On January 26th, 1979, “The Dukes of Hazzard” premiered on CBS, and 40 years later the cast and fans of the show gathered in Nashville, TN to pay it homage.
The story goes that when “Dukes” premiered, a television critic for the Los Angeles Times said, “This show won’t last past the first commercial break.” But the show captivated audiences and it aired from 1979 to 1985. Ben Jones, aka “Cooter” on the show, commented, “Just goes to show you, never pay attention to your critics!”
If you missed the anniversary bash in Nashville, you can still satisfy virtually all your “Dukes” memories with a visit to Cooter’s Place in Luray. Plus you can meet Jones for autographs and photo ops (as well as other cast members who stop by often). In his long career, Jones has been an actor, musician, U.S. congressman, writer and political commentator. We caught up with him and asked him about the anniversary, and what’s coming up at Cooter’s Place this year.
SVTA: What is Cooter’s in Luray doing to celebrate the anniversary?
Jones: “We’ll be celebrating the anniversary all year, and of course the main event was just held in Nashville. It sold out early. There were concerts, cast appearances, an airing of the original show, testimonials and reminisces, a huge cake. It was a great time. As for our store in Luray, we have a whole line of anniversary merchandise—t-shirts, travel mugs, commemorative prints, etc.”
SVTA: What do you think accounts for the enduring popularity of the show?
Jones: “The show doesn’t age. It could have been filmed last week in Page County. It’s about country people. We drive back roads, we wear work shirts and boots. Comedy never gets old and neither does great county music. Plus it was a benign show…classic family entertainment. It was made for families to watch together and people in the show did the right thing–there was a friendly message. And we made some world-record car jumps!”
SVTA: Cooter’s first store in the Valley was in Sperryville and now you’re in Luray. What is that appeals to you about the area?
Jones: “We started in Sperryville in 1999 — so 20 years ago. We began to think about expanding and Page County said, “Come on over here.” It’s been the perfect location for us! A Godsend, really. The building we’re in used to be a motorcycle dealership—now we’ve got Daisy’s Diner, two shops, a full scale replica of Cooter’s Garage, and music every weekend in the former showroom. We’ve got three stores altogether now, with one in Gatlinburg and one in Nashville.”
At this point Cooter’s Alma Viator, aka “Miss Alma or Miz Cooter” — chimed in: “As for what appeals to us—the beauty of the area, of course. And the people are warm and welcoming. The Valley has the whole spirit of Hazzard County. It’s family oriented and there is a spirit of fun. People don’t take themselves too seriously.”
SVTA: We know Cooter’s gets visitors from all over the United States. Did you get people from other countries, too? Where?
Jones: “Oh, gosh—Italy, Germany, New Zealand, South America, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Vietnam…The show was popular all over the world.”
SVTA: Anything coming up at Cooter’s this year you really want people to know about?
Jones: “We host free live music every Saturday of the year from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. I stick around for autographs. On Sundays we have free bluegrass from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. We’ll be holding some Car Shows, and we’ll also be scheduling some personal appearances by cast members of the show. And we’ve got five great performances scheduled for our Shenandoah Jamboree.”
Visitors to Cooter’s Place in Luray will find a massive amount of “Dukes” memorabilia, clothing and toys; posters of Daisy, Luke, Bo and other characters, and a large screen television airing episodes of the series. All of the cars from the show are on display. Visitors can enjoy a meal at “Daisy’s Diner,” browse the shop, and then visit the enormous museum and garage.
If you’re wondering about the General Lee — while it doesn’t tear through the back roads of Georgia anymore, you can see it at Cooter’s Museum and Garage. (But don’t count on seeing the original General Lee; over 300 of the 1969 Dodge Chargers were wrecked during the seven-year run of the show.)
The Shenandoah Jamboree schedule Jones mentioned is as follows:
May 4 –Graham Brown
June 1 — Billy Dean
September 7 — The Mayberry Deputy
October 5: — Whey Jennings
December 7 — Cooter’s Country Christmas