There must have been something in the water in Jacksonville, Fla. in the late 60s and early 1970s, as the city was the birthplace of the hall-of-fame of southern rock bands: Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet.
38 Special brought their brand of southern power pop to the Hard Rock Live in Biloxi on Saturday.
38 Special have always been one of my favorite bands because of their pop sensibilities. While some southern rock bands tend to get a bit too “jammy” for my tastes, 38 Special have a catalogue full of tight melodic rock songs with big hooks and massive choruses. Power pop is my favorite genre of rock and 38 Special do it well.
And, there’s really no greater live show thrill than when Barnes “hits that B-chord” and the band launches into “Hold on Loosely.”
If you are unfamiliar with the band’s lineage, here’s a quick refresher: the band was started in 1974 by Don Barnes and Donnie Van Zant. Van Zant’s oldest brother Ronnie was the lead singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd until he died in a plane crash near McComb in 1977. His youngest brother, Johnny, has been the lead singer for Skynyrd since 1987. They are about to embark on a summer tour with Peter Frampton.
I once flew from Atlanta to Austin when I was covering SXSW with Johnny and Donnie. I talked to him in baggage claim while we waited for our luggage.
I told Donnie how much I loved 38 Special and Johnny and I talked about a mutual friend - Ean Evans. Ean, “The Mississippi Kid,” was a buddy of mine from Columbus, Miss. who was living the rock n roll dream as the bassist in The Outlaws and then Skynyrd. He replaced original bassist Leon Wilkeson and he even had a bass with Leon’s face painted on it. Ean was a great guy. He succumbed to lung cancer in 2009.
Ean also did a side project called EvansCapps with Bobby Capps, who is now the keyboardist in 38 Special.
So, there’s my full 38 Special/Lynyrd Skynyrd circle.
I had the pleasure of talking with Barnes, one of my favorite singers, before the Biloxi show.
He told me about another thing the bands have in common -- “sailor shows”.
“We started playing birthday parties when we were 13-years-old,” Barnes said. “There are times when I think, ‘Man, I’ve been doing this a long time.’ “There was a Navy base in Jacksonville and we all used to play these ‘sailors clubs’-- Skynyrd, Hatchet, the Outlaws -- we all played those clubs. We were 15-years-old playing cover songs in sailors clubs and you learn the craft and you learn how those songs became popular and you learn the importance of the structures of the songs and then you get cocky and say, ‘Well, I can write my own songs,’ and that’s what we did.”
Jeff Clark is a staff writer for the Sun Herald. He used to sing "Hold on Loosely," to his golden retriever, Lucy (RIP).