38 Special looks forward to rocking the Corn PalaceBeing a professional musician means never letting the fans see you sweat out a show, says 38 Special singer/guitarist Don Barnes.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Being a professional musician means never letting the fans see you sweat out a show, says 38 Special singer/guitarist Don Barnes.
After more than 30 years on the road, Barnes and his fellow band members have learned how to do just that, he said. They can sing and play and entertain even in the severe summer heat, like the 107-degree temperatures they endured at a show in Michigan this summer.
“It was pretty grueling being out there in the heat,” Barnes, 58, said in a telephone interview recently. “I don’t think they realize it. The whole thing to putting on a professional show is, you try to make it look effortless. That’s all part of the whole thing.”
38 Special will perform at the Corn Palace tonight. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. All tickets are $30.
Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said many of the acts who come for the Corn Palace Festival keep an eye on the weather and are weary of playing in the summer heat, not knowing that the Corn Palace Festival shows are indoors.
“That’s where we see it all the time with these entertainers who have been performing at fairs and festivals,” Schilling said. “They don’t have to worry about it. At the Corn Palace it will be a nice temperature and the fans can relax and enjoy the show.”
38 Special, featuring Barnes and lead singer Donnie Van Zant, has sold more than 20 million records over the past three-plus decades.
The band has toured steadily behind hits like “Hold On Loosely,” “Rockin’ Into the Night,” “Caught Up in You,” “Fantasy Girl” and other radio evergreens.
He said he never tires of performing the hit songs. Those songs mean as much to the band as they do to the people who love them, Barnes said.
“It’s kind of like turning a child loose in the world and hope people respect them,” he said of releasing a single or an album. “We see what it does to people and it amps us up.
“It’s kind of a surreal experience to see 10,000 people singing the words to a song that you recall sitting around the kitchen table scratching the lyrics out to.”
Barnes said the band tours seven months a year and plays at about 100 cities annually. The band owns a studio in Atlanta that allows them to record songs when they’re off the road.
After years of selling millions of records, the music world has changed dramatically, Barnes said.
“Record companies have kind of fractured. The brick and mortar stores have closed,” he said. “In this day and age, you’re better off just giving your music away.”
But he said touring has kept the band viable.
“You can’t download a live show,” Barnes said with a chuckle.
But fans can listen to the band perform its hits on a new CD, “Live from Texas.”
Barnes said recording it at various cities in Texas “was just a great time,” and he said the CD captures the band’s “bombastic” performances.
“It presents those songs in the real fashion they should be presented,” he said. “They make a listener feel like they’re almost there.
“The songs came out great. The idea was to have it available at shows so people could take the party home with them.”
Barnes said he’s pleased with how well the band sounds now.
“We are better today than we were 25 years ago,” he said. “I have learned to center the singing in the diaphragm and do it correctly.”
The members of 38 Special are also a “little more respectful of the air between the beat,” he said.
“That’s what professionals do, is relax and let the groove come out.”
38 Special was founded in Jacksonville, Fla., where several other country-rock icons of the 1970s were born.
Lead singer Donnie Van Zant is the brother of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ronnie Van Zant, the late lead singer and founder of Lynyrd Skynyrd. A third brother, Johnny Van Zant, leads the revived Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“Ronnie was a big mentor to the band,” Barnes said. “Taught us a lot about strength and fortitude. You experience a lot of failure. There’s a lot of failure at first. No one knows who you are or cares.”
Ronnie Van Zant urged them to “put your own truth in songs. In hindsight, we see how right he was,” Barnes said.
Barnes calls his longtime friend and colleague Donnie Van Zant a “berserk riverboat gambler” who helps the band present an interesting stage show. They have learned to entertain the fans while playing their hits.
It’s a craft they developed as teens.
“We all played in sailors’ clubs at 15 years old,” Barnes said. “Making $150 a week was pretty good.”
38 Special has remained a cohesive unit, he said.
“We’re a team. It’s not like we just gaze on the floor and be lackadaisical,” Barnes said. “The effort is always there. We’re like a team, an athletic team.
“A band is kind of like a family. It really is a celebration of the brotherhood.”
While some artists and bands self-destruct, 38 Special avoided that trap, he said.
“We got all the partying and debauchery out of the way a long time ago,” Barnes said. “Back then, we weren’t that extreme. We saw all the damage other groups did to themselves. … We wanted to be around long enough to enjoy it.”
Despite playing professionally for 40 years, Barnes said he still enjoys the chance to crank out a show, get on the bus, turn his guitar up to 10 and be 19 again.
“The time on stage, you get to be young again,” he said.
Then, after the show, they head down the highway, usually to a city 500 miles away. It’s a tough schedule, but he said it doesn’t bother him.
“We’re used to it. Some people go out with us and they’re exhausted in a few days,” he said. “We joke about that. We’re going to do it until the wheels fall off. It’s the greatest job in the world.”
This won’t be the band’s first show in Mitchell.
“I remember the Corn Palace. We rocked those walls,” Barnes said. “There are some manic fans that come from miles around out there.”
Barnes said he’s ready to rock the Corn Palace one more time.
“When the lights come on, it’s going to be a party,” he said. “It’s going to be a large time.”