Tom Wopat and John Schneider have enjoyed a natural chemistry together over the years. Of course, they came to the attention of America during their seven seasons as cousins Bo and Luke Duke in the hit '80s CBS series The Dukes of Hazzard. Though it has been almost three decades since the series ended, the entertainers still enjoy an undeniable synergy -- which can be heard all over their new Christmas album, Home for Christmas.
Schneider tells Billboard that working with Wopat was as comfortable as ever. "It was great. We have done a few concerts together over the years, but we have never been in the studio. He had been hitting me up to do a Christmas record all throughout the summer. I was never quite sure if he was serious or not, but apparently he was, because he started sending me some tracks -- which were absolutely fantastic."
Fans who remember the country hits of Wopat ("The Rock and Roll of Love") and Schneider ("I've Been Around Enough to Know") might be a little surprised at some of the styles represented on Home for Christmas. "Tom skews a little more of a Harry Connick Jr. swing direction when he goes out to tour with his band. It was the kind of music that I really wanted to try to sing with him. A month or two later, I found myself in a studio with Tom in Manhattan, and I think we made a fantastic record together."
Schneider says they had a little bit of help putting the project together from their friends. "We did it through a Kickstarter program, and we have a couple of concerts coming up -- two in New York, ones in Charlotte, Atlanta, and another at my barn in Louisiana to fulfill our promises. I think it's going to do well. I have high hopes for it. As a novelty item, it will do well, but the surprise is it's pretty darn good."
Wopat spoke of why the duo elected to go the Kickstarter route. "I have financed my past three solo records myself. It's worked for me, but each one has gotten progressively more expensive, and I knew that this one would be a different level altogether, with John not living here, the logistics of it were so different. I have a marketing person who came up with the idea of doing the album through Kickstarter. It was interesting, and the thing that really intrigues me about it is that you have a bunch of people that have a working interest in your career."
Home for Christmas runs the musical gamut, from the laid-back country sounds of "On a Quiet Christmas Morn" to the Frank Sinatra-esque flair of "Cool Yule." Another highlight from the disc is "Johnny, It's Cold Outside," their take on the standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside," which Wopat said was one of the first two tracks recorded for the project and features some humorous ad-libs. "We cut the first two tunes about five months before the rest of the record. On those first sessions, I had the engineers record our conversations. Nothing was scripted. It was just what happened in the booth."
What is it about Wopat that brings out the best in Schneider, and vice versa? Schneider deadpans, "Really, it's the other way around. I'm pretty adorable without him, but he's pretty dull without me," he says before turning serious. "Actually, we have a friendship that goes back to when we first met. We're very different, but there's a camaraderie we have together. I get along better with Tom than anyone I've ever known. And yet, we're very different people. It's not just time. We've had this great relationship from the first time we shook hands in 1978. I'm not quite sure what it is. But it's real. You can see it on The Dukes of Hazzard, and you can hear it on the album. There's a lot of banter between the songs, and you hear the relationship shining through. It was a lot of fun."
Wopat echoes those statements, saying, "We're blessed. I don't know how else to say it. I met him when he was 18 years old. I wasn't much older emotionally at that time. I had come out of the Midwest, and had been in New York for less than a year, and we hit it off. That has carried us for the rest of our careers and our personal lives, as well. This is the longest relationship I've ever had."
And it continues to this day, as the pair re-created their classic roles in a well-received commercial for AutoTrader.com, of which Wopat remarked, "As Larry Gatlin likes to say, they made us an offer that we couldn't understand. So we took it. It was fun. Back in the day, you might worry about being a pitchman for something, where that might signal the end of a career. Nowadays, not so much. You see Samuel Jackson, Ed Norton, Tommy Lee Jones and all of these great actors doing commercials. So we weren't that worried about it, especially after they told us what we were going to do. We had a blast."
But, will Schneider ever let Wopat get in the drivers' seat of that infamous 1969 Dodge Charger known as "The General Lee?" "I got to drive back in the day a little bit," Wopat says with a laugh. "I don't worry about it. I have no ego about the driving. It doesn't matter to me."