38 Special (sometimes stylized as .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 at which he worked, 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 all right. We’ll let this .38 special do the talking”, and shot off the lock.
In 2012 a notice was posted on 38 Special’s website saying Donnie Van Zant would not tour with the band due to health issues related to inner-ear nerve damage, although he would continue to write and record with the band. But in 2013, after nearly a year of missing performances, it was confirmed that Van Zant had officially left 38 Special after 39 years and was retiring from music.
In 2014 longtime bassist Larry Junstrom was replaced by Barry Dunaway (a veteran of many classic rock outfits, including Pat Travers Band, Yngwie Malmsteen and Survivor). Dunaway had previously filled in for Junstrom for a handful of shows in 2011 and a few shows in 2013 as well. Junstrom was then forced to retire due to a hand injury that required surgery.
Since 2019, the 38 lineup has consisted of Don Barnes, keyboardist/vocalist Bobby Capps, drummer Gary Moffatt, Dunaway, and guitarist Jerry Riggs. This leaves Don Barnes as the only original member, although Barnes was absent from the band from 1987 until 1992.
On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed 38 Special among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
Junstrom died on October 6, 2019, at age 70.