interview by Michael McCarthy
If you were around in the late ’70s and early ’80s, chances are you watched a popular show called Dukes of Hazzard. It was centered around two brothers, Bo and Luke Duke. Bo was played by John Schneider. Luke was played by Tom Wopat. Bo was the charismatic womanizer and that was his weakness, often getting them into trouble, which was the catalyst for many episodes of the show. Luke, on the other hand, was the logical one who usually came up with a plan to save the day. Their car was called the General Lee, an orange ’69 Charger with the Confederate flag painted on it. Chances are you’ve seen it enough times to picture it even if you’ve never watched the show, which people are still discovering today. The show remains so popular, in fact, that John was able to host a 2-day fan event for nearly 10,000 people at his own John Schneider Studios on the weekend of April 6-7. It was called John Schneider’s 2nd Annual Bo’s Extravaganza and celebrated the 40th anniversary of the show and Bo Duke’s birthday. Among other things, it consisted of live music on 3 stages, carnival rides, car stunts, explosions, celebrity appearances, bonfires, helicopter rides, a hood slide contest and a fireworks show to end each day. One of the musical guests was the legendary Kid Rock.
Aside from continuing to carry the Dukes of Hazzard torch, John has been a very, very busy guy, and has one of the longest IMDB pages I’ve ever seen, currently consisting of 155 acting credits. You may remember him from the show Smallville or his Lifetime movies, Poinsettias for Christmas and Family of Lies. Last fall, he was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars for several weeks. During the past five years, he’s starred on Tyler Perry’s The Haves And The Have Nots, which has been the number one show on cable television on Tuesday nights ever since it began. If you listen to country radio, chances are you’ve heard some of his hit singles, like his cover of the Elvis classic “It’s Now or Never,” which hit number 4 on the country charts and 14 on the top 100. It remains the highest charting cover of an Elvis song to date. And that was just his first single! Following that, he had over a dozen singles hit the top 100 country charts, 9 of which were in the top 10. Last year, he released not one or two but five albums, putting out a song a week. He also writes and directs movies at his own studios. Needless to say, he’s accomplished much more than most people ever will in their lifetimes and most of them are discussed in the following interview.
MM: I recognize your 818 area code because it was the area code I had when I lived in Glendale outside L.A. Are you in that area?
JS: Well, that’s where I got my phone. And I don’t change my phone. I was, but, no, I’m in Louisiana now. I’m outside of Baton Rouge in Louisiana. I’ve been here since 2012. And I love it. I’ve never looked back. I never look back to Valley Vista or Coldwater Canyon. I’ve put that in my list of great places to visit. [Laughs]
MM: So, I understand you had nearly 10,000 fans attend your event last weekend, John Schneider’s 2nd Annual Bo’s Extravaganza.
JS: We did. It was so great. So great. I had a ball. They had a ball. They left the place remarkably clean.
JS: Yeah, yeah. I was shocked. So, people were on their best behavior. They had fun. They didn’t leave a mess. That’s good company, you know, when you have company that doesn’t leave a mess.
MM: And that was held at your own studios?
JS: It’s my own property here. Yes, it’s where I live.
MM: Do you have the studios open year round like an amusement park sort of attraction or is it just special events?
JS: It’s special. It’s outdoor festivals that we do here. So, it’s like a fairground. It’s a special use place. So, it’s not open year round. I live in it. It’s my backyard.
JS: It’s great. So, I have friends over all the time because we’ve got great fishing and great cabins and it’s a wonderful, wonderful place. But except for those like four times where we do a big event it’s John’s backyard. With the occasional renaissance festival. Like this weekend.
MM: What were the highlights of the weekend for you personally?
JS: Well, first and foremost, jumping the General Lee. I jumped the car.
MM: You jumped over a police car, right?
JS: I went over a police car. Probably jumped eighty, ninety feet. Pretty good for an old guy, you know? [Both laugh] And that was great because that was something that I had not wanted to do for a long time, but it’s something that I started to feel like such a crumb when Dukes fans – and it amazes me that there are six-year-old Dukes fans in 2019 – but they would ask what it was like to jump the General Lee and I had to tell them I hadn’t done it. So, I felt like it was something I absolutely needed to do. For much more of a calendar clicked off.
MM: A bucket list thing.
JS: Yup, yup. And then, of course, all our friends and musicians who came over to play, not the least of which was the show closer, who’s been a friend of mine for a decade or so, and that’s Kid Rock. So, Kid Rock came out and played on our pallet stage, which is called that because it’s made out of pallets, like shipping pallets, moving pallets, and it was great. Kid Rock had smoke machines and fireworks and anything you could imagine. Jumping cars and blowing things up. It was great, great fun. We started with the National Anthem and then I blew up an outhouse with a dynamite arrow. That kind of set the tone. [Both laugh]
MM: I saw in one of the photos from your publicist that you and Kid Rock were performing together. What song or songs did you do?
JS: Well, he did his show. So, he did around two hours and in his show he’s a big Dukes fan and always has been – that’s actually how we met – and he has a song that’s about a cowboy and in his regular show that song stops and he jumps into the theme from The Dukes of Hazzard. So, he does that on a regular basis, but I jumped in there with him and we did that song, which was so great. And then I performed after. But he’s got his whole show and what a cool thing it is. It’s kind of like if this was forty years ago, it would be like Elvis singing your theme song. [Laughs] It was pretty great. And the other big, big thing is the weatherman was calling for rain and it didn’t rain. Not a drop. Not one drop. Until ten minutes after we were done.
MM: That’s luck.
JS: Then the clouds opened up and just dumped for half an hour. So, it was great. It seemed like God and Kid Rock were on our side.
MM: I saw that there were many General Lees on display. Were those all cars that were used on the show or were they replicas?
JS: Those were personal people that had built them. So, we had 65 registered. I’m not sure if all 65 came. And they were all ’69 Chargers or ’68. We also had some people that painted up trucks orange with the numbers and the flag. I can’t remember if it was last year or this year that we had a VW Microbus that was painted up the same way. It was really great. I sat on the hood of one of them and did the General Lee parade around the studio like a king. I felt like Cagney in – what was it? – Public Enemy Number One. [Editor’s note: The title is The Public Enemy.] “Top of he world, ma!” [Both laugh]
MM: Sweet. Now, before I forget, we’re based out of the Boston area. Do you have a Boston story or some Boston memories that you can share with us?
JS: Well, now, I used to go to Mystic Seaport. How far away is Mystic Seaport?
MM: That’s further down in Massachusetts but you can tell us about that if that’s what you want to.
JS: Well, I had gone to Boston when I used to home school the kids. And we did a great trip to Boston and ate some of the great food but looked at historical places. And I tried to show my children where our country really began. I loved it. A beautiful part of the country. Because I’m from New York. People think I’m from the South, and I’ve lived in the South now for quite a while, and my mother was from Florida, but I’m a Westchester kind of New York kid. So, I love the North East. Except in the wintertime. I have no use for it – no use for it whatsoever – in the wintertime.
MM: That’s why I want to move back to L.A.
JS: Yeah, yeah. But I love Boston. If you really want to breathe the air that made this country great and keeps this country great then go there and enjoy it. Walk. Take a walking tour. Forget Uber. Forget your taxis. Forget the car. Just wander around and check it out. I love it.
MM: So, where does The Haves And The Have Nots film?
JS: We film in Atlanta at Tyler Perry Studios, which is the old Fort McPherson property near the Atlanta airport. I had three of my fellow castmates from The Haves and the Have Nots here this weekend. And I’m very happy to say that as at each other’s throats as we are on that show, we are as close as my Dukes of Hazzard family. It’s nice to have that again. After the event, David Harrington, who plays Peter Parros, his bride Dion and Alisha and I spent an afternoon and evening and a morning in New Orleans. We went and treated each other to our company and had a wonderful, wonderful time after this event was over.
MM: Nice. So, how did you come to be on the show. Did you have a Tyler Perry connection before?
JS: No. No Tyler Perry connection at all. And when you audition for Tyler, he invites you. So, it’s not something like an agent gets a list. You get a call from Tyler’s office and my agent at that time got a call from Tyler’s office saying, would John come in and read for this? And I read the script and I thought maybe that’s why I’ve been playing these really nasty men for the last couple of years. Grooming me for my J.R. Ewing. Yeah, so it was great. And he was a Dukes fan, so he knew me from that and he knew me from a lot of things. He does his research. He’s a great, great guy. So, I went in and gave him the meanest, nastiest, snarkiest, most sarcastic Jim Cryer I think he could possibly ever see and I got that role, which is wonderful.
MM: It seems like – from my research – you do over 50 shows a year?
JS: With music?
MM: No, on the series. How many episodes is a season?
JS: Oh, on the series. Well, I think the season is 22, but because of his schedule in the past one year we did two seasons in one sitting. But that was because, I guess, well, now we know he was planning to doing Madea’s farewell tour. We didn’t know that then. We were like, I wonder why he’s doing two seasons at once. And I guess that’s why.
MM: Ah, OK.
JS: It has been wonderful and I don’t know if we’re doing more, but that’s the nature of television anyway. You really don’t know. But I love working with him. He is an absolute, creative force of nature. Learned a lot from him and have been encouraged a lot in my own aspirations with Alisha to have an independent film mecca in Louisiana. So, he’s been very instrumental from a mentor perspective regarding getting John Schneider Studios going and keeping it going.
MM: That’s great.
JS: I never thought I’d have a mentor that was younger than me, but I do. I’m OK with that. I’m right with that.
MM: I did watch the first episode of the show and was surprised to find that it was so risque.
JS: Oh, it’s gotten much more risque than that. [Laughs]
MM: Has it ever sparked controversy?
JS: Um, no and I don’t know why. Because we say some terrible things on the show. We are not nice to each other. And yet, no, it hasn’t. And I don’t get that. But perhaps it will. I don’t know.
MM: I would’ve thought it would’ve been controversial right out the get go with your character sleeping with the African American escort the same age as his daughter.
JS: Right! But, no. Nobody jumped on that. Pun intended, I guess. We’ve done things since then that are just crazy. People have been blown up and thrown out of windows. People have been fired because of their race. In the show, not in real life. And we swear. We’re bleeped out sometimes but you know, definitely, what we’re saying. Some of it gets through and it’s fascinating to me.
MM: Do you know if it’s on Hulu or Netflix or anything?
JS: It is on Hulu, yeah. And, also, the Oprah Winfrey Network has their own app and you can see it there. But it is on Hulu. It’s been on Hulu since the beginning. And we’re on a little hiatus from airing shows now. I think it comes back on in May. The middle of May. And it’s great. It’s the number one rated show on Tuesday nights on cable and it has been for five years. I think we’re still hovering around 3.5 million viewers a week, which on a cable show is absolutely astonishing.
MM: Especially where Oprah’s network is still kind of little known compared to a lot of other cable networks.
JS: Right. Right. I believe it’s safe to say that we have been and continue to be the flagship of the Oprah Winfrey Network.
MM: Do people ever recognize you in public and kind of give you an attitude like they’re mistaking you for the character you play on the show?
JS: They love the bad man! They love the bad man. So, no, nobody comes and picks a fight. They come up and they give me the thumbs up and they love it. It’s an interesting thing for me. I’ve always heard that people love the bad boy and that the bad boy’s fun to play. And it is. It’s a great opportunity for me as an actor to be somebody different than what they’ve seen on Dukes or Smallville or Doctor Quinn or all those very moral-based shows. So, I do feel kind of like Larry Hagman must have felt. Because everybody loved J.R. Ewing and what a jerk he was. Somebody last week said Jim Cryer makes J.R. Ewing look like a choir boy. I love it.
MM: I’ll definitely watch more of the show. Now, are you recognized more from the current show or Dukes or your music career?
JS: It depends on where I go. In Nashville, it’s about music. It depends on the age of the crowd, too. 25 to 35 is Smallville. 35 to 60 is usually Haves and Have Nots and Dukes of Hazzard. But Dukes of Hazzard is like 6 to 100. [Laughs] People just love that show. There’s a whole new group of youngsters watching the show again with their parents, who were children when it first came on. So, people are reliving their childhood by watching Dukes of Hazzard with their children and grandchildren. And what a great honor it is to be in that position in their family.
MM: Is the show on in syndication regularly?
JS: No. They have to get it on Amazon Prime or they have to buy the DVDs. So, they have to search it out in order to see it. And they do and they just love it. It makes people smile.
MM: I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to your music because I was afraid it was going to be like the sort of country pop that’s on the radio these days –
JS: – No, no. God.
MM: Yeah, yeah. I’m much more of a fan of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, which is what your music reminded me of.
JS: I’m so glad. Yeah, it seems to me that country music doesn’t realize how good it is. It’s almost like there’s a certain group of folks that feel like as soon as I’ve got any success I’m gonna try to be pop. Somehow they must believe that pop out sells country or that pop is better. Something. Because country music is the best stories, the best players, the best music, the best angst and soul and fun – it’s everything. And yet people want to keep trying to change it. And I don’t understand that. I’m sticking true to what I listened to when I was a kid. And I love Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern rock and all that, so we’ve got some of that in there. But so did Johnny and Willie and Roy Orbison and Conway Twitty. These were some rock and rockabillies out there. [Laughs] And Merle Haggard. My gosh, he made a statement with his music. So, thank you. I’m glad that you like the new stuff. I’m very, very proud of all this music we’ve done.
MM: I noticed that many of your albums have The Odyssey in the title. What’s the story there?
JS: We did a 52 song project last year. We released a song every Tuesday of 2018. So, individually, they were called Beginnings, Wanderlust, Crossroads – oh gosh, there were two other titles. So, they all had individual titles but they were all collectively part of The Odyssey. Collectively, it’s called The Odyssey Project and individually the records – the CDs – have their own titles. It was wonderful. And it really got people in general, but radio specifically, back into thinking and remembering, oh wait a minute, we’ve missed his music, he had four number one songs in the ’80s and top ten songs. So, it was welcomed by radio and by listeners with open arms. I have three concerts this weekend. One in Georgia, one in Tennessee and one somewhere else. So, I do tour now again with that music from The Odyssey and from back in my MCA days with Jimmy Bowen. I’m back in full swing doing music. And loving it. And people seem to be enjoying it. And like you say, they’re saying, thank God this is real country music.
MM: Yeah, definitely. So, do you write all of your songs or do you –
JS: – No. I don’t write. On all 52 songs I might’ve co-wrote four. No, I don’t think it’s possible for any individual to write 52 songs in a lifetime worth recording. [Laughs] So, the writers on there are some of the greatest writers, really, in the history of country music. Bill Anderson is one there. Mac Davis is on there. Chuck Cannon is on there. Paul Overstreet. Bobby Tomberlin. Lots and lots of people who’ve been writing for years. Check out the liner notes there if you can see it. These folks have collectively – the band alone – this is a cool statistic – the band on this record have collectively been on records that have sold over a billion units. So, great musicians. Great songwriters. I had such a great time. And we cut all of the songs live. Not in front of an audience, but live in a big room and we recorded all of the music at the same time. Kind of unheard of.
MM: That’s rarely done these days.
JS: Nobody does that anymore. They haven’t done that in 50 years. Except for The Bellamy Brothers. Bellamy Brothers do that down there in their place in Florida. It was really great to be in the same room with the background singers, singing a Mac Davis song that he wrote 40 years ago that no one’s cut yet.
MM: That’s very cool. Which song was that?
JS: “No Mas Cervesa.” Fun, fun, fun song.
MM: Let me ask you, though, just out of curiosity. Now that you’ve done so many songs by so many great writers, why haven’t you gotten the itch to do more writing yourself yet?
JS: Because they’re just so good. And, like I said, I co-write with them. I co-wrote a song with Bill Anderson and Bobby Tomberlin. We did not cut that one yet. We’ll cut that one some other time. It’s called “Weeds.” So, I will. But you think you’re a writer until you hear real writer’s lyrics. You go, oh. Because my stuff turns into limericks. And I don’t know how to avoid that. Except to write with a great writer.
MM: I do some songwriting and I always rhyme too much.
JS: Yeah. [Laughs] It’s hard. And I write screenplays and I’m damn good at that. But it’s hard for me. I wind up being too specific. Songs and literature and screenplays and all that, it’s not so much about what you say, it’s about what you don’t say. It’s what you imply. So, I explain too much.
MM: I’ve written over 30 screenplays myself. Haven’t sold any yet, but –
JS: – Well, I haven’t either. We just make them ourselves.
MM: Have you made any of them into movies yet?
JS: We’ve made seven. Seven of them.
MM: Tell me about two that you have to see first.
JS: You’ve got to see Inadmissible. Crime drama, court room drama, a story about what happens when you have a tendency toward violence. You find out you came by it naturally because before you were born your parents were very bad people. And I mean, very bad people. So, that’s one. Another one that I think is a must-see, if you’re a little odd, if you have an odd sense of humor, quirky, if you like Fargo –
MM: – I love Fargo.
JS: If you liked Fargo, you’ll love Anderson Bench.
MM: Anderson Bench. I’ll have to check that out.
JS: And you can rent both of those for $4.99 at johnschneiderstudios.com and that will open the door to several other ones that are there. So, check those out.
MM: I understand you’ll be playing, or have already played, associate justice of the Supreme Court Byron White in a Roe V. Wade movie. What’s the status of that?
JS: I don’t know. I did that movie a couple of months back. So, it was last year, toward the end of the summer. And it was amazing. I turned a corner. I’m doing a scene with Jon Voight, who I’ve known for 40 years. And then I’m realizing, oh, man, this is Steve who I’ve been talking to all morning, this is Steve Guttenberg. Yeah, so it was really great. We filmed in New Orleans in a big, beautiful 150 year old building. A gorgeous, gorgeous room. And had a ball. But I don’t know what the state of it coming out is. I don’t even know what they’re calling it now. Because they had a phony title on it when we shot it. Apparently, people were up in arms. People who claim that free speech is something very important to them, it seems to me, that they’re the first people to try to shut somebody up. I don’t understand that. I don’t know how they cannot see how hypocritical they look when they do that. Free speech is not just the freedom for people to say things you agree with. To fight for free speech you have to fight for free speech for people who disagree with you as well. And few people seem to do that. Just you and me. We’ll fight for that.
MM: Definitely. But, of course, it’s about abortion, the most controversial subject ever, so it’s bound to have some controversy, right?
JS: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’ll have plenty of controversy. And Byron was one who never faltered on his opinion about it. So, it was great. He couldn’t be negotiated out of it. And I think it’s terrific. The script was written from the minutes of the meetings that they had. The dialogue we spoke is the dialogue they spoke.
MM: That’s pretty cool.
JS: So, people will get to have a front row seat at some of the greatest, certainly, legal minds of all-time, discussing this issue. And I think it’s going to be quite eye-opening for a lot of people.
MM: I’m sure I’m going to sound ignorant here, but which side of the argument was Byron on?
JS: Oh, no. You’ve gotta see it. You’ve gotta see it.
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