Posted December 2019
Baby boomers most definitely remember the hit TV show, Dukes of Hazzard. For those who are too young to know what I’m talking about, it was a show that you would get if you mixed Smokey and the Bandit and The Andy Griffith Show.
Ah. Y’all are too young to know about those shows, too. Your loss. Just keep reading anyway.
Despite my description of the show, I’m told that it was actually inspired by the movie, Moonrunners. The show revolved around two cousins, Bo Duke (John Schneider) and Luke Duke (Tom Wopat). They lived in the fictional Hazzard County, Georgia, with their Uncle Jesse (played by the legendary Denver Pyle) and their hotter-than-summer cousin, Daisy (played by the perennially beautiful, Catherine Bach). They hot-rodded all over the county, evading the crooked sheriff and county commissioner while still finding themselves in the middle of some sort of trouble.
It was good, clean television fun that kids loved and was a guilty pleasure for adults. Shows like that are sorely missed in family’s homes today.
With all of that as a backdrop – and before getting to the purpose of this piece, I want to share a true story that illustrates how the show mesmerized kids.
Back in the late seventies, I was a volunteer church youth leader, and we were having Vacation Bible School in the weeknights of one of the summertime weeks in Phoenix, Arizona. There a two grade-school aged brothers who lived on the cul-de-sac I lived on and I invited them to come to attend. They accepted.
When it was time to leave, they walked up to my car (which had the windows rolled down). As I was about to open the door for them, they said, "No way! We're getting in this way – like ‘Dukes of Hazzard!’” and they jumped through the windows into my car.
When I learned that John Schneider had recently released a new gospel album (“Recycling Grace”), a new book (“My Life, My Way”), and a new movie coming out (“Christmas Cars”), I had to talk to him. When I called him up at his Louisiana home, I started off by telling him the above story. His response was:
“I think that's great! That's great! That's how you're supposed to do it, isn't it?”
When I said that I was likely too old to do that; that I might hurt myself, John replied:
“Well I can still do it. So, come on man!”
Shifting the focus away from my lack of gymnastic ability over to Schneider’s most recent album. I asked him what the story was behind it.
“Alicia and I decided to get back into music in a big way. I'd been away from music for a long time. I mean, decades - back in the 80s. After Duke's, music was a huge part of my life, probably the biggest part of my life. So, when we got flooded back in 2016, twice, she noticed a habit that I have - and I mean, like destroyed, devastated, flooded in Louisiana. She noticed a tendency I had to pick up my guitar and start playing music whenever life was kind of taking a nosedive.
“She came in to talk to me one day and I put the guitar down and she said, 'Why do you do that?' I said, 'Well, playing the guitar makes me feel better.' And she said, 'I didn't ask you why you picked it up. I asked you why you put it down.' And from that simple question, we've since done I think the count now is one hundred and six brand new songs. We released a five C.D. project called The Odyssey Project 2018 and released a single every Tuesday of 2018. So, fifty-two singles in 2018 and a Christmas album called Merry Christmas Baby. And a Greatest Hits Revisited - 'Greatest hits Still' - all in 2018.
“Then this year, 2019, we did a kind of southern rock. It's not a tribute because it's all brand new songs. We've done a record called, ‘The Redneck Rebel’, which sounds like stuff that I listened to when I was in high school - like Marshall Tucker Band, and the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd. That is being very well received.
“We have single out now called Stoned on The One which is a football and relationship gone awry reference. And we released a gospel album, an inspirational album called, ‘Recycling Grace’; that was this year. And we did a movie called, ‘Christmas Cars’.”
As the old Ronco commercials used to scream: But wait! There’s more!
“I've been noodling on a book, noodling on a book for a number of years. I had it in my phone. I kept writing chapter after chapter of things that came to mind: about getting The Dukes of Hazzard; what life was like before it and what life was like during it. So, I wrote a book that is called, ‘My Life My Way’. From that book, Alisha said, ‘You've got to write a Dukes of Hazard’ - it's the 40th anniversary of Dukes of Hazzard - she said, 'You've got to write a nod to the Dukes of Hazzard movie and we'll make it and we'll put it out for the 40th anniversary of Dukes. It should be based on all the stuff you have in the book. A lot of it can be in the movie.’
“So, you know, she was right again. So, I wrote a script called, ‘Christmas Cars’. In June of this year, we filmed it. People can pre-order it now, but it comes out officially on what we call Orange Friday, which is the Friday after Thanksgiving. I'm calling it Orange Friday in honor of the General Lee instead of Black Friday, just because, you know, why not? General Lee's the most famous car in the world. I drove it. I drove him. So that's what we've done. People are loving the trailers on my YouTube channel: John Schneider, YouTube channel. It will make you feel like a kid. It's as close to Dukes of Hazzard, I think, as we're ever going to get. I really do, because there's a pace, there's a morality, there's a lesson, there's the good guys; good guys are flawed, and bad guys have a conscience. That was always a part of what made the Dukes of Hazzard recipe work so well. And, as of late, they've not gotten that right. I say with as much humility as I can muster, I believe I know the recipe that makes Dukes work and Christmas Cars is exactly that because I was there.”
Then, as an obvious reference to our opening conversation, Schneider added:
“I climbed in and out of those windows myself. I still can. I still can. Harder to get out than it is to get in.”
When I asked if the movie would wind up on the Hallmark Channel, John said:
“Well, we addressed the flag issue. You know, my car and the show is the General Lee off of Dukes. So, no, it’s not going to wind up anywhere because people are afraid to combat the lunacy of revisionist history that's running rampant in our country today. I don't know why. We have more of a global voice on our phones now than we've ever had before, a global presence, if you go after it. People are afraid to have any opinion that's in opposition to anybody else, which basically means everybody just has to be quiet. But that's not in my nature.
“Well, you saw in Christmas Cars, I say in the trailer, 'Wait a minute: symbols don't hurt people. People hurt people.' I'm trying to interject some of what I feel was common sense into entertainment and celebrate the Dukes of Hazzard at the same time.”
Shifting our attention to John’s new book, My Life, My Way, Schneider shared the background on it.
“The book is a real inside look at what it's been like being me; having a dream at a very early age, which I think we all do. I just think life and love wants to talk us out of it. But I started in theater when I was eight years old. I've had a passion for doing exactly what I've been doing ever since. I explain that to people, because there's a tendency for people to think you just kind of appeared on the scene when they were first aware of you. Well, as they say, that's kind of the tip of the iceberg. There's a whole lot of stuff underneath that got you to that point.
“So, I talk about that and talk about the tenacity of a 16-year-old skipping school and climbing a fence so I could talk my way onto the Smokey and the Bandit set and into the movie. Or, I talk about, did I really bring a six pack of beer to the Dukes of Hazzard audition? Well, yeah. I talk about that and what led to that decision and how that worked out and how it might not have.
“I talk about music; talk about what it was like on the set and talk about relationships with the different people on the set. It's kind of like an opportunity to hang out with me over the last 40 years.
“And I'm going to do an audible book. I'm going to do an audible version of it and I'm going to read it myself. If you've got audible on your phone or you want to get a hold of that, I haven't yet. But I'm going to do that a couple of weeks. And then it'll really be creepy because it would be like, you're really in my pocket.
“It’s really quite entertaining. I've got a bizarre sense of humor and an odd way of saying things. People who read my Facebook page or people that read any of the blogs, I do, I think that they'll agree there's a there's a different perspective that I have. So, me telling the story of how this life has evolved so far, I think you're going to love it. I wrote it and I'll read it and go, 'Wow, this is just this is cool. It seems like I'm right there. Lake Sherwood.’
“Then a lot of I would say 90 percent of Christmas Cars comes right out of the book. There's been some great stuff; there's been some not great stuff. There's been financial issues. There's been great financial success and there's been not a dime in the pocket. There's been having to reach up to touch grass kind of a kind of thing going on, too.
“So, if people think chasing your dream is easy, they're wrong, but it's worth it. And that's the general point: we all have a dream; we all have something I believe we're designed to do. And the only thing in the way of us in our dream is us. We have to go for it no matter how old or how young you are. Go for it with everything you've got. Because I believe it's better to spend a life pursuing your dream and even not make it than it is to spend life not pursuing your dream and wishing you had tried. So, it's really good. ‘My life My Way’ is what it's called. And that's how I live my life. And it's how I recommend it to other people.
A story about Schneider that I had read about elsewhere is how Johnny Cash introduced him to Christianity. I wanted to hear it straight from Schneider, so I asked him about it.
Well, John was really the first Christian I had met that wasn't concerned about trying to appear to be nicer than Jesus. And it's an important designation because what a lot of Christians don't know or don't remember is how syrupy and saccharin and phony, they can sound to someone who doesn't know what they're talking about. 'Oh, how are you doing?' 'Oh, I'm just blessed. I'm so blessed. And this wonderful.'
“Well, come on. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes, you might say, ‘Well, I think I must have slept through my blessing today because I feel like crap. Johnny was a man; he was a scarred, flawed, wonderful Christian man who didn't have to pretend everything was just great. I had seen a lot of the other.
“Prior to working on Stagecoach - that's where John and I met - he had actually done the Dukes of Hazzard album for that, but we'd never met. We met when we did Stagecoach together and we became friends right away. I got to see I got to see how he treated people. And I got to see a really terrific, honest-about-everything man who also believed in Christ was like and to say, ‘Jesus is my lord and savior’. Then I guess there's something to it.
“My agent at the time would say the wagons were circling. So, I'd been surrounded by Christians and church folk and they were kind of like the church lady from Saturday Night Life. There's nothing less attractive to a fledgling Christian than the church lady. So, I like to think God put Johnny in my life so that I could see what it was really like. And I did. I lived it with live with Johnny and June for a little over a year and it was great. I never saw a dishonest moment with Johnny Cash. It was great and it's a lesson we could all take. Don't cover up your scars because scars are really what attract people to the truth because life ain't easy but it's worth it. If it is easy, I question the value of the path you're on or the validity of the path you're on.
“Nobody said that God makes things easy. Just look at Jesus. Right? This is not in the book, but I remember John saying at one point, ‘You know, why is it that Christians expect to have a better day than Jesus?’ So, yeah, it was a remarkable time. I miss him every day. I'm looking at a picture of him right now.”
Because Boomerocity’s wheelhouse is classic rock, John asked me if I had listened to his CD, “Redneck Rebel”, which I had listened to a couple of cuts from it, to which he said:
“Listen to ‘Southern Rock Survivor’ and then listen to ‘Backwood Soul’, just because you said classic rock, this is like a brand new classic Southern Rock. I think you'll appreciate.”
Is that what Schneider would consider to be his favorite to go to music?
“Yeah. Because it's you know, it's the truth. It's ballsy and it's great fun to sing, and it's that's why I'm hoarse right now. They're great show songs. We're doing a show tonight. We're doing a thing called, ‘John Schneider's Hideaway’. We're taking over the second floor of the Whiskey Bent Saloon tonight. So, we do these pop-up concerts in various places and this is the first one. So, if it works, which I think it will, we're going to do it in a couple of other places. Gavin DeGraw is a friend and he's offered me the rooftop of his place down there (his The National Underground in NYC). So, when it warms up a little bit, we'll do it down there.
“I don't know how many people we're gonna have because we're advertising by word of mouth and trying to get people who live here the music experience they used to get and give people who are visiting the music experience that they thought that we're gonna get. No cover tunes. It's all singers and songwriters and musicians who are playing our own stuff. So. Yes. Come on. Let's let them know you are with the press and.
As side-note: I did attend John’s “pop-up” concert at Nashville’s Whiskey Bent that night and it was a blast. I highly recommend you catching one of them if you have the opportunity.
As our chat was winding up our chat, I asked John the question I often ask artists who have been at their craft for a long time: How does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be? I also asked him what is on his radar for the next year or so.
“Wow. OK, well, what's on the radar here is I'm writing a Smokey and the Bandit tribute we're going to do in February called, ‘Stand on It’. The band will be Hellcat and I'll be in the red shirt behind the wheel. Cody McCarver is going to be my Snow Man. But his name is Roy in the movie, so we're recording music right now. We did four (songs) of ten. One song's called ‘Roy’. My name is Roy and I Like To Drive. Ones called, ‘Cowboys Don't Get Old’. Ones called, ‘Drinking Buddy’, and I don't remember the name of the other one. That's on that's on the radar for immediately. And that will be on the heels of, hopefully, a tremendous success with ‘Christmas Cars’.
“When I'm up there, I want to be remembered as somebody who went for it with everything I had, always. I'm not a believer that the phone will ring, and someone will just come in and save your life and give you a job. I'm not that guy anyway. I'm a job creator, not a job searcher.
"So that's what I want. In fact, if they've got to have anything on my tombstone, it would be, ‘He went for it’. Yeah, I kinda like that.”
You can order the book, CDs, and DVD that John and I talked about by visiting his website, here, or by clicking on the items, below.