BULLS GAP — John Schneider’s first movie appearance was a bit part in the 1977 hit “Smokey and the Bandit.” He got the role by sneaking onto the set near his home in Atlanta and pretending like he belonged there.
That same fearlessness served Schneider well two years later when the 17-year-old New York native who had only been in Atlanta for three years walked into an audition for “The Dukes of Hazzard” unshaven and sporting a newly acquired southern accent, a “funky hat” and carrying a six pack of beer.
After five weeks of call-backs and readings, Schneider beat out thousands of other actors to land the iconic role of Bo Duke on “The Dukes of Hazzard” series, which ran from 1979 to 1985.
Forty years later, Schneider’s career has come full circle.
His latest movie, “Stand On It,” written by and starring him and produced by his wife Alicia Allain, pays homage to his “Smokey” and “Dukes” heritage. It’s a fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek car-chase movie, but instead of the General Lee, Schneider drives a new hot rod Charger painted like the Bandit’s Trans Am.
He told the Times News last week the movie was an opportunity to pay homage to his hero Burt Reynolds.
“I’ll make the time for something like this”
Schneider may be the busiest man in show business.
Aside from “Stand On It,” he has six movie projects in post production; he just wrapped the seventh season of the TV series “The Haves and the Have Nots” (2013-20); he’s constantly recording new songs; and he recently landed his first No. 1 hit since 1986 — the duet “These Hands” with Cody McCarver from Confederate Railroad which topped the Christian Country charts.
So how does he find time to attend events like Saturday’s Hazzard Fest at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap?
“I’ll make the time for something like this,” Schneider said. “I think it’s amazing that people are still talking about ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ 41 years later. As long as people are willing to come out and celebrate the series, I want to be there to celebrate with them.”
Schneider said he believes the legacy of “The Dukes of Hazzard” will be the family and friendship relationships that are portrayed.
“The great thing about ‘Dukes’ is there were no cell phones in those days, so people’s heads were not buried in them,” Schneider said. “We actually depended upon our relationships, friendships and family in order to get through whatever the weekly issue was. I do think that people who are fans of “The Dukes of Hazzard” are more likely to pay attention to one another rather than ignore one another in favor of those who may call or text at any second.”
A day-long celebration
Schneider will be the headliner at Hazzard Fest this weekend along with McCarver and his “Dukes” co-stars Byron “Coy Duke” Cherry and Chris “Jeb Stuart Duke” Hensel.
Schneider will perform a VIP concert on Friday, followed by a meet and greet on Saturday, and then a concert Saturday evening with The Stars and Bars Band and McCarver.
The event features a day of live music, comedy, pro wrestling, a car show, vendors, dirt track racing and, in the spirit of Uncle Jesse, moonshine.
Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for children 5-10 and can be purchased online for $20 each in bundles of six or more at www.hazzardfest.com.
Facts about Schneider
• In 1982, Schneider co-founded the Children’s Miracle Network with Marie Osmond. He told the Times News that is the achievement he is most proud of.
“All of us at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals are working toward the goal of being able to raise $1 billion a year,” Schneider said. “I think we will reach that goal in the next five years. The biggest change I’ve seen in children’s health care over the past 36 years is that premature birth, especially extremely premature birth and very low weight babies, was far more of a death sentence in the old days.”
Schneider added, “Now when a child is born weighing only a pound, they are expected to live and almost always do, whereas 36 years ago that was definitely not the case. Medicine has also made great inroads in childhood diabetes and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is directly related to that research.”
• Schneider’s single “It’s Now or Never,” a remake of the Elvis Presley hit, peaked at No. 4 on the U.S. Country Billboard charts in 1981 and remains the top-charting Elvis cover of all time. It was also Schneider’s first big hit, which was followed by four No. 1 country singles and a No. 1 country album.
• Between 1981 and 1987, Schneider hit the U.S. Country Top 40 single chart 13 times, including 10 top-10s and four No. 1s.
“My music heroes growing up were people like Waylon Jennings, Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash,” Schneider said. “I think one of my best memories from that period of my life was meeting those guys and performing on the same stage with them.”
• In 1998, Schneider became a born-again Christian while living with Cash and June Carter Cash for about two years in their home near Nashville.
“I had been riding the fence a long time about Christianity,” Schneider said. “Johnny and I talked about it quite a bit. I finally came to the conclusion that if Christianity is good enough for Johnny Cash, it’s good enough for me, and I’ve never regretted that decision for a second.”
Nathan Whiteside: I’d love to hear his thoughts on being a part of one of the greatest TV shows and most memorable characters from our childhood.
Schneider: “The No. 1 thing I hear about people’s memory of ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ is that they remember spending time with love ones watching it. Of course they remember specific episodes, but more than that they remember their lives every Friday night as they gathered together as a family and watch this great show. Because of that, I actually feel as if I’m a part of their family and not just someone who is in a box in their living room.”
Dick Whiteside: Was John lucky enough to get one of the General Lees after the show ended?
Schneider: “Warner Brothers wouldn’t give you a paper clip, much less a car.”
Rick Hinkle: Which episode was he most proud of?
Schneider: “The final episode of the series, which I also directed, when Rosco loses Boss Hogg in the magic disappearing cabinet. It had some really good emotional moments. I think it really showed how much Rosco cared about Boss Hogg.”
Kaitlyn Riley: What’s his favorite memory from on the set of “The Dukes?”
Schneider: “Hanging out with Denver Pyle (Uncle Jesse). The relationship that he had with the Duke boys on the show was the exact same relationship that I had with him behind the camera. He was my mentor and adviser, and I learned a lot from him. Not just about show business, but also about life.”
Linda Wallace Sullivan: Lord have mercy, how’d he get them britches on?
Schneider: (Laughing) “One leg at a time.”
Peyton Boykin: Out of all the times crawling in and out of the General Lee, did you ever fall or get hurt?
Schneider: “Only one time, and thankfully it wasn’t on camera. There was a studio tour passing by, so I thought I’d give everybody a thrill, and I missed it. Let’s just say I’m glad that was before the age of cell phones and YouTube or I’d still be trending. Not very graceful to say the least.”
Carmen Musick: Could you still do it now?
Schneider: “Absolutely. I just need to make sure the door lock is down. Otherwise it could be a dangerous maneuver.”
Greg Ratliff: What’s his opinion on a possible modern series of the show, maybe new Dukes and cast characters etc?
Schneider: “I was not a big fan of the movie. Actually, it was terrible. I don’t see how they would be able to improve upon what we’ve already accomplished, so what’s the point?”