38 Special (also, uncommonly, written .38 Special) is an American rock band that was formed by neighborhood friends Don Barnes and Donnie Van Zant in 1974 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Donnie Van Zant, the younger brother of Lynyrd Skynyrd founder Ronnie, began playing music himself during his teen years, forming the band Standard Production in 1968, which paved the way for Sweet Rooster, Donnie’s first professional outfit that he formed in 1969 with guitarist Jeff Carlisi and bassist Ken Lyons, soon joined by drummer Steve Brookins. Carlisi left Sweet Rooster after graduating high school to study architecture at Georgia Tech and was replaced by Don Barnes in 1970. Brookins also left to work as a truck driver and Sweet Rooster was defunct by 1973.
Nevertheless, Van Zant, Barnes and Lyons, while continuing their day jobs and working in other bands, began working on composing original songs in their spare time. By 1974, they decided it was time to get serious and form “the ultimate band” that would be their “one last shot” at success. Briefly, Van Zant was considering a higher-paying position for the railroad he worked at but was finally convinced by brother Ronnie to stick with music since it was “in his blood.”
The new outfit comprised Van Zant, Barnes, Lyons, Brookins, second drummer Jack Grondin and a returning Carlisi. The band’s name was thought up after an incident which found the boys practicing in a warehouse out in the middle of nowhere. When police arrived after being notified by locals of the noise, the band members were unable to come out because of a padlock on the door. One of the cops said, “That’s alright. We’ll let this 38 special do the talking”, and shot off the lock.
Now that they had their name, the group spent most of 1975 and 1976 playing a steady grind of one-nighters, mostly in the South and the Midwest. Eventually, big brother Ronnie figured Donnie and the gang had paid enough dues and set them up with Skynyrd’s manager Peter Rudge, of the New York based Premier Talent Agency.
Rudge quickly set the group up to open shows for red-hot acts, like Peter Frampton, Foghat and Kiss, and got them signed to A & M Records, who assigned Dan Hartman (of Edgar Winter Group fame) to produce their very first album, 38 Special, which was released in May 1977. Just before the record’s release, bassist Ken Lyons decided to leave the band. He was replaced by their friend and original Lynyrd Skynyrd member Larry Junstrom, who had contributed to one track of their debut.
Also in 1977, the band decided to add two female backup singers, Carol Bristow and Dale Krantz (before she left in 1979 to front Rossington Collins Band and eventually marry Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington). Krantz would be replaced by Nancy Henderson (1979-1981), Lu Moss (1981-1984) and Lynn Hineman (1986-1987) before backup singers were dispensed with in 1987.
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