When one first sits down with the renowned John Schneider there is a level of comfort and sort of a familial feel that resonates from him. Perhaps it’s because he is such a familiar icon from years past when he played the role of heartthrob, Bo Duke on The Dukes of Hazard – and in that show, the good guys always won. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the famed actor, also known as Judge Cryer on Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and Have Nots,” is very down to earth, caring and genuinely content with his new direction – both in acting and in music.
Though you may think of Schneider first and foremost as a versatile actor, he is also a very talented singer who in years past has had four Billboard No.1 hits and ten Top 10 singles. And now, Schneider’s self-proclaimed talent for spotting a hit song has brought him back to Nashville. Schneider is recording a 52-song project titled “Odyssey” that will feature behind-the scenes videos and showcase the inspiration, production and recording process of each song. Within each episode you’ll see guest interviews with some of Nashville’s most renowned songwriters including Bill Anderson, Keith Stegall, Mac Davis, Chuck Cannon, Paul Overstreet and many more.
Schneider’s recent visits to Nashville to record his project have come about in part to the catastrophic flood in Louisiana in 2016 that destroyed his home and studio for the second time. He needed inspiration – so he called on some of his songwriting friends and asked them: “What is the best song you’ve written that was never cut?” And the “Odyssey” project began to take wings. To date, Schneider has recorded 34 of the 52 songs, with more recording to take place in Nashville this summer.
It’s been 39 years since “The Dukes of Hazard” started in 1978. Schneider was 18 when the show started and took on a life of its own and success that no one could’ve imagined. Schneider relates it well saying, “when the ‘Dukes’ came along I’d been part of the Academy theatre in Atlanta. We did theatre like Shakespeare – but we did musicals. We also did children’s theatre and traveled around to high schools. So even at that point I was expressing the stories that were given to me through my odd-colored glasses,” he says. “Then ‘Dukes’ came along and it was great fun – but it was always other people’s stories and not my own. But then I got to write and direct the last episode of ‘Dukes’ called ‘Opening Night at the Boars Nest,’ so I thought that’s what I was going to be doing. I was finally telling [my] stories again. And so I’ve kept doing that.”
Transitioning from playing Bo Duke to becoming recognized as an actor who can play extremely versatile parts was a real challenge for Schneider. Despite proving himself in roles that are gruff, edgy, mean or immoral, Schneider says there are still some who can only see him as Bo Duke. But his roles on shows like “Nip/Tuck and currently Perry’s “The Haves and Have Nots” are starting to change any stereotyping that might have been on the horizon.
Further, the films that Schneider is writing and creating at his studios in Louisiana are most definitely breaking him out of any mold that may have previously been cast. Says Schneider, “it wasn’t really until I moved to Louisiana and opened this little studio there – with no knowledge of how to do that – that I started telling stories (my stories) through my weird glasses again. Alicia Allain had hired me to do a movie and she also read my scripts and told me they were good. So with her help, we started making them [into movies.] So we now have this wonderful machine that’s helping get my sometimes rather odd stories out.”
Schneider on how he’ll balance music and touring with acting:
I don’t know yet. I love doing music. Touring is not easy – but I love it. So I just don’t know yet. But I know we will do it.
On the “aha” moment when he knew he’d be an actor:
I was 8 years old. It wasn’t like I said “I’m going to be in the movies,” I thought – “oh, there’s a movie screen. I’m supposed to be up there, I’m not suppose to be down here.” And I started doing theatre and magic and juggling and everything in grade school. Because once I realized what I was supposed to do I’ve just kept doing that.
Then, music happened, which was great. And I wrote songs – but then I listened to real songwriters’ songs and realized I have no skill compared to Troy Seals and Bob McDill and Harlan Howard, I got no chops in this world at all. But I know a great song when I hear it and even more important, I know the difference between a great song and an exceptional song. And this go round for the “Odyssey” project, because of the question we asked the writers we’re only doing exceptional songs, we have no need for a “B-side” on a 45. They’re all fantastic. And I get to work with the best musicians in town.
On his approach as an actor:
Because I’m a writer, I pay attention. I do that so that at the end I can say something that will hopefully help you stay in touch with the dream you had when you were 8 years old, with your design. The most important thing I can say is that “whatever it is, it is never about ME.” I believe that even as an actor, my job as an actor is to make your job as an actor, as easy as possible. So if I can make you comfortable saying words that aren’t yours, wearing clothes that aren’t yours, if I can make you forget all that – then you’ll do something that will inspire me to be better than I am. So it’s never about me. It’s about the music, about the story – about the feeling people have when they hear the story. It’s about the inability not to dance, laugh or cry. It’s never about me. And I think people need to know that. And it shouldn’t be about me. It’s about them.
On fighting for his dreams:
Another thing I’ve learned is that a lack of problems is not necessarily an indication that you’re going in the right direction. The lack of opposition actually indicates that you are absolutely no threat…so they’re leaving you alone. The closer you get to the prize, the sharper the teeth and the longer the claws because others are reaching for the same thing. And that’s why dreams are worth dying for. And you usually do – and that’s okay. (no time soon). I’d rather die a foot from my goal than thrive living in yours!”