In March of 2016, a savage storm pummeled Louisiana with a torrential downpour that dumped over two feet of water on The Pelican State. Initial figures, which were released shortly after the storm, estimated that nearly 5,000 homes were damaged due to flooding.
Less than six months later, a precise set of atmospheric conditions held a brutal storm stationary in southern Louisiana for a prolonged period. The devastating deluge dumped three times more water on the state than Hurricane Katrina. Entire ballfields were completely submerged. Terrifying images of water up to the eaves of homes surfaced on the internet. Ariel Louisiana Helicam shots revealed entire towns where there was little more than rooftops visible above the floodwaters. An estimated 30,000 people were evacuated and an unprecedented 146,000 homes were damaged.
John Schneider (“Dukes of Hazzard,” “Smallville,” “The Haves and the Have Nots”) lives at his picturesque 58 acre studio with Alicia Allain. Located next the Tickfaw River, John was a victim of both floods.
“I stopped doing country music back in ’89,” John informed. “In my mind, I had been there, I had done that, and I got a T-shirt. But people — including my parents — kept telling me that I should still be doing music. My response was, ‘Why would I want to run out there, travel all those miles, sing other people’s songs, and take the chance of spending my last days in a bus?'”
“I had not experienced something that caused me to feel what real music is,” he continued. “Certainly some music comes out of joy — I think praise and worship music comes out of joy — but you can’t sing the blues unless you’ve lived them.”
After being helpless as four feet of floodwaters rushed in and destroyed much of his film/recording studio, John began writing the first few songs that would go on to become his triumphant return to country music.
Ruffled Skirts is a poignant album of audio portraits, a remarkable collection of snapshots that captures the distinctive soul of Louisiana in song. John has managed to craft a masterpiece that would make even legends like Johnny Cash and George Jones proud.
“It’s hard to do something that is both planned and spontaneous at the same time, but it seems like the old style of doing music was just that,” John pointed out. “The only thing they planned was to show up at the same time, maybe around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Then they got their guitars and their drums and their fiddles out, and they just did it. And that’s what we did, too. It was a great experience.”
In an effort to give the recording something extra, a sound that was as familiar as it was different, John did something a little out of the ordinary.
“We tuned the guitars down a step so we could feel a little rattled on the fretboard. We tuned the toms down a little bit, too.”
Another thing John did that was slightly different from the norm was he co-wrote through pictures. When he and Alicia left the studio to go check on Alicia’s parents, they saw people with all their belongings out on the curb who were desperately trying to find higher ground. But there was no higher ground.
“I started taking photographs with my iPhone and sending them to songwriters Scott Innis, Clifton Brown, and Phil Redrow. I said, ‘We have to write about this because this is something the likes of which I had never seen before. And hopefully will never see again.’ We have a picture of a guy with a fishing pole who is sitting on his rooftop, so that’s where the line, ‘Your Uncle Skeeter’s on his rooftop, fishing from his chair,’ came from. People were trying to make the best of it. They were just ‘Going with the Flow,’ because there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it. They were ‘fishing in a river where the river never flowed.’ We saw all of those things.”
In his sizzling song, “The Cajun Navy,” John not only acknowledges the heroism of the brave men and women who selflessly risked their lives to help their neighbors, but he also included a few choice words for the bureaucrats who were trying to stifle that heroism.
“We were pissed when we wrote that song!” John declared. “Here were people who were getting into their boats and saving the elderly, puppies, and everything in between, even though their houses had been flooded and they had just lost everything. There was a senator in Lafayette who was trying to charge them to be trained before they could help anyone and that was just bullsh*t!”
“Just prior to the August flood, there were terrible, terrible race riots going on here,” John recalled. “A policeman got shot and that was the first time I heard the phrase ‘blue people.’ I’d heard black people, white people, yellow people, and red people, but I’d never heard of blue people. I put that thought in the back of my head because once the flood happened, we didn’t hear anything about that anymore. There were police officers who had lost their homes and the people they were staying with might have been people they had pulled over the week before. That wall of separation was just washed away by the flood.”
“I sent that notion to Phil Redrow in California, and he wrote, ‘There’s colors, no blacks no whites, no blues, there’s just me helping you.’ It’s a magical song. I’m so excited for that one. I feel like I’m back in the game.”
For the moving opener, “In the Shelter,” John enlists the help of some amazing young vocalists. At the end of the album, the talented sisters return with a beautiful rendition of “Sweet Rose of Sharon.”
“I met those girls four years ago when the oldest one was probably only ten years old. I was at a friend’s brother’s funeral and he said, ‘You gotta hear these girls!’ A lot of people say that, but then these little girls opened their mouths and it was like God was singing through them. It was unbelievable!”
Ruffled Skirts is more than a stunningly beautiful country album. It’s a documentary. When you listen, you can feel something extra, an intangible element that whispers in the silence between the notes. John has created the most eloquent work of perhaps his entire career. As he puts it, “Ruffled Skirts is not just music, it’s a truth. A truth that occurred here in Louisiana in 2016… twice.”
Fun Fact: Many years ago, when John was friends with the “Man in Black,” he was told, “If you ever want to cut any of my songs, they’re yours.” Over 20 years later, Johnny Cash’s “Five Feet High and Rising” became a perfect fit for Ruffled Skirts.
Photo Credits: Amy Konieczka
John’s next movie, “Anderson Bench,” comes out on Valentine’s Day. The film has been called “A disturbingly romantic film along the lines of ‘Natural Born Killers.'”