”, and play him something Jimi Hendrix did. He would just shake his head and say it all sounded noisy to him. In those days, we would put the records on a turntable and slow them down so we could pick up the licks. I also liked Muddy Waters and really like Leslie West from Mountain. West had that big guitar sound.
Paneech: Any messages for the fans?
Don Barnes: Come out and have a large time! We are a premier band live and we play what the fans want. You will see how much fun we are still having and we really feed off of each other having fun on the stage. Our concerts are an explosive celebration and it is the best job in the world, making people happy.
One Word Answers
Favorite Meal of The Day: Dinner.
Favorite Athlete: Peyton Manning.
Song You Love Playing Live: Chained Lightning.
Favorite TV Show: The Office.
Toppings On A Pizza: Meat Lovers (and well done).
Favorite Drink: Grey Goose and Three Olives.
Biggest Phobia: Fear of Heights.
Favorite Movie: Planes Trains, and Automobiles. Big John Candy fan.
Worst Habit: Eating Late At Night on The Bus.
Song On Your ipod That No One Would Believe: Britney Spears, Piece of Me. I love that song, listened to it seven times in a row one night.