(originally published in Star News)
April 8, 2018
By Brian Tucker
Great songs last, standing the test of time. So last year when the Azalea Festival looked to the 1980s for one of the event’s big acts – Duran Duran, it didn’t surprise that their show was regarded as one of the best-ever during the annual festival’s history.
This year the Azalea Festival returns to that decade again, almost a no-brainer given the wealth of bands and performers from back then with a numerous hits to grant career longevity.
38 Special will perform Friday night, delivering an almost timeless sound that combines melody rich pop numbers driven by a classic rock persona that sprung from the band’s late 70s era southern rock period.
Their first two albums – 38 Special and Special Delivery were rooted more in southern rock (along with a Chuck Berry cover). But the band, founded by friends Don Barnes and Donnie Van Zant in Jacksonville, Florida almost 45 years ago, were following on the heels of Van Zant’s brother Ronnie Van Zant’s band Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and their colleagues in Molly Hatchet.
After two albums they decided to take a career change, altering their sound to ensure growth and popularity. By the early 80s artists like Heart, ZZ Top, and Eric Clapton would do the same thing.
With 1980’s Rockin’ Into the Night 38 Special had a solid hit with its title track and by 1981’s “Wild Eyed Southern Boys” they began what would be nearly a decade’s worth of radio staples. Led by Barnes’ smooth but gritty vocals 38 Special produced hook-filled songs like “Hold on Loosely,” “If I’d Been the One,” “Fantasy Girl,” “Caught Up In You” and “Rockin’ Into the Night” that seemingly poured out of car radios summer after summer.
Across a handful of albums they continually delivered hits, succeeding by crossing over with different types of listeners. Their songs were in heavy rotation on the radio and MTV, coming from a band that never achieved a celebrity status in the way Van Halen, Huey Lewis and the News, or Duran Duran did. Reading the informative and nostalgic book I Want My MTV it’s easy to understand why those bands landed such status with colorful, memorable videos (ZZ Top anyone?).
Even without overly flashy videos (exceptions being the Hill Street Blues meets Keystone Cops video for “Back Where You Belong” or the wild horses-in-Canada “If I’d Been the One”) their music was a hit outside of the south (as a popular live show in New York illustrates) and asked to record songs for movies, a big trend for musicians in the 80s (see Kenny Loggins).
The band recorded “Teacher, Teacher” for 1984’s Teachers and the synth-y “Back to Paradise” for 1987’s Revenge of the Nerds sequel. Years later the band was asked to record a song for the cult hit comedy Super Troopers.
For the show expect all the hits, maybe a few deep cuts or something from Barnes’ lost solo album released last year. Nostalgia or not, one thing is certain, expect fun rock songs with a youthful sound fit for this spring event.