38 Special Band History

38 Special Band History

If you’re from the United States of America, you might recognize .38 Special as a commonly used cartridge by police departments up until the 1990s. However, today we’re talking about a different kind of 38 Special.

38 Special is an American rock band that was born in 1974 in Jacksonville, Florida, and that is still in activity today.

During their extensive career, they have played several music genres, all of them within the southern rock semantic field. In their discography, you will find examples of hard rock, boogie rock, blues rock, and much more.

While they did not achieve the same level of fame as other southern rock bands such as The Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd, they have a large catalog of great music worth listening to, so keep reading to find out more about 38 Special!

38 Special Quick Facts

  • Notable Band Members: Donnie Van Zant, Don Barnes, Ken Lyons, Jeff Carlisi, Steve Brookins, Jack Grondin, Bobby Capps, Gary Moffatt, Barry Dunaway, Jerry Riggs
  • Genres: Southern Rock, Hard Rock, Boogie Rock, Blues Rock
  • Years Active: 1974 – Present
  • Origin: Jacksonville, Florida, USA
  • Most Successful Album: Tour de Force (1984), over 1M copies sold
  • Website: www.38special.com
  • Social Media: @38specialband (Instagram)

38 Special Band Formation Over the Years

38 Special is a band that has seen its fair share of changes in its line-up since its genesis up until its more recent years. Stick around to find out how they’ve gone from their original formation to the band we know today.

Original Line-Up: 1974

When 38 Special was born, the original members were Don Barnes (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Donnie Van Zant (Lead Vocals), Jeff Carlisi (Guitar), Ken Lyons (Bass), Jack Grondin (Drums), and Bobby Capps (Keyboards).

The core of the band was the Barnes/Van Zant duo, who were already childhood friends. Even though they struggled a bit to find a combination that worked, when Jeff Carlisi stepped in as their guitarist, the band eventually found their signature sound, which was a fusion of Southern rock with influences from AOR (Album-oriented rock).

With this formation, they released 38 Special (1977), Special Delivery (1978), and Rockin’ into the Night (1979).

First Line-Up Changes: 1980-1984

Between 1980 and 1984, the band suffered a few changes in their formation, namely in the bass and drums departments.

Larry Junstrom came in to replace Ken Lyons on the bass guitar, and Steve Brookins replaced Jack Grondin on the drums, albeit temporarily.

During these years, they released three albums, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys in 1981, Special Forces in 1982, and Tour de Force in 1983. These records contain singles like “Hold On Loosely”, “If I’d Been the One” and “Caught Up in You”, which helped them grow their reputation, fanbase, and reach.

Don Barnes’ Hiatus and Other Replacements: 1984-1987

38 Special Band Formation Over The Years
Image from Wikipedia

The most significant event of the period between 1984 and 1987 is undoubtedly Don Barnes’ hiatus, who stepped away and was replaced by Danny Chauncey on the guitar.

Max Carl was also welcomed into the band, replacing Bobby Capps on the keyboards, who had been there since the original formation.

Lastly, Jack Grondin, their original drummer, came back and replaced Steve Brookins, who had been playing with 38 Special since 1980.

During this time, the band released the album Strength in Numbers (1986), and their first live album, Wild Eyed And Live! (1984).

Don Barnes’ Return: 1987-1992

This period’s main highlight is the return of Don Barnes, who had previously stepped away in 1984. He took the wheel again as lead singer and guitarist, and the band released two records, Rock & Roll Strategy (1988), which featured the hit song “Second Chance”, and Bone Against Steel (1991).

Latest Changes and Current Line-Up: 1992-Present

Since 1992, the only band member who has been replaced was Jack Grondin, their original drummer who had already stepped away once. Gary Moffatt has been 38 Special’s drummer since then.

This line-up is featured on three studio records: Resolution (1997), A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night (2001), and Drivetrain (2004).

They have also released three live albums recorded at performances in the USA: Live at Sturgis (1999), Live – Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York 01/29/85, and Live From Texas (2011).

The Early Years of 38 Special

In 1974, the band 38 Special was born, but this wasn’t the first attempt of their members to form a successful group. This was supposed to be their “last shot” at making it big.

After spending their first three years grinding as much as they could, perfecting their sound, compositions, and live performances, Donnie Van Zant’s brother (Ronnie Van Zant, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s original lead vocalist) gave them a hand and set them up with Peter Rudge, who at the time was Skynyrd’s manager, as well as other bands such as The Who, and The Rolling Stones.

This was a huge step up for 38 Special, as they had gone from playing small venues in the South and Midwest of the USA to opening shows for renowned and popular artists such as Foghat, Kiss and Peter Frampton.

At the same time, Rudge managed to get 38 Special a record deal with A&M Records. Dan Hartman was the producer of their debut album, .38 Special, which came out in May 1977. This record had two singles, “Long Time Gone”, and “Tell Everybody”. Neither of them charted, but the band was still finding their place in the music industry, as this was their first time around the rodeo.

During the same year, the group saw two female singers added to their line-up, Carol Bristow and Dale Krantz, the latter being replaced by Nancy Henderson a couple of years later. The same spot was filled by Lu Moss and Lynn Hineman until the band decided to drop the backing vocalists completely.

In October 1977, the accident in which several Lynyrd Skynyrd members tragically died took place, taking the life of Ronnie Van Zant, Donnie’s older brother. Donnie wrote “Take Me Back”, a tribute to him, which was featured on 38 Special’s second studio album, Special Delivery, released in March 1978.

38 Special’s early years were important, eventful, and they defined the path that the band would take over the course of their career. Even though the original formation did not last for a long time, they managed to evolve and adapt to the music industry around them, allowing them to break through and write hit songs that are still remembered today.

38 Special’s Greatest Hits and Their Success

38 Special has a vast catalog of singles and albums that spans several genres, as the group matured their sound and perfected their blend of Southern rock with a Pop-oriented flavor.

In this short list, I’m going to cover a few of their most famous songs, but keep in mind that there is much more to explore from their discography as it’s impossible to discuss everything in a short amount of tunes.

“Second Chance” (1988)

38 Special’s “Second Chance” is one of the best examples of how the band managed to fuse their influences, while still pursuing a signature sound that defined them as a whole.

This kind of confidence and authenticity made “Second Chance” their biggest hit of all time. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts and No. 6 on Billboard Hot 100 Music charts.

“Rockin’ into the Night” (1980)

This song gives the name to their 1980 record, and even though it didn’t do as good as “Second Chance” judging by how high it charted, it is one of the most celebrated songs from the group.

It is worth highlighting that you can hear Billy Powell, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s pianist on this album.

“Caught Up In You” (1982)

You can listen to “Caught Up In You” on 38 Special’s 1982 release Special Forces. 

Written by Don Barnes, Jeff Carlisi, and Jim Peterik, his was their first Top 10 of the Hot 100 release.

Jim Peterik is also well-known for being one of the founding members of Survivor, who wrote “Eye of the Tiger”, featured on the film Rocky III.

“Hold On Loosely” (1981)

“Hold On Loosely” is featured on the album Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, released in 1981.

It charted as No. 27 on Billboard Hot 100, paving the way for their future releases which would be even more successful.

In any case, “Hold On Loosely” is widely regarded as one of the biggest fan favorites of 38 Special, earning its spot on this list.

“Wild-Eyed Southern Boys” (1981)

The title track for 38 Special’s 1981 release is one of their most recognizable songs.

Just like “Caught Up In You”, it was also written by Jim Peterik, who is behind many Classic Rock anthems alongside bands such as Cheap Trick, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and REO Speedwagon.

This song features a groovy intro with guitar and drums before the rest of the band jumps in. The Southern rock influence is there, but at this point, 38 Special is already starting to realize that its sound encompasses more than just that.

38 Special Discography

Check below for a summarized list of every album that 38 Special released during their career. They have a total of 12 studio albums, 4 live albums, 4 compilation albums, and 25 singles.

Studio Albums

  • 38 Special (1977)
  • Special Delivery (1978)
  • Rockin’ into the Night (1979)
  • Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (1981)
  • Special Forces (1982)
  • Tour de Force (1983)
  • Strength in Numbers (1986)
  • Rock & Roll Strategy (1988)
  • Bone Against Steel (1991)
  • Resolution (1997)
  • A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night (2001)
  • Drivetrain (2004)

Live Albums

  • Wild Eyed And Live! (1984)
  • Live at Sturgis (1999)
  • Live – Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York 01/29/85
  • Live From Texas (2011)

Compilation Albums

  • Flashback: The Best of 38 Special (1987)
  • 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of 38 Special (2000)
  • Anthology (2001)
  • The Very Best of the A&M Years (1977-1988) (2003)


  • “Long Time Gone” (1977)
  • “Tell Everybody” (1977)
  • “Rockin’ into the Night” (1980)
  • “Stone Cold Believer” (1980)
  • “Hold On Loosely” (1981)
  • “Fantasy Girl” (1981)
  • “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys” (1981)
  • “Caught Up in You” (1982)
  • “Chain Lightnin” (1982)
  • “Back on the Track” (1982)
  • “You Keep Runnin’ Away” (1982)
  • “Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (1982)
  • “If I’d Been the One” (1983)
  • “Back Where You Belong” (1983)
  • “One Time for Old Times” (1984)
  • “Teacher, Teacher” (1984)
  • “Like No Other Night” (1986)
  • “Somebody Like You” (1986)
  • “Heart’s on Fire” (1986)
  • “Back to Paradise” (1987)
  • “Little Sheba” (1988)
  • “Rock & Roll Strategy” (1988)
  • “Second Chance” (1989)
  • “Comin’ Down Tonight” (1989)
  • “Rebel to Rebel” (1991)
  • “The Sound of Your Voice” (1991)
  • “Fade to Blue” (1997)

What Happened to 38 Special?

As of now (August 2023), 38 Special are on tour through the United States of America, with over 25 remaining dates. The band advertises their show as a “signature blast of Southern Rock to over 100 cities a year”.

Their current shows include hits such as “Hold On Loosely”, “Rockin’ Into the Night”, “Caught Up in You”, “Fantasy Girl”, “Second Chance”, “Chain Lightnin'”, and more.

Aside from their current tour, 38 Special is set to go on the 2024 Ultimate 80’s Cruise, on a journey to Aruba and Curacao between February 29 and March 7. This amazing cruise ship is sure to be filled with the same rock & roll that they’ve been playing for decades all around the world.

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions About 38 Special

Question: How did the band 38 Special come up with their name?

Answer: The name “38 Special” came about after a peculiar incident that happened while the band was rehearsing in a warehouse in a remote location. The police were notified because of the noise, and upon arriving, they noticed that the band was unable to leave said warehouse due to a padlock. One of the officers then said “That’s all right. We’ll let this .38 special do the talking”, just before shooting off the lock.

Question: What is the relation between the bands 38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd?

Answer: Donnie Van Zant, 38 Special’s lead vocalist and guitarist from 1974 to 2013, is the younger brother of Ronnie Van Zant, one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s founding members.

Question: Where and when was the band 38 Special formed?

Answer: The band 38 Special was formed in Jacksonville, Florida, USA, in the year 1974. Although they have suffered many changes in their lineup, the band is still active as of today.

Bottom Line

Even though 38 Special is not a name as widely known as other bands that were born in the ’70s, their discography still contains many songs that are remembered, celebrated, and played by several musicians, particularly in the USA.

The Southern rock flavor is very noticeable in their sound, most likely due to their primary influences when they were just starting, but their ability to change their approach to songwriting and performing as the years went by is undeniable.

The fact that they were able to evolve with the times, even with a line-up that suffered several changes, was the main ingredient that allowed them to build a bigger fanbase around the world. Ultimately, they were able to write songs that charted, putting them on a whole different level than they were before.

38 Special will live on as one of the USA’s most celebrated names in the history of rock & roll music.

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