After 40 years of rock ’n’ roll and more than 20 million records sold, one band still knows how to entertain and audience with a special brand of pure Southern rock. On Aug. 4, Jacksonville, Fla.’s own .38 Special will be “rocking into the night” at the Spyglass Ridge Winery in Sunbury. Opening for the legendary band will be Spyglass Ridge veterans, The Frank Wicher Band.
Long known as one of the best live rock bands around, the group’s smash hits include “Hold On Loosely,” “Caught Up In You,” “If I’d Been the One,” “Back Where You Belong,” “Like No Other Night” and “Back to Paradise,” from the movie “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise.”
Originally formed in 1974 by neighborhood friends Don Barnes and Donnie Van Zant, the current lineup now includes Barnes on lead vocals and guitar, guitarist and vocalist Danny Chauncey, bassist Larry “L.J.” Junstrom, keyboardist and vocalist Bobby Capps, and drummer Gary Moffatt.
Like many musicians of his generation, Chauncey was a product of the great American radio and the cultural explosion of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“I grew up listening to ’60s rock and roll; the Beatles of course were huge,” he said. “Then when Lynyrd Skynyrd came around, my ears started pointing in that direction. At one point in the ’70s, I played in a band that was directly modeled after Southern rock bands. Some of the guys were actually Southerners. So I had Southern roots, even though I had never really set foot on Southern soil.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, Chauncey, 57, paid his dues playing in a number of Bay area bands before joining .38 Special. After playing gigs with members of the Doobie Brothers and with the Oakland-based band Billy Satellite, Chauncey hooked up with Kevin Elson, a well-known record producer who had worked with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Journey.
“He had hired me to play guitar on a project he was doing, and I was working on a record out in San Francisco with Kevin when he got a phone call that .38 Special was looking for a guitar player,” he said.
Chauncey then went to Atlanta and met with former .38 Special guitarist Jeff Carlisi. Besides needing a guitar player, the band was also looking for someone who could write. At the time, Chauncey had a song he had written on the charts. “I Wanna Go Back” was a No. 14 hit for Eddie Money in early 1987.
“So they knew that I could write and that I could play guitar,” he said. “So I never really had to audition. We just hung out and played music.”
After Chauncey joined .38 Special in 1987, the band recorded its 10th album, “Rock & Roll Strategy,” in 1988, scoring the most successful single of its career. With new lead singer Max Carl on lead vocals, “Second Chance” became a No. 6 hit in early 1989. Other popular album releases include “Rockin’ Into the Night” (1980), “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys” (1981), “Special Forces” (1982), “Tour de Force” (1984), “Strength In Numbers” (1986), “Flashback” (1987) and a live album, “Live at Sturgis,” released in 1999.
Although the band has had a revolving door in its nearly 40 years of existence, the core of the group still remains intact. Barnes, along with Van Zant, co-founded the band in 1974, then briefly left the group before rejoining them in 1992. Barnes sang lead vocals on most of the band’s hit songs, which have become classic rock radio staples. In addition to Barnes and Van Zant, another band veteran still remains. Junstrom, who was the original bass player in Lynyrd Skynyrd, joined .38 Special in 1979.
Van Zant is the younger brother of the late Ronnie Van Zant, former lead singer and founder of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Van Zant has not toured with .38 Special since 2012 due to health issues related to inner-ear nerve damage, although he continues to write and record with the band.
“It’s been hard for him; it’s been tough for everybody,” Chauncey said. “He’s one of us and he’ll always be one of us. We’re lucky that between he and Don (Barnes), Don sang most of the popular .38 Special songs anyway. So we’ve been sort of lucky in that sense that we still have Don healthy. But we still miss Donnie every day.”
After 26 years with the band, Chauncey believes their music continues to strike a chord with younger generations.
“I think a lot of it is that ’80s music is just really popular across a wide demographic,” Chauncey said. “We’re really grateful that the audiences are fantastic. Anyone who has seen .38 Special will know that the music is as good as it’s ever been.”
Back in their ’70s and ’80s heyday, .38 Special was accustomed to playing in large stadiums and arenas. Although there are good points to performing in larger venues, Chauncey admits he prefers to play in smaller, more intimate settings.
“Larger venues can be good for some people, but sometimes the distance between the stage and the first row of people can be pretty big. It feels disconnected,” he said. “It’s more of a guaranteed sort of thing in smaller venues, because you’re right there with the crowd and the feedback is instant. When it comes down to it, it’s about the interaction between us and the audience. So any chance we get to be up close and personal, we’re all for it.”
Being in a rock group can have numerous benefits and accolades, but Chauncey believes it’s the simple things in life that are most important. “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Grammys; those are all great things to put on your mantle, but I think the things you carry in your heart have the most value, especially at this point in my life,” he said. “The thing that matters to me the most is to be able to get up every day, be excited about the work that I’m doing, and just know that I’m still working, still trying to do it better every day. That’s all you can ask for.”