Well known actor, director, producer and singer John Schneider experienced the devastating floods that occurred in Louisiana, not once but twice last year. Not only did he experience the tragedy first hand, but he wrote about it and released an album, Ruffled Skirts, recounting the experience that he and countless others in the community went through.
In an exclusive interview with us, John Schneider shared in great detail the backstory on Ruffled Skirts, as well as how this experience inspired him to return to music and much more.
Country Music Rocks (CMR): You recently returned to the country music scene with a brand new and very personal album, Ruffled Skirts, that relates to the devastating floods that occurred in your hometown last year in Louisiana. Tell us a little about this collection of music.
John Schneider: “We had two floods in Louisiana last year. I’m from New York, but I live in Louisiana and have a little movie studio in a little town called Holden. In March of last year we had the 100 year flood where the river rose 6′-8′, and then in August it rose 24′. It was a terrible, terrible time last year. But what it did, it caused me to see a whole lot of things that I had never seen before. I had been told by folks like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and some really sizeable country music entertainers that you really can’t write about the blues, can’t sing the blues, until you’ve lived them. I’ve had a bit of a charmed life, but I had never seen anything like this. Both good and bad.”
“This album came out of a very catastrophic event in my life that I managed to not only live through, but learn a lot from. The songs are more than songs, they are pieces of a time, like a time capsule, some of them in great fun and some of them very tragic. There’s one [song] called “How Do You Stop The Water” that’s very tragic about an older gentleman refusing to leave his house because everything he owns is in it. There’s another one called an “Act Of God” that is based on the notion that race wars were getting so terrible in Baton Rouge that the flood came in and washed them away. Then there’s a really cool one that’s a tribute to the Dukes of Hazzard fans that are over forty and painted their bicycles orange when they were watching Dukes the first time and its called “Every Friday Night.”
“I’m very proud of this record. I found the music in the other albums that I did when I did the things with MCA and CBS. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of No. 1 songs back in the 80s. Those were songs I recorded, those were songs I helped produced, and those were songs I found, but those were not songs I helped write. This time it’s personal you’d might say.”
CMR: Instead of having writing sessions, you sent photos & videos to the other writers. Tell us a little about this unique approach you took on writing for this album.
John Schneider: “We are definitely creatures of the times. These songs were written when no one was in the same room. I had one friend in California and one friend in Baton Rouge. Even though my friend in Baton Rouge was close by, I couldn’t get to him because the roads were all flooded. So these were not only written during that time on a cell phone, but they were written as it was happening. People tell me it has a very immediate feel to it and immediate sound to it. Plus we recorded it three weeks after the flood water was out of my living room. We took all the rugs and furniture out and put in a drum kit, a bass player, three guitar players and a keyboard player, and recorded the basic tracks for the album right in that house that had been destroyed on the 14th of August. It’s very different and very personal in many regards, and I think people can hear that.”
CMR: You put this album together and released it pretty quickly. Was that part of your immediate plan to have this wrapped up in a short period of time,or did it happen organically where everything fell in to place and simply came together?
John Schneider: “We wanted to have the music out before people forgot the flood. We wanted to have it out before people forgot the inspiration for it. I think that was important and I think it caused us to not overthink it, which is another reason it sounds so immediate. I wouldn’t say it was part of a big overall plan, it was more like things happen and people forget and everybody moves on with their lives, so if we are going to do this and get these stories out, we have to do it now. So we did. And I’m so delighted. It was not part of my plan at all to jump back in front of a microphone. I had really thought I had been there, done that, and that time had passed. But this flood had brought the guitar back into my hands and Ruffled Skirts is what happened because of it.”
CMR: Now that you got back behind the mic and the guitar back in your hands, has it inspired you to get back in to music and continue to move forward with new projects?
John Schneider: “Oh yeah! I’m talking to the same writers and the band that we put together. The band is a fantastic group called the Cajun Navy which is one of the songs on the record. But we’re talking about doing a tour this summer, only for a month or two, and calling it the “I Didn’t Know You Sang Tour.” I’ve done a lot of music, but for whatever reason, every time I open my mouth and sing, the majority of the people go “I didn’t know you sang!” So with tongue in cheek, we’re talking about calling it that. We’re talking about doing a new album too, one that will hopefully not be based on any catastrophic events, but it’ll be more like “I’m back, I’ve jumped back in, let’s do this thing!” I’ve missed music very much. I didn’t realize how much until I picked it back up again.”
CMR: On the album you included a fun track called “Every Friday Night” and it pays tribute to The Dukes of Hazzard. Tell us a little about that song.
John Schneider: “I think that song is such a novelty. It’s an interesting story because that song was not that song. It was about a guy singing about how he was there every Friday night and we loved it. I heard it and I said to the writer, ‘hey look, I want to change the perspective on the song. I want to change a lot of the words on it, do you mind?’ and he said no. So I changed it all to singing about the Dukes of Hazzard fan. That song, I think, has the ability to jump out there and be a new anthem for the still millions of Dukes of Hazzard fans that are out there.”
CMR: Speaking of Dukes of Hazzard, what is one of your fondest memories of playing Bo Duke? While there are likely countless memories, what is one that pops into your mind right away?
John Schneider: “Tom and I were in the car one day and I was bragging to him about how great I was with throwing a 90 where you slide up to the camera with the car. So I was bragging to him about it because he had to do it, so I said, ‘I’ll show you because you’re probably out of practice.’ We were on the back lot of Warner Bros. and I slid around a corner on a dirt road and threw thing sideways and it went just a little bit past sideways. Once you do that, you lose it. I ran the rear end right into the only real building on the back lot. I tore this car up. It was brand new, it was our No. 1 picture car. That was funny, but the great part about that is when I told the transportation guy. I limped the car back the transportation guy and I said ‘Hank, I am so sorry, I wrecked this car.’ He looked at it and kind of sucked back a tear and said that’s okay and then he handed me keys to another one! We needed the practice and we needed to be good at it, but for however long during that time it was good to be king! I played a Duke but it was good to be king!”
CMR: While country music continues to grow and evolve, what is one thing about the genre that resonates with you?
John Schneider: “The fact that this music is from life. If there is such thing as a people’s music, country music is the people’s music. It talks about hard working folks, it talks about people who are celebrating the end of a great day of hard work, it represents people as they are. Pop music represents people as they want to be. There’s a truth and honesty and there always has been from Hank Sr. – to Hank Jr. – to Alan Jackson – to Dierks Bentley – to Big & Rich – to Merle Haggard – to Johnny Cash – to Waylon – to Kris Kristofferson, and all these great folks, there’s a truth and honesty to what they, and dare I say we, sing about. I think it resonates with people who work hard and who appreciate more that which they work hard for, than that which is given to them.”