Revisiting 38 Special’s Career-Boosting ‘Special Forces’
By the time Special Forces came out in 1982, 38 Special were five albums deep into their career, spawned from a swampy locale that had already produced its share of Southern rock gold and platinum records.
38 Special came out of Jacksonville, Fla., following in the footsteps of their famous older brothers Lynyrd Skynyrd, with both bands having a Van Zant of their own. 38 Special singer Donnie Van Zant had watched his older brother Ronnie put Lynyrd Skynyrd together in the carport of their family home.
The experience would serve Donnie well a few years later when 38 Special formed, working out the parts of their future success in an auto garage. Although Southern rock was in their blood, they put a more radio-friendly pop/rock twist on it that would bring them plenty of chart success in the years to come.
In an interview with In the Studio, former 38 Special lead guitarist Jeff Carlisi recalled that the band gained a lot of respect for in a sense, “inventing” their own sound, rather than “emulating what someone else had already done.”
“With Wild Eyed Southern Boys, we had finally developed a style of music that was not typically Southern in the sense of three-chord shuffles or those types of things" he said. "But it was the attitude of the way Southern musicians approached their music and still some of the blues influence that was molded in a way that was different and unique. The songs that people remember or associate 38 Special with, "Hold on Loosely," for example, or "Fantasy Girl" or "Caught Up in You," they're romantic songs -- they're not songs about the South. If you look at them lyrically, they're not.”
Watch 38 Special's 'Caught Up in You' Video
Wild Eyed Southern Boys had been very successful for 38 Special, notching several songs that found radio airplay and chart success, including the previously mentioned "Hold on Loosely," "Fantasy Girl" plus the title track. By the time the band went back in the studio to work on a follow-up, they were feeling very confident about their fifth album.
“I just remember making the Special Forces record, everybody was asking us, how are you going to top Wild Eyed Southern Boys, or you must be feeling a lot of pressure here to make this record?” Van Zant recalled. “To be truthful, we didn't feel the pressure. We just did what we always do our whole career and that was write good songs.”
One of those “good songs” was "Caught Up In You," the romantic earworm that has probably become one of the most identifiable songs in the 38 Special catalog, side by side with "Hold on Loosely." "Caught Up in You" and the Special Forces album marked a “turning point” for the band and Van Zant recalled how much “fun” it was recording the album and he also notes that they really made an attempt to keep things loose.
“We relied a lot on spontaneity, whereas with previous records, we knew most of the arrangements and knew what songs were going to be on the albums before we went into the studio," Van Zant said. "With this album, it gave 38 Special the credibility of being an arena headliner. We could go into any town and sell 10 thousand seats out, which was very exciting. I think most of all, what probably made the record real special, was that it just had a lot of variety on it. It appealed to a large spectrum of people and has sold probably about two million records. It was definitely a magical period for us."