.38 Special, which first hit the big time in the 1980s, still performs about 100 shows each year, a job that has been made more difficult this summer. During a recent show in Michigan, the heat index was 109 degrees at 9 p.m.
A few decades back, Don Barnes was in a relationship that had him feeling a bit suffocated.
The vocalist and guitarist for the rock band .38 Special channeled his feelings into a snippet of a lyric. When he then asked a songwriting friend what he thought of “hold on loosely” as the theme for a song, the friend responded enthusiastically, “Yeah, and don’t let go.”
And thus, a hit was born.
.38 Special, which first hit the big time in the 1980s, still performs about 100 shows each year. Barnes said the band works hard to make sure its fans have a good time at every performance, a job that has been made more difficult this summer. During a recent show in Michigan, the heat index was 109 degrees at 9 p.m.
“The only thing you can do at that point is position your legs like an A-frame and hope you don’t fall over,” Barnes said during a telephone interview. “It was rough. When you sing, you try to take quick, short breaths because you’re trying to get all of the lyrics out. You’re basically hyperventilating, getting dizzy in the heat.”
Originally from Jacksonville, Fla., .38 Special is used to warm weather, if not sweltering heat. They grew up in a music scene that, at various times, included Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot.
Barnes said the bands shared a kindred spirit.
“There’s an underdog spirit down there that made us fight a little harder, turn the guitars up a little louder,” he said.
All of the bands cut their teeth in the many bars and clubs that catered to personnel from the area’s naval bases. As a teenager, Barnes said he could earn up to $150 a week playing music for sailors. It was during that time — and under the tutelage of more established artists, such as Ronnie Van Zant, the late lead singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd and brother of .38 Special’s Donnie Van Zant — that he learned how a song is structured.
“Then you get cocky and think you can write your own songs, and then you go and starve for the next 10 years,” he said.
The lean years lasted until 1981, when “Hold on Loosely” was released. Since that year, the band has had 14 other singles reach the Billboard magazine Top 100, including “Back Where You Belong,” “Caught Up In You,” “Fantasy Girl” and “If I’d Been the One.”
“We have a formula that we call muscle and melody. You have the muscle of the guitar with a great melody and a good storyline, and it’s just a simple formula, but it seems to work for us,” he said.
The band has recorded 12 studio albums over the course of its career, three of which went platinum. .38 Special’s latest release will be a live album slated to be available later this month.
“Live from Texas” originally was intended to be sold exclusively at concerts, but Barnes said the recordings captured the band members’ live experience so well that they decided to seek a distribution deal.
Fans don’t have to wait for the album to get that live experience. Barnes guaranteed that the band will be ready to rock when it gets to any city or town, regardless of the heat.
“It’s going to be a large time. .38 Special has always been known for bringing the party to the people. We’re thankful that people have made us a part of their lives all of these years,” he said.
Dan Naumovich is a freelance writer and the author of BlogFree Springfield, Ill. He can be reached at email@example.com.