John Schneider and Tom Wopat have been friends ever since they met in the late 1970s as costars on The Dukes of Hazzard. Now, the men who played mischievous cousins Bo and Luke Duke have reunited — but not for a new season of the show. As Wopat explains, the pair has long nurtured a different creative partnership that never played out onscreen.
"As soon as we met, we were singing together," Wopat says. "We spent so much time in that car, and we were both big popular music fans and musical comedy fans. We knew a lot of the same stuff and we had a lot of the same tastes."
Schneider and Wopat have recorded an album of holiday music called Home for Christmas. The two are great admirers of one another's vocal styles — Schneider compares Wopat's singing to a well-moistened saxophone reed, saying, "You can hear the history in it, you can hear life in it. I love that. And his phrasing is fantastic." And Wopat says that even though Schneider has the deeper voice, they sound uncannily alike when heard together.
As for the material, Schneider and Wopat are fans of the holiday season, and point out that Christmas music never goes out of style commercially. But Schneider says there's another reason why the idea appealed to him.
"The melodies are fantastic," he says. "When a song's been around for a long time, there's a reason for that. You know, it's not just a pop culture phenomenon, it's a great song. Great songs withstand the test of time."
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's been more than 35 years since "The Dukes Of Hazzard" first hit TV screens. Tom Wopat and John Schneider played cousins Bo and Luke Duke on the hit show. And in real life the two became close friends and stayed that way. They credit a lot of their close kinship to music. So when Wopat called up Schneider and said, hey, want to make a Christmas album? It was an easy sell. It is called "Home For Christmas."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY HOLIDAY")
JOHN SCHNEIDER: (Singing) It's the holiday season.
TOM WOPAT: (Singing) And Santa Claus is coming 'round.
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) The Christmas snow is white on the ground.
MARTIN: I caught up with John Schneider and Tom Wopat recently. And we started our conversation where they started their friendship - music.
WOPAT: We've been singing together on and off in different guises for 35 years. As soon as we met we were singing together.
MARTIN: Is that true?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yeah.
WOPAT: Yep. But what happened was about 15 years ago I started doing The American Songbook stuff when I was doing "Annie Get Your Gun." And I started working with jazz musicians and working with some of these great songs. And I had always thought it'd be fun to do a record with John. And John is actually, you know, really commercially viable. That's why your name is first on the record.
WOPAT: But the thing is, too, is that it actually - as we started working on it and working on the different material, especially when we started mixing, it sounds so good together.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLEIGH RIDE")
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) Just hear those sleigh bells jingling. Ring, ting, tingling, too. Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.
WOPAT: (Singing) Outside the snow is falling, and friends are calling yoo hoo. Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.
MARTIN: So you could've done a lot of different kinds of projects together - musical projects, different albums. Why a Christmas album?
SCHNEIDER: Well, the songs are tried-and-true. The melodies are fantastic. The arrangements that Tom had done are fantastic. But when a song's been around for a long time, there's a reason for that. You know, it's not just a pop-culture phenomenon, it's a great song. Great songs withstand the test of time.
MARTIN: It's also a lot of pressure to doing that, though.
WOPAT: Well, yeah.
SCHNEIDER: Well, yeah, but we can handle it.
SCHNEIDER: We have the strength of our ignorance.
WOPAT: The thing - the other real blessing of a Christmas album is it's the gift that keeps giving. You know? Hopefully we can do kind of a perennial tour with this kind of material for the next 10, 15 years, John.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLEIGH RIDE")
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) We'll be singing the songs we love to sing without a single stop.
WOPAT: (Singing) At the fireplace while we watch the chestnuts pop.
WOPAT: We blend really, really well on this. We're both, at some point, sang in barbershop quartets way, way back when. And it was great to work with him.
MARTIN: Well, why don't I do this? Can you describe the other's voice? John, can you describe Tom's voice?
SCHNEIDER: Tom's voice is like a well-whetted saxophone reed. I don't mean this in a bad way at all, but you can hear the gravel in it.
WOPAT: Some days there's more gravel than others.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, some days there's more gravel than road.
WOPAT: This is one of them.
SCHNEIDER: But, I love that. And his phrasing is fantastic.
MARTIN: OK. Tom, how does John's voice sound?
WOPAT: Yes. Well, John is - you know, John's got the velvet tones. And he's got a big, deep voice. He's got a sonorous voice. What's kind of interesting is that when we sing, they become much more alike.
SCHNEIDER: I phrase like a puppy, and Tom phrases like an old porch dog.
WOPAT: Easy. (Laughter).
SCHNEIDER: I mean that - you're just laying in there. It's great. I'm, like, hey, here's a song. And he's, like, hey, now let me sing this song.
WOPAT: Listen to the bottom end of that voice, though. Huh?
SCHNEIDER: Hey, hey. Yeah, well.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE")
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) I really can't stay.
WOPAT: (Singing) But, Johnny, it's cold outside.
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) No. I've got to go 'way.
WOPAT: (Singing) It's really coming down out there.
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) Yes, this evening has been so very nice.
WOPAT: (Singing) Was hoping you'd drop in. You brought the beer, and it's on ice.
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) My mother will start to worry.
WOPAT: (Singing) Come on, what's your hurry?
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) My wife will be pacing the floor.
WOPAT: (Singing) Listen to that fireplace roar.
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) Maybe I'd better scurry.
WOPAT: (Singing) I'd love that...
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) Hell, maybe just a half a glass more.
WOPAT: (Singing) Why don't you put some Whalen on while I pour?
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) Oh, the neighbors might think.
WOPAT: (Singing) Johnny, it's bad out there.
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) Tom, what's in my drink?
WOPAT: (Singing) No cabs to be had out there.
MARTIN: So who's responsible for that poetry, those lyrics?
WOPAT: Boy, you're being kind. I did that. Apologies to Frank Loesser, but that was part of the genesis of this record, I think. It would be fun to get that recorded and of course a lot of other Christmas tunes with it. We have a wide range of material from a country tune...
MARTIN: Yeah, how did you pick?
SCHNEIDER: ...Like the Peanut's song. I love the "Christmas Time Is Here." Great song.
WOPAT: Yep. That's a great tune. Oh, the Steve Allen song, "Cool Yule," which is really swinging.
SCHNEIDER: Oh, gosh, "Cool Yule." Fantastic.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COOL YULE")
WOPAT: (Singing) From Coney Island to The Sunset Strip, somebody's going to make a happy trip tonight while the moon is bright.
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) He's going to have a bag of crazy toys to give the groanies of the girls and boys. So dig.
MARTIN: So that's a totally different kind of sound. That's a different Christmas song. What do you like about that track?
SCHNEIDER: Well, it just groves. The grove is so great.
WOPAT: It's a cool cat lyric, too. I mean, Steve Allen was writing this stuff. And the version I heard was Louis Armstrong doing it. And he swung the heck out of it. So we thought it might be interesting to try a Latin approach. We were blessed. We had great horn players, and it swings hard.
SCHNEIDER: Oh, man. You're going to flip when old Saint Nick takes a - blows a lick on the peppermint stick. Ba dahp. (Singing) And you're gonna lick - you're gonna flip.
SCHNEIDER: Ready? Two, three.
JOHN SCHNEIDER AND TOM WOPAT: (Singing) You're going to flip when old Saint Nick blows a lick on the peppermint stick. Ba dahp.
MARTIN: Now that is good.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COOL YULE")
SCHNEIDER AND WOPAT: (Singing) Fill the stockings by the fireplace so you'll have yule that's cool. Oh, yes, you'll have a yule that's cool.
MARTIN: How old were you guys when you met?
SCHNEIDER: I was 18.
WOPAT: I was 27. Now I'm 63, and he's 55 - 54.
WOPAT: That's right.
SCHNEIDER: I'm 18.
WOPAT: Double nickel next year.
SCHNEIDER: That's right - speed limit. Well, in the 70s.
MARTIN: You guys - are you both married?
SCHNEIDER: To each other.
WOPAT: No, no. Oh, yeah. That'll get out. Yeah, there you go.
SCHNEIDER: We finish each other's...
MARTIN: It kind of seems that way.
SCHNEIDER: ...Most of the time.
WOPAT: Somewhat. We've been around each other a long time.
MARTIN: And you like each other.
WOPAT: We are deep in tolerance.
SCHNEIDER: My longest relationship, by far.
WOPAT: Oh, mine, too.
MARTIN: It has been such a pleasure to talk with both of you. It's put me in the holiday spirit. I have to admit I wasn't quite there yet.
WOPAT: Good, good. You should check out the CD. You'd like it.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, it's really good. Well, you heard some of it there.
WOPAT: It makes a really good Christmas gift.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE")
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) Christmas time is here.
MARTIN: There you have it. The Dukes of Hazzard singing Christmas songs. BJ Leiderman definitely did not write this, but he did write our theme music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin wishing you and your family a very happy holiday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.