38 Special: Hard Rock Live, Biloxi, MS, 01/14/12

Just for a moment, imagine back to 1981. A band called 38 Special are opening for Jefferson Starship and riding high on a hit single called “Hold On Loosely”. They are energetic, fun and guitar player Don Barnes has a mass of long brown curls flying everywhere.

Now jump forward to 2012. This same band is on stage and Barnes is singing that same song, albeit with less hair, but with the same energy he had twenty years ago. And the crowd is eating it up, singing, dancing, cheering, waving American flags. By the looks of the sold out crowd, 38 Special are just as popular today as they were on that hot, humid, night in ‘81.

Personally, I had not seen the band since that night in 1981, so I was looking forward to seeing how time and thousands of miles on the rock & roll road had affected them. “We’ve been practicing for a long time,” joked guitar player Danny Chauncey a few days before the Biloxi show. “But this is actually a new show. We’ve been working up a new show since last year. It’s got the songs everybody is familiar with, the radio hits, plus select album tracks from some of the past CDs that we’ve done. I don’t think anyone is going to walk away disappointed having not heard one of their favorites. That’s our goal anyway.”

Goal achieved. Chock full of rockers that got the heart pounding as well as the fists, the band appeared to be having fun. Vocalist Donnie Van Zant roamed the stage with a noticeable hitch in his giddy-up, playing around with Chauncey and flashing a million watt smile. Barnes was more the calm-cool-and-collected guy, unlike his 1980’s persona, but his playing was not cold by any means. For his spotlight solo that kicked into “Trooper With An Attitude”, he led the audience on a finger-tapping scatfest. “Oh man, I love this job”, he said midway through.

Formed in 1974 in Jacksonville, Florida, 38 Special have had their share of highs and lows. “No one thinks you’re still going to be together twenty-five years later,” explained Chauncey with a hint of amazement in his voice. “Even though I didn’t grow up with them out in Florida, we were all really young still when I joined the band in the mid-80s. We have a lot of miles under our belt, you could say, and we all just really like each other. We’ve all been through some tough times, as any family would, but these are really the best times that we’ve had.”

Kicking off with their hit “Rockin’ Into The Night”, they kept barreling through the night with plenty of up-tempo numbers that had the audience moving in what Zeppelin famously called “The Ocean”. After about 4 songs, they went into a full-throttle medley featuring “Back To Paradise”, “Teacher Teacher”, “First Time Around” and “Second Chance”, the latter with vocals by Bobby Capps, one of the better keyboard players left in the business, then returning to full-length tunes with “Last Thing I Ever Do”.

Highlights included an out of this world solo on “Chain Lightning” via the under-the-radar Chauncey; “Rebel To Rebel”, Van Zant’s tribute to his late brother Ronnie; the energetic “Caught Up In You”; Gary Moffatt’s jungle hard drum solo; and “If I’d Been The One”.
“You still with us? You still partying?” Barnes asked. From the reaction he was given in response, 38 Special have a lot more years rocking into the night.

Prior to the Biloxi concert, I had the opportunity to talk with guitar player Danny Chauncey. For fans, they have known about his talent for years. For those of us who haven’t experienced him in action, he’s like an undiscovered gem in an over-saturated pond of six-string gunners. So let me introduce to you, your next favorite guitar player.

When you first got the gig with 38 Special, did you go out on the road first or into the studio? What was your initiation?

At the time that I joined, they’d just finished a tour so it was time to start writing songs for the new record. So it was the studio first. It was kind of funny cause we did this studio record first which involved writing of course and rehearsing and then going into the studio to make that record and that was a fun process. Then the next thing was to rehearse for the next tour, so we went into rehearsals to sort of learn to put together a show and even though I liked 38 Special, was a fan of the band, I had no idea that “Rockin’ Into The Night” was one of their songs. They started playing it and I was like, “Wait a minute, this is one of your songs?” and they gave me kind of a weird look (laughs). But it was a lot of fun. I still remember one of the first shows. I think it was in Greenville and it was kind of a mess cause everything that could go wrong went wrong. Yeah, at the end of the show we were like, “Oh my God, what did we just step into?” But we worked out the kinks and the tour worked out great.

When did you first pick up a guitar?

Well, my family was musical but I think it just came from watching the Beatles. It just looked like a cool thing to do, to play guitar. I got my first guitar when I was eight. I went for music lessons and my guitar teacher taught me how to read music and how to play like “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, you know, one note at a time. But that didn’t relate at all to what I wanted to do. I wanted to strum chords so I kind of put it down for a while. Then when I was 10 a friend of my older sister was getting guitar lessons for five dollars a lesson. So I went in and he goes, “What song do you want to learn?” And I wanted to learn, I think it was “Run For Your Life” by the Beatles, so he taught me how to play it. Showed me the chords right there and then I was hooked. I think I went back three or four more times to learn three or four more songs. I had a pretty good ear for music and I was sort of figuring stuff out on my own. I’d learn more chords and I’d listen to the records and sort of started that way and I just sort of kept going.

What was your first guitar?

The first guitar that I had was a little acoustic six-string and it was a Stella.

What happened to it?

I have no idea (laughs). I do know where my second guitar went. When I was in college, it was a red Gibson copy sort of semi hollow body guitar and I sold it to Bo Bo Brazell, what a great name (laughs). I think it’s Alan Brazell and I think he’s a Pastor now in northern California. But I sold it to him, I remember, for like fifty dollars. I doubt if he’s got it but it’d be fun to get it back from him.

Has songwriting always been easy for you?

Songwriting was always natural for me but beginning a song is easy. It’s finishing it that is the work part of it for me.


I don’t know. Maybe because the first inspiration is the thing I don’t have to try to get, it sort of comes. For me it’s the fun part. The way I write now I have a studio where I’ll go down and I’ll start putting together the parts. So it’s not really a song it’s just the music part, so then I have to go figure out a melody. Lyrics I think are the hardest thing for me, trying to figure out what to write about. The inspiration part, to get started, has never been a problem.

Who would you say was your biggest influence as a musician?

I think as a guitarist, like as a soloist, that kind of stuff, I think this guy named Pat Thrall. He’s not that well known. He played with the Pat Travers Band and he was actually a touring musician in Meatloaf’s band for a long time. But he was like a local guitar player where I went to high school and super talented, just an excellent player. Just watching him play, I mean, he actually taught me some stuff when I first was learning how to play lead guitar. I still remember all the little things that he taught me. I maybe had two or three lessons with him. But he’s a real expressive player, not afraid to play in between the notes, play something that sounded a little ugly for a second before he played something that was pretty. So I think if there is any one musician that I learned from it was him. I mean, you gather up little bits from everybody along the way but I’d say that his influence was probably the biggest.

Didn’t you play French Horn when you were in school?

Yeah, in middle school, I did. I played the French Horn. I don’t even know where you got that (laughs) but I did. It’s a great instrument. I took Beginning Orchestra and we all take this test, you know, that sort of determines what kind of ear you have and what kind of potential or whatever, and I got a hundred on my test so I got my choice of whatever instrument I wanted to learn. And I was such a kiss-butt (laughs). My teacher was the first chair French Horn player in the Fresno, California, Symphony so I figured I’m going to pick French Horn and maybe he’ll give me a little more attention and I was right. He loved it that I picked French Horn and I learned how to sight read that year, so that was very cool. But it really is a great instrument.

Can you still play it? Do you have one hidden in your closet somewhere?

I don’t have one (laughs). I don’t think I’ve played one since that year probably but I could still make it work.

You ought to tell the guys you want to put a little French Horn on the next record and see what they say.

Yeah, that would be my last day in the band (laughs)

What do you do when you’re not involved with 38 Special?

I’ve got the wildest story about what’s happened to me over the past month. It’s pretty crazy but I’ll tell it to you anyway (laughs). There is an extension ministry at our church and it’s the prison ministry and what they do is they’ll go in and do things to help the men out. Like we brought them a bunch of Christmas baskets this year. And it was the first time that I’d ever gone. Before I went in, an email was sent out saying what some of the things they needed were and that they needed some equipment, cause there’s a musical band within the prison. I had a couple of amps sitting in the garage and I donated those. They were just sitting there dusty, I don’t feel like I gave much of anything, it was no effort. But when I got in there and met the prisoners and heard them play, the equipment they had to play on was so dismal. So I went and introduced myself to them and said, look, I’m going to try and improve this situation and do what I can. So I started bringing their guitars out, and their guitars were in such bad shape that it was really sad and pitiful, so I took their guitars and started getting them fixed one at a time. And then I asked around for friends to donate some gear and people at our church were real good about helping out with this thing and that thing.

Then a crazy thing happened where I got a phone call from the warden’s secretary saying a slot has opened up over at the prison on Sunday nights and we’re thinking that maybe you’d want to go and set up some kind of worship night with the musicians there. At our church we have like three satellite churches that do video broadcasts from the main church, like a week later. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go and set up and do a video service and it’ll be music and stuff before.
You know, I just intended on going and buying a set of guitar strings and bringing it in or something like that but all this has kind of been put in my lap. And our first service in there will be February 05, Super Bowl Sunday.

What does this year look like for you and the band?

Well, I think that we’re going to write and try and come up with something that is going to be, ummm …

A killer CD (laughs)

Yeah (laughs) We have some songs that we’ve written and I think we have enough material now, maybe going to write a couple more songs for an original music CD, which hopefully will be out early next fall, I think. That’s our goal. We’re still working on it but it’s kind of hard for us all to get together now just because we do tour a lot and we all live in different cities as well. But yeah, you can expect a new one out.

And more touring?

Usually most of our touring is done between probably May and October. But there are a few places that we like to go play, like the Hard Rock there in Biloxi has been kind of like a tradition for us for the last few years so we look forward to going back. We’ll be flying out the day of the Biloxi show to do that and then flying home. Then we’re doing a handful of shows in February and a handful in March.

Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide