“The Big Man on Bass Has Left Us…”

Former Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special member Larry Junstrom dead at age 70

Larry Junstrom on bass / Art by Ron Hart 

Sometimes those musicians who choose to play support and sometimes stand in the shadows can have a decided impact on music history. In Larry Junstrom’s case, he succeeded in doing so twice.

When Junstrom (Born June 22, 1949) made the fateful decision to leave Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band he joined early on and pass on to his eventual successor Leon Wilkeson, the choice likely saved his life. Although he didn’t have the chance to share in the group’s eventual glory, he also didn’t suffer the same tragic fate as several other members of the band when the band’s private plane crashed on October 20, 1977, killing singer Ronnie Van Zandt, guitarist Steve Gaines and back-up singer Cassie Gaines.

Nevertheless, Junstrom played a crucial role in Skynyrd’s early evolution. He was with the band when it underwent a series of name changes from My Backyard, to The Noble Five to The One Percent before eventually choosing its handle as a mocking tribute to their high school phys ed teacher Leonard Skinner, a man notoriously known for hassling any male student who had long hair. 


AUDIO: Lynyrd Skynyrd “Need All My Friends (early demo)”

Although Junstrom and Van Zandt parted ways early on, Junstrom kept his ties to the Van Zandt clan intact when he joined another Jacksonville Florida-based rock band .38 Special in 1977, a group which featured Donnie Van Zandt, Ronnie’s younger brother, as its lead singer. He played on all twelve of the band’s albums, lending his prowess to a sound that deftly combined a Southern rock influence with a more adventurous and propulsive style of arena rock revelry. 

(Ironically, Junstrom was not a native Southerner like the musicians he played with in both of those bands. He was born in Pittsburgh before moving with his family to Jacksonville at the age of 10.)

.38 Special, which had formed three years before, drew its name from an early incident in which the original members of the band were rehearsing in a warehouse and drawing the ire of some nearby residents who subsequently called the police to complain about the noise. When the cops arrived, the band insisted they were unable to let them in because the doors were padlocked. Supposedly one of the officers replied “That’s all right. We’ll let this .38 special do the talking,” and dispensed with the lock in the most efficient manner possible.


VIDEO: .38 Special “Hold On Loosely” (live)

Nevertheless, the name served its purpose and the group became a top draw throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.

After he joined, Junstrom would play an ongoing role in the band’s success, including the recording of such hit singles as “Hold On Loosely” and “Caught Up InYou” before he was forced to leave the band in 2014 due to a hand injury that later required surgery. Nevertheless, he kept his ties to his chosen profession when he became an avid amateur radio operator and took the handle K4EB, short for “Known 4 Electric Bass.”

When Junstrom died this past Sunday, October 6, his passing was announced on .38 Special’s Facebook page. “The Big Man on the Big Bass has left us,” the band posted. “He rocked arenas all over the world and succeeded in living his dream. He was truly one of a kind…”


AUDIO: .38 Special live in concert at Winterland 5/14/77

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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