HomeLifestyleEntertainment'Hold On Loosely' Holds Onto Fans 40 Years Later

‘Hold On Loosely’ Holds Onto Fans 40 Years Later

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It’s been 40 years since 38 Special’s “Hold On Loosely” hit the charts.

Just thinking about it causes Don Barnes to laugh.

“Forty years ago, and it still has carry,” said Barnes, singer and guitarist for 38 Special, about the song released in January 1981. The band will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27, at the Miller Theater.

Barnes knows the song’s power, but it still amazes him. The breakout hit was part of the group’s fourth album, “Wide-Eyed Southern Boys.”

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What illustrates the life of the song best was a video Barnes posted to Facebook on Aug. 16, he said. It was a snippet from an outdoor concert, and a couple was standing at the very back of the crowd. When the guitar cranked up those familiar first chords, the man and woman threw up their hands almost in victory, then hugged each other before dancing to the song.

“They’d been waiting all night, and it’s their song,” he said. “It made the connection after all those years.”

Like many southern rock musicians, Barnes and crew got their start in Jacksonville, Fla., where they played in clubs for sailors. They were underaged at the time, only 15 years old.

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They played covers of popular songs, but then they “got cocky,” he said. “We thought, ‘We can write our own stuff.’”

They’d played enough of other people’s songs and learned the pattern–a verse, a chorus, a bridge, chorus and variations of those. It wasn’t hard, but people wanted to hear what they knew.

That led to years of being a starving musician and driving a truck, he said.

Barnes said they knew all the other southern rock bands with roots in Florida–Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and the Allman Brothers were all formed in Jacksonville while the Outlaws were born in Tampa.

Don Barnes is one of the founders of 38 Special. The band will be in concert in Augusta Aug. 27. Photo credit Carl Dunn.

And some connections between bands went deeper than acquaintance. Donnie Van Zant played with 38 Special until 2013. Donnie Van Zant’s brother, Ronnie, was the founder and lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd who died in a plane crash in 1977.

To Barnes, southern rock is the sound of the underdog; the sound of people with a never say die attitude, and that was what pulled him through those lean years.

When finding their brand of southern rock, band members experimented with their sound and gave into a country influence, but it wasn’t them. One day, Ronnie Van Zant gave them some advice–stop trying to be someone else.

“You’re good,” Barnes said Van Zant told them.

It wasn’t country music that had influenced them the most, but it was the bands of the British Invasion—the Beatles, the Animals and the Dave Clark Five—that were heavy influences on them. They looked at their music and made changes.

“We stripped it down,” Barnes said.

They removed the excess overdubs and created simple melodies with simple chords on just the right instruments, he said.

Even when the sound was established, the battle wasn’t over yet. People needed to hear 38 Special. The way to do that in 1981 was through radio airplay. KLOS in Los Angeles was the trendsetter, influencing radio stations around the country.

They traveled to the 12-story building where KLOS was headquartered with an acetate of “Hold On Loosely” in hand.

“We sat there with our shoulders up to our ears because we were so tense,” he said.

After a listen, the radio executive said, “Oh yeah, we’ll play this,” Barnes said.

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From there, the music spread. The band has sold more than 20 million recordings of songs such as “Caught Up In You,” “Rockin’ Into the Night,” “Second Chance” and “If I’d Been The One.”

Barnes and 38 Special still play 100 nights a year, and they bring everything they have to every concert because of fans like the ones in the video he posted on Facebook.

“It’s the greatest feeling to bring joy to people,” he said.

Tickets to 38 Special are $53 to $83 and are available at millertheateraugusta.com.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the Features Editor for The Augusta Press. Reach her at [email protected].


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