38 Special bassist and Lynyrd Skynyrd founder Larry Junstrom (1949-2019) remembered
Larry Junstrom was one of the founding members of the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd (1964-71) and played bass in 38 Special from 1977 until 2014. He died at the age of 70 on October 6, 2019.
Lawrence E. Junstrom was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 22, 1949. He was the bass guitarist of the band that would become Lynyrd Skynyrd from its formation until being replaced by first Greg T. Walker and then Leon Wilkeson in 1971.
Formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1964 under the name My Backyard, Junstrom played bass alongside Ronnie Van Zant (lead vocalist), Gary Rossington (guitar), Allen Collins (guitar) and Bob Burns (drums), the latter of whom was replaced by future Blackfoot founder Rickey Medlocke. The band spent five years touring small venues under a variety of different names (“The Noble Five” and “The One Percent”) before finally deciding on “Lynyrd Skynyrd” in 1969.
Junstrom was featured on the first song the band recorded, the single “Need All My Friends” b/w “Michelle”, pressed in approximately 300 copies by Shade Tree Records. The songs were recorded in 1968 and the release had the band name spelled as “Lynard Skynard”, apparantely some time later as the band was called One Percent until November 1969.
These songs weren’t released on an album until 2000 when MCA records released the double CD compilation of rarities called “Collectybles”. Also included on “Collectybles” are versions of both songs recorded in 1970 as part of the “Quinvy Demo”, cut before heading to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. There’s 9 tracks in total on “Collectybles” recorded in 1968-70, during Jungstrom’s time in the band. These includes the rarities “If I’m Wrong”, “No One Can Take Your Place” (both written by Collins, Rossington, Van Zant), “Hide Your Face” and “Bad Boy Blues” (both by Rossington, Van Zant).
Released in 1987, the rarities compilation “Legend” features the song “When You Got Good Friends” (Allen Collins, Van Zant) performed by Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Don Barnes, Steve Brookins and Larry Junstrom.
The first three tracks of “The Definitive Lynyrd Skynyrd Collection”, a 3 CD box set released in 1991, are demo recordings from 1970 and thus also features Larry Junstrom. These are the Hendrix-ish “Junkie”, “He’s Alive” and an early version of the classic hit song “Free Bird”, all written by Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant.
Lynyrd Skynyrd leader Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother Donnie Van Zant formed .38 Special in 1974, with Junstrom joining as the bass guitarist in 1976. Donnie Van Zant (born in 1952) should not be confused with their even younger brother Johnny (born 1960) who has been the lead singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd since 1987. The two brothers of Ronnie (1948–1977) did perform together from time to time as the group Van Zant, however, with 4 albums recorded between 1998 and 2007. Before the resurrection of Lynyrd Skynyrd, an album called “Van Zant” was released in 1985 by the The Johnny Van Zant Band, but that one didn’t feature Donnie.
Donnie Van Zant had formed Standard Production in 1968, joining up in 1969 with guitarist Jeff Carlisi, bassist Ken Lyons and drummer Steve Brookins as Sweet Rooster. Don Barnes replaced Carlisi in 1970 and the band came to an end by 1973. In 1974 they all decided to give the band a second chance, now with a second drummer in Jack Grondin. After years of touring, Ronnie Van Zant finally set them up with Skynyrd’s manager Peter Rudge, who then got them signed to A&M Records and set them up as opening act for the likes of Peter Frampton, Foghat and Kiss.
.38 Special released their self-titled debut album in May 1977, half a year before the fatal plane crash that robbed the world of Ronnie Van Zant and other people connected with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ken Lyons decided to leave the band just before the release, thus letting Larry Junstrom join the band. Junstrom can be heard playing on one track on the debut, “Fly Away”.
Junstrom was not a prolific writer but he did manage to get credit for co-writing two songs on his first two albums as a member of 38 Special: “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” (w/ Barnes and Van Zant) on 1978’s “Special Delivery” and “Stone Cold Believer” (w/ Barnes, Carlisi and Van Zant) from the 1979 album “Rockin’ into the Night”. The title track of the latter was written by three members of Survivor and sung by Don Barnes, who would sing lead vocals on all of the band’s hits through 1987. Survivor’s Jim Peterik would continue to write songs for/with 38 Special, including their greatest hits “Hold On Loosely” (1981) and 1982’s “Caught Up in You”.
Junstrom remained true to the band throughout the decades, being the only member aside from Donnie Van Zant to appear on all of their albums, the last of which was 2004’s “Drivetrain”.
Junstrom was forced to retire in 2014 due to a hand injury that required surgery, being replaced by Barry Dunaway (ex-Pat Travers Band, Yngwie Malmsteen and Survivor) who had previously filled in for Junstrom for a handful of shows in 2011 and 2013.
This leaves Don Barnes the only original member from the ’70’s still playing in 38 Special, but he went solo in 1987 and didn’t return until 1992. He was replaced by Max Carl for the albums “Rock & Roll Strategy” and “Bone Against Steel”. Steve Brookins also left the band in 1987, followed by Jack Grondin (1991), Jeff Carlisi (1996) and finally Donnie Van Zant in 2013. Van Zant stopped touring in 2012 due to health issues related to inner-ear nerve damage.
The cause of Junstrom’s death has of yet not been announced.
In a loving note to their longtime bandmate, the band wrote,
“He rocked arenas all over the world and succeeded in living his dream. He was truly one of a kind, a congenial traveling companion and a great friend to all with a humorous slant on life that always kept our spirits high – a kind man with a big heart for everyone who crossed his path. There will never be another like him.”
Larry Junstrom Discography:
w/ Lynyrd Skynyrd:
Legend (1987) – the second track only
Lynyrd Skynyrd (Box Set) (1991) – first three tracks
Collectybles (2000) – first seven tracks on the first CD + first two tracks on disc two
w/ 38 Special:
38 Special (1977) – on the track “Fly Away”
Special Delivery (1978)
Rockin’ into the Night (1979)
Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (1981)
Special Forces (1982)
Tour de Force (1983)
Strength in Numbers (1986)
Rock & Roll Strategy (1988)
Bone Against Steel (1991)
A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night (2001)