Entertainment

'Dukes of Hazzard' Star Ben Jones Talks 40 Years of the Duke Boys, Confederate Railroad Controversy

AP Photo/Steve Helber

This weekend (Aug. 10-11), rebel flag-emblazoned Dodge Chargers from far and wide will fill the Shenandoah (Va.) Speedway for Cooter's Good Ol' Boys Fest, a celebration of The Dukes of Hazzard's 40th anniversary. Throughout the two-day event, multiple generations of fans will interact with the series' stars, including Ben Jones, the Georgia-bred actor behind the Duke boys' mechanic and trusted friend Cooter Davenport.

For Jones, the owner of the Cooter's gift shops and museums in Nashville, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. and Luray, Va., the gathering represents a benchmark in network television and syndication history.

"There's lots of shows that have longevity and are beloved like 'I Love Lucy' and Jackie Gleason stuff. All of those great, old shows," Jones says. "But they don't continue to find a new audience. Every generation of kids that comes along--It's not just true in the United States but all over the world. The Dukes of Hazzard continues to be wildly popular. In show business, that's as good as it gets."

Even some fans might view the Dukes as nothing more than a kid-friendly show with intentionally silly characters and plot points. To others, it represents the tail-end of prime-time television suitable for the whole family--A novelty at a time when watching some commercials can feel uneasy with parents or grandparents in the room.

"When I was a kid, we'd watch Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and the Saturday matinees at the old movie houses," Jones says. "The Dukes was that kind of show where nobody really gets hurt. You can fall off a cliff and have a stagecoach land on you and just brush yourself off. The good guys always won, and they won because they made the right moral choice. They did the right thing, and they were willing to sacrifice anything to help someone out."

Beyond its moral messages, the show featured car stunts in the days of Evel Knievel and Smokey & The Bandit, great country music by Waylon Jennings and his peers and, frankly, well-aged eye candy for fans of cousins Daisy (Catherine Bach), Bo (John Schneider) and Luke (Tom Wopat).

"That's what holds the show up," Jones adds. "There's nothing to dislike, really. I guess some people thought it was beneath them or something, but we don't care about that."

Fans in Shenandoah will get the chance to meet Jones, Bach, Wopat and other stars, including Hazzard reunion regulars Sonny Schroyer (Deputy Enos) and Rick Hurst (Deputy Cletus Hogg). Beyond autograph sessions and stunt shows, the event will celebrate a key element in the series: country music. Wynonna and The Big Noise, Confederate Railroad, Billy Dean, Exile and Whey Jennings appear on the bill, as does Wopat and Jones' own Cooter's Garage Band.

Due to recent cancellations by fairs in Illinois and New York over the group's name, Confederate Railroad's inclusion comes across as a statement of protest by a television series with its own history of rebel flag drama.

"Confederate Railroad has been around a long time, and there's never been a mumbling word about them," Jones says. "They're simply some of the finest people you'll ever meet. There's not a hateful streak in their bones, and they're losing work. They're being crippled economically."

The Dukes of Hazzard remains a vital fandom for those unphased by the General Lee's paint job. In turn, Jones and his co-stars get to continually relive a special time few would have realistically expected to maintain 40 years of staying power.

"I was not a young man when we started filming it," Jones says. "I was 37 years old when we started filming it in Covington, Ga. If somebody had come up to me that day and said, 'You know, 40 years from now, this show is going to be shown all of the world and there's going to be thousands of different items of merchandise and you're going to be on lunch boxes and action figures. And it'll continue to be extremely popular.' That would've been unimaginable, but we've seen that happen. The best part of it is that we really enjoyed doing it."

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'Dukes of Hazzard' Star Ben Jones Talks 40 Years of the Duke Boys, Confederate Railroad Controversy