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Exclusive: John Schneider talks music, acting, ‘Dukes’ reunion

Schneider chatted with us exclusively from Vanderbilt University in Nashville

John Schneider is seemingly everywhere these days. He spent last fall competing on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, and his extensive acting career includes the iconic roles of Bo Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard, Jonathan Kent on Smallville and Jim Cryer on his current series, Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots. All three shows have been No. 1 during their primetime slots with the latter set to return to Tuesdays this fall on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

What many may not realize is that Schneider is also a celebrated country music artist with ten albums to his credit and four No. 1 singles on the Billboard Country chart since he began recording in 1981. In 2018, he launched an ambitious 52 song project, The Odyssey, releasing a song a week throughout 2018. In addition, he released Greatest Hits…Still, a collection of reworked hits in an acoustic setting, and a new Christmas album, Merry Christmas Baby, in December. He even launched an “I Didn’t Know You Sang Tour” because people would walk up to him saying, “I didn’t know you sang.”

Schneider was visiting a good friend at Vanderbilt University in Nashville when we chatted via phone mid-June. During our twenty-plus-minute call, we talked about everything from his music to acting to a Dukes of Hazzard reunion “tour” that he opted out of due to political correctness.

Until last year, Schneider had been out of the music industry for roughly thirty years. He says he became inspired to record and perform again when his girlfriend, Alicia, asked him a simple question a few years ago.

“I miss music so much, I’m so glad it’s back here. It was Alicia basically that asked me why I stopped. Whenever we had some pretty terrible weather [in New Orleans] — two floods in 2016 — and I was in our destroyed living room playing my old Martin guitar, and she came into talk to me about something and I put the guitar down and she said, ‘Why did you do that?’ And I said, ‘Well, playing the guitar makes me feel better,’ and she said, ‘No, I didn’t ask why you picked it up, I asked why you put it down.’ And all this music we’re talking about really came from that question. Her words were powerful. I’m so delighted that she asked that because I really had no idea that the hole in my soul where music had died is really getting full, and I’m six foot two, so it’s gonna take awhile.” (laughs)

The Odyssey was inspired by that question. Schneider missed music so much that he decided to release one song per week in 2018. He recorded the project at Sound Stage Studios in Nashville with some of the industry’s top studio musicians over the course of three groupings. Legendary studio drummer Paul Leim took the reigns on the first twenty-two tracks, reaching out to songwriters and putting the sessions together. Schneider says recording that amount of material in so little time isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

“It wasn’t all that difficult. It sounds like it was, but it wasn’t that difficult. The most difficult part was talking to songwriters, and Paul Leim did a lot of this initially for the first twenty-two. He would talk to people like Paul Overstreet and Chuck Cannon, Bobby Tomberlin — these great great songwriters — and say, ‘Look, John wants to hear only those songs that as soon as you wrote them you knew they were a smash, but no one has cut them. For some reason, no one has been able to hear what you hear, so only play us those’ — including Mac Davis. We cut a Mac Davis song he wrote forty years ago that nobody’s ever cut. It’s not that we got the best songs, even though we did, we got the greatest songwriters in Nashville’s favorite songs that seem to have, thus far, been grossly misunderstood.”

Schneider isn’t following any musical trends either. He is all about a good song and making each one unique while making them fit together.

“Even when we step out into more bluesy stuff, it’s all the same, it sounds like it belongs on the same record. It’s the same band. The stories are poignant. They’ll make you laugh out loud. They’ll make you cry. They’ll give you hope. It’s really amazing when you hang out with people that know how write words the way these guys and girls know how to write words. And if you do really varied stuff but it’s all true to the word, it’s all true to the story, which is what really I think country music really is at its core — it’s a great story well told. It’s not just at anyone would’ve called in the old days ‘ear candy.’ It’s not that crown music. It’s not something to have on. It should change you in some way and what makes you think, ‘Wow, that’s cool. I never thought about that!’ So I’m very very proud of it. I love every track on it. I really love singing Chuck Cannon’s stuff because he makes me sound smart.” (laughs)

During his time recording and filming his TV series, Schneider made time to re-record some of his greatest hits in reworked editions for Greatest Hits Still.

“What I think the greatest thing about the Greatest Hits Still is in the Eighties we had a tendency — I won’t say overproduced, but to produce a lot on a track, a lot of stuff on a track. On my last record for MCA, we jumped from 24 track analog to 32 track digital and by god, we were gonna fill everyone of those tracks with something. (laughs) But, this one is just me, a background harmony vocal, one guitar, maybe two cause we got this great little red guitar that sounds like a mandolin, a bass player and a cajon. So, our target for it and the single that’s out right now is called ‘Love, You Ain’t Seen The Last Of Me,’ our target was [Eric] Clapton’s remake of ‘Layla.’ So if you listen to that and then ‘Love, You Ain’t Seen The Last Me’ and go ‘Oh, I get it!’ and then you can tell me if we hit our mark or not.”

He said the idea of acoustic versions came from wanting to distribute his own master recordings and not somebody else’s.

“Honestly, in this new world where were our own distributor, it didn’t make any sense to distribute masters that were owned by somebody else. And since we had this great grouping of wonderful musicians, we decided that if there was ever a time to redo our music so that we could actually own our masters, it was now. So it was partially business, however, but as much as you know me as I can muster, I’ve never sounded as good as I do know. I think it’s because I’m so damn happy. My amazing girlfriend (laughs)… you get inspired. You can do amazing things when you want someone you love to say, ‘Wow!'”

Merry Christmas Baby also came out his re-commitment to music.

“I’ve been out of it for quite thirty years. That was inspired by Alicia. ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ is a B.B. King song. We got a couple of B.B. King songs on there, a couple of Louie Armstrong songs, ‘Zat You Santa Claus.’ [We] also went back and redid two Christmas songs that were on my album back in the Eighties ‘Katy’s Christmas Card’ which gets the question a lot, and ‘It’s Christmas,’ [written by] a dear friend of mine from my teenage days.

“And also, there we had two songs on the Odyssey Project that were Christmas songs since we were gonna release a new song every Tuesday and we did, two of those songs fell right around Christmas. One is called ‘Soldiers King’ which is a beautifully, beautifully told story about a soldier and the other one is a crazy Jerry Reed song about the question to Joseph about Mary, basically ‘Who Da Baby Daddy?'”

He quips, “I think we finally replaced ‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer’ in people’s funny Christmas songs.”

Schneider may have used mostly outside songwriters for the project, but says he’s written a few that have been recorded and plans to record more of his co-writes soon.

“After the first bunch of songs, I sat down with Bobby Tomberlin and wrote a little bit. We wrote a song on The Odyssey called ‘I’m Gonna Miss Him.’ Kind of a funny song about my wife [who] ran away with my best friend and I’m sure gonna miss him. I wrote the bridge for a song we did called ‘Two Trains,’ also a Bobby Tomberlin song. And I’ve been writing a lot since. So the next time we go in the studio, which I’m sure will be sometime soon, there will be some songs that I wrote. Honestly, I think I’ve written a good song until I hear what someone who really does it for a living does with twenty-six letters and unlimited words, and I think mine is really crap.

“I can tell a fantastic song when I hear it and I can tell that mine don’t measure up. You gotta be that way. Bobby Tomblerin, Bill Anderson and I wrote a song called ‘Weeds’ — like your garden has gone to weeds — I think we’ll cut the next time we go into the studio and it’s a beautiful song. I wrote one with Kyle Jacobs called ‘Gotta Drink Her Sober’ that’s on The Odyssey Project.”

As previously mentioned, the actor/singer has been in three TV series that have all been No. 1 in their primetime slots. Schneider says it’s a great feeling and his relationship with creator/writer/director Tyler Perry helped fuel his passion for music.

“It doesn’t suck, I’ll tell you that. It’s so great, it’s the third time, Dukes, Smallville and now this. I’m just delighted and I’ll tell you working with Tyler is about the most inspiring time cinematically of my life since I didn’t know anything. When I started The Haves and Have Nots, I thought I knew quite a bit, but I know so much more now by watching how he works. He’s an amazing, amazing creative force. If it wasn’t for our relationship with Tyler, I don’t think we would’ve bit off releasing a song every Tuesday. That sorta fervor was inspired by working with Tyler Terry. He’s great. I’m very fortunate. I’ve been a friend of his since working with him, that show has been No. 1 on Tuesday nights since it’s came out. And to play a bad guy — I like playing the bad guy. Yeah, they are [more fun].”

So what’s ahead on The Haves and Have Nots when it returns to OWN this fall? Schneider says he can’t tell us yet.

“We’re a year ahead. We filmed a year ahead. We have a whole year in the show that nobody’s seen yet so I have a year’s worth of secrets I can’t divulge.”

Besides being an accomplished TV star and musician, he faced one of his biggest fears last fall when he appeared on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

“The world grueling comes to mind. Being on Dancing with the Stars for ten weeks was like being in a hot yoga class for ten weeks. I lost twenty-six pounds, and I tell you what, I’m not afraid of anything anymore. The one thing I was afraid of was dancing in public.”

Schneider and his pro partner Emma Slater were eliminated after seven weeks of competition, but he returned for the Season Finale on November 19th to perform his latest single “Walk A Mile In My Shoes.”

Of the three TV characters he’s played, Schneider says Jim Cryer on The Haves and the Have Nots has to be his favorite role.

“Jim Cryer, the latest one, absolutely [my favorite]. You know, it’s so much fun to have no conscious. I just say — Jim Cryer comes out with the just worst things to say at the best times. It has to be what Larry Hagman felt like playing JR Ewing. I’m sure it was a lot of fun. Dukes of Hazzard was so much fun. In fact, we just did a Christmas movie called Christmas Cars that’s very reminiscent of Dukes and we’re gonna release it through our John Schneider Studios website, but as far as an actor and just being able to stretch out to whatever I feel is the most inappropriate thing at the best time, Jim Cryer is my favorite.”

Earlier this year, much of the Dukes cast reunited for the show’s 40th anniversary. Tom Wopat (Luke Duke), Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke), Ben Jones (Cooter Davenport), Byron Cherry (Coy Duke), Chris Hensel (Jeb Duke), Sonny Shroyer (Deputy Enos Strate), Rick Hurst (Deputy Cletus Hogg) and others began appearing at car show’s around the country to celebrate the famed show’s legacy. However, Schneider was missing from the cast and says he pulled out because he wasn’t going to cave to political correctness.

“What happened is they made the deal initially with me and then it turned, well — long story short — when they did their advertising they took the flag off the top of the General Lee, and I went online and said, ‘No balls, no Bo,’ and I didn’t go. Cause, you know, here, where I live, people do not bow down to politically correct thinking. When they claimed to be celebrating forty years of The Dukes of Hazzard and took the flag off the car, I thought, I can’t hang with you guys, because the fan base I’ve know for forty years isn’t going to stand for that. Bummer. Almost all of the other cast members did go, but I did not go. I can’t. I can’t associate with that. That’s a Hazzard statement, not a political statement. That’s a Dukes of Hazzard statement.”

It’s also worth noting that Schneider co-founded the Children’s Miracle Network, a non-profit organization that raises funds for children’s hospitals, medical research, and community awareness of children’s health issues. Founded in 1983, they have raised more than $7.7 billion dollars which is distributed directly to a network of 170 hospitals.

“I was twenty-two years old and I had done a bunch of things with theater for children’s hospitals at my young age and the opportunity came about to start a thing called Children’s Miracle Network where all the money raised would go to children and children’s hospitals. We’re 37 years old now and I’m part of something that’s helped raise 7.7 billion for children and children’s hospitals. I’m at Vanderbilt right now which has a wonderful children’s hospital.”

Fans can subscribe to Schneider’s YouTube page for the latest videos and can purchase music, videos and merch via his John Schneider Studios website.

Author: Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites.