Whether they know him as a resident of Hazzard County alongside co-star Tom Wopat or as Superman’s dad Jonathan Kent from Smallville, most Americans raised on television recognize John Schneider. Fans of his acting career never had to do without, as Schneider has consistently appeared on television, including his current role in Tyler Perry’s The Haves and The Have Nots, and in Hollywood movies–namely the Stagecoach remake that featured Willie Nelson and all four Highwaymen.
To the country music world, he’s also the talented singer behind the Hot Country Songs chart-toppers “I’ve Been Around Enough to Know,” “Country Girls,” What’s a Memory Like You (Doing in a Love Like This)” and “You’re the Last Thing I Needed Tonight.” His albums include White Christmas, If You Believe, Too Good to Stop Now, Take The Long Way Home, Tryin’ to Outrun The Wind and one of the better greatest hits compilations of the ’80s. In addition, he made history in 1981 when his top five version of “It’s Now or Never” became the highest-charting Elvis Presley cover in the history of the Billboard charts.
The independent spirit behind John Schneider Studios, an all-in-one film production space in Louisiana, fuels Schneider’s recent uptick in new music. Actually, “uptick” is an understatement. His ongoing The Odyssey project follows the stellar 2016 album Ruffled Skirts and involves the release of a new single every Tuesday in 2018. The series began with Schneider covering the Dukes’ theme song “Good Ole Boys” with a little help from Tanya Tucker, Steve Wariner, John Conlee, T.G. Sheppard, Jo-El Sonnier, Bobby Bare and T. Graham Brown. The series has since included “Crazy Women,” “Give God the Blues,” “I’ll Still Be Loving You” and, most recently, “Cracker Barrel.” With songs coming at a pace that’d leave Rosco P. Coltrane’s police cruiser in the dust, the singer’s biggest hit since 1987’s “Love, You Ain’t Seen The Last of Me” cracked the top 10 may be a Tuesday away.
For good news on Schneider, keep track of his weekly musical output and enjoy this brief interview with the star about his do-it-yourself approach to music and movies.
Wide Open Country: You’d asked me when we were introduced if I come from a long line of country fans. How about you? Did you grow up around it in Mount Kisco, New York and Atlanta?
Schneider: My dad (Jack Schneider) actually played in a square dance band (The Crop Dusters). And my mom… She didn’t play in a square dance band, but she always loved music. When I was little, it was all about Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin and Gordon Lightfoot, but also Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty and the gang. The usual suspects.
So a lot of singer-songwriters who could really feel a song…
It was songs that really meant something. They had to tell a story. It couldn’t just be ear candy, as they used to call it.
Were you not as into rock, or were you into Zeppelin and bands like that?
Well you know, it’s hard to get any better than Led Zeppelin. They had a great feel and a great vibe, like Johnny Cash had a great feel. Conway Twitty, I would say, was really a soul singer. So I would say, singer-wise, you’ve got Conway Twitty, Roy Orbison and Robert Plant. I could see the three of them really liking each other’s music. And I like Ted Nugent from when he was with the Amboy Dukes.
Lately, you’ve been busy again with your own music.
We’re 34 songs into a 52-song project. It’s called The Odyssey. I don’t think anybody has tried to do that before. I’m excited. It’s some of the best music I’ve ever heard, but it’s caused me at 58 to be out on the road more than I ever was before with the promotional part. It’s good for me, or they tell me it is. But it’s really cool to be out here without the B.S. of a label, because there’s a lot of B.S. involved with a label.
Between the film studio and being an independent musician, you’re kind of your own boss, right?
Absolutely. All the risk is ours, but so are the rewards. When the rewards start coming, people will say, ‘Sure, you knew.’ But you don’t know. It’s all a total crapshoot. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I did the label thing. I was on CBS and MCA Nashville, and you don’t ever get any sort of accurate accounting about how your product is doing, how your music is doing. Financially, that’s one thing, but also you don’t know what music is striking a chord, what’s working and what’s not working. You don’t know what to do more of or less of. There’s a lot you learn just by doing it yourself that you’d never know.
We’re now in the time of the independent artist, for not only music but for filmmaking as well. All the stuff we do, we do in-house. We spend $10 and make $1. It’s not smart yet, but it will be.
Looking at your merch, you obviously embrace being Bo Duke to so many of your fans.
Well, it depends on who they are. The Haves and The Have Nots is the number one show on Tuesdays, and it has been for four years. But it’s odd. Even The Haves and The Have Nots fans want to talk about Dukes of Hazzard, which is okay. So yeah, I embrace it. It truly is one of the greatest shows ever. For 40 years, entire families have loved The Dukes of Hazzard, from grandma and grandpa and that whole male-female demographic to kids and even millennials. It didn’t skip that generation. Everything else skipped that generation, except The Dukes of Hazzard.
I think it represents a time when TV was a little more family-friendly, you know? You could watch it with your parents without feeling embarrassed, especially if they liked classic country music.
You had Waylon and also the celebrity speed trap, which I thought was genius. I got to meet a bunch of great people. That’s how I met Roy Orbison, Dottie West and Loretta Lynn. I met Waylon, certainly, because of The Dukes of Hazzard.
Was meeting Loretta and other country stars advantageous down the line once you became a singer? I’d imagine those are the right kind of connections for a country music artist to have in Nashville.
No, the only one I wound up touring with was Dottie West.
You know, she’s going in the Hall of Fame this year.
We did a tribute to her not that long ago. She was the true female outlaw. She was fantastic and died incredibly too soon and tragically.