38 Special to rock Dover Downs

The veteran Southern rock group 38 Special will bring hits such as “Hold on Loosely,” “Fantasy Girl” and “Second Chance” to Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Some 43 years after forming the Southern rock band 38 Special with Donnie Van Zant, guitarist and lead vocalist Don Barnes is still going strong.

“It’s a great job. To bring that kind of joy to people. What’s not to love? It’s kept me from having a normal life all these years,” he said with a laugh by phone from his son’s house in Virginia Wednesday afternoon.

The Florida-based group, known for hits such as “Hold On Loosely,” “Caught Up in You” and “Back Where You Belong,” will play Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center Oct. 13 at w9 p.m.

The Dover stop will be one of about 100 cities the group will visit this year.

“We try to do 100 cities each year. We’ve always devoted 100 percent to our live shows. That’s always been our forte. Throughout the long history of the band, we’ve had about 15 top-10 songs and when we line them all up, people are just blown away,” said the personable Mr. Barnes.

“It’s a whole new show this year. We’ve added a medley of some of our secondary songs from the movies like ‘Back to Paradise’ from ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ or ‘Teacher, Teacher’ from ‘Teachers.’ Everybody has their favorite. It’s a good ride.”

Mr. Barnes, 64, is the only original member of the group but many of his bandmates have been with 38 Special for the last couple of decades.

Completing the team is guitarist/vocalist Danny Chauncey, bassist Barry Dunaway, drummer Gary Moffatt and keyboardist/vocalist Bobby Capps.

“It’s all about keeping high standards. No one ever gets complacent. We have this saying that ‘We don’t slack up, we

38 Special co-founder and lead singer Don Barnes released a solo album in June that he recorded in 1989 entitled “Ride the Storm”. (Submitted photo)

stack up,’” he said.

“We’ve always had a competitive spirit and considered ourselves this underdog band from the South.”

He recalls fondly the early days of the group and the wealth of talent that was around Jacksonville, Florida in the early 1970s.

“You had Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, The Allman Brothers. It was this Navy town. Everybody played these sailors clubs for 100 bucks a week. We did a lot of covers and we all learned the fundamentals that way,” Mr. Brewer said.

“We all kind of owe our careers to the Navy I guess. It’s when you get cocky and think you can start writing original songs. That’s when you don’t eat for 10 years.”

He said the beginning of the band’s career was tough.

“A lot of people don’t realize that ‘Hold On Loosely’ didn’t hit until our fourth album,” he said of the 1981 smash “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys.”

“‘Rockin’ into the Night’ off our previous album (of the same name) was a regional hit for us. But ‘Hold on Loosely’ was the one that blew the doors open for us. So you just keep working at it. A band is like a second family. You just prop each other up when somebody gets down or depressed. We’re a band of brothers.”

He doesn’t recommend the music world for those with thin skin.

“I just tell young guys today to play music on the weekend and enjoy it with your buddies. It’s tough. We worked hard to sell 20 million records,” Mr. Barnes said.

As one of the leaders of the band, he was responsible for many of the group’s big hits.

“Writing songs is a very insecure thing because you’re making something out from nothing. And you have to be brutally honest and diplomatic when someone has a song that they think is an A song and you think it’s just a B song,” he said.

He says a song like “Hold on Loosely” was just part of “10 others on the album” and he was surprised by its success.

“It had elements that were so simple, I thought they were too simple. The chorus has the same chords as the verses. I wrote it with Jim Peterik who wrote ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and I had the first part of it that said ‘Hold on Loosely’ and he came up with ‘And don’t let go.’ I thought it was the perfect couplet.”

He said it stemmed from a bad marriage he was experiencing.

“I was just thinking ‘What is it about people? They try to change you and stifle your relationships.’ A lot of our songs get to the truth about relationships. Anyone can write ‘Oh baby, I love you.’ It has to come from real experiences,” Mr. Barnes said.

Mr. Van Zant left the group in 2012 due to health issues related to inner-ear nerve damage. Mr. Barnes said the two remain on good terms today.

“He would tell us to aim the amps right at him. Finally his doctors read him the riot act and said if you continue to doing what you’re doing, you’re going to be stone deaf and there’s nothing we can do for you,” Mr. Barnes said.

“He’s doing fine. We talk all of the time. He still writes a lot. He just can’t be around the loud noises anymore. He’s our brother and we were always a team.”

These days, along with his work with 38 Special, Mr. Barnes is basking in the release of a solo album that was recorded way back in 1989.

Mr. Barnes laid down “Ride the Storm” during a five-year hiatus from the band. It was finally released in June of this year.

The original tracks were cut by some of the leading musicians on the rock scene including Dann Huff, now an award-winning producer for the likes of Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts and others; piano/keyboard player Alan Pasqua; the late Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro and his late brother Mike, who also played bass for Toto; Sammy Hagar’s keyboard player Jesse Harms; and former Heart drummer Denny Carmassi.

After they recorded it, the record company A&M was sold and the album languished on the shelves for years.

“I never wavered in my belief in the album. It’s as relevant today as it was back then but they destroyed the master tapes. We did three different searches until the record company just told us to forget about it, they are gone. This was two years of work that was out the window,” he said.

He did recall having a demo tape of the songs which he eventually found in a box of his son’s belongings.

“He was mortified. He said ‘Dad, I didn’t realize I had the only copy.’ What a story. My wife and I popped a champagne bottle when we got the official word that the album was being released,” he said.

“Ride the Storm” has met with critical acclaim and the Dover audience should expect to hear a few cuts for it next week.

“(The record label) Melodic Rock wanted me to form a new band and go out on the road with these songs. But I told them I perform in front of thousands each night. We have a built-in audience right now. The songs kill,” Mr. Barnes said.

Years of disappointment had a happy ending for Mr. Barnes, who is just delighted to still be rocking after all of these years.

“The happiness we get really comes from the crowd and to see the tears in their eyes when they hear the music,” he said.

“You want to present these songs with just as much conviction as you always have. If it was just us going through the motions, night after night, it wouldn’t be much fun. We always joke that when we turn the guitars up to 10, we get to be 19 years old again.”

Tickets for the Oct. 13 show range from $25 to $55 and can be purchased online by visiting doverdowns.com.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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