Ever wonder what happened to those guys from ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’? For Tom Wopat, Broadway and a robust recording career followed. He’s at Jonathan’s on Saturday.
Tom Wopat seems have to the rare ability to be in two places at once.
For 35 years he’s been a fixture in our collective pop culture memory, as Luke Duke, racing around the back roads in the General Lee on the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
But for nearly as long, Wopat has also been in the recording studio and on the Broadway stage. He’s put out eight albums, ranging from rock and country to the Great American Songbook. And he’s starred in revivals of such big musicals as “Chicago” and “Annie Get Your Gun.” In the latter, in 1999, he was nominated for a Tony for playing Frank Butler, the male lead.
When he comes to Jonathan’s in Ogunquit Saturday to sing accompanied by piano and bass, Wopat will only be in the here and now. In his mind, he is a singer and stage actor who, when he was young and starting out, happened upon a role that people just can’t let go of.
But he can.
“When you’re in something, you can never tell what kind of place in history it might have. None of us expected what happened to happen,” said Wopat, 62, of the hit show that ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985. “It certainly was beneficial to me, and a lot of fun. But sometimes I wonder what sort of career on Broadway I might have had without it.”
When Wopat plays Jonathan’s, he’ll be singing a range of standards and pop songs from his latest album, “I’ve Got Your Number.” On the album, Wopat’s song choice ranges from his powerfully restrained version of the “The Good Life,” done by Frank Sinatra and others, to a soulful take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River.”
His live shows, he says, can include a wide range of pop, jazz or rock songs, including some he’s written.
“I want people to feel like they wandered into a bar and saw Sinatra playing with a trio,” said Wopat. “I just want to give them an honest interpretation of a song and show I understand what the song is about.”
Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Wopat remembers being influenced by ’60s pop, including Andy Williams’ version of “Moon River” and virtually anything by the Beatles. But he wanted to be a football player. In fact, he played one year at the University of Wisconsin, before an injury stopped that dream.
He knew he could sing, so in college he majored in voice. He spent summers at regional theaters, working in musicals and singing in bars at night. In 1977 he moved to New York to try his luck, and soon got a part in the Broadway musical “I Love My Wife.” While on Broadway, he got the chance to audition for “Dukes of Hazzard.”
Wopat says when he first read the script he thought “Dukes of Hazzard” was a “hokey.” But being raised on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, he figured he knew “what country is.” He got the part, and took it because after all, it was network TV and he was a struggling young performer.
But he wasn’t quite sure what he had gotten himself into.
“I was scared to death, it just wasn’t my strength. I had been preparing to be a stage musical guy,” said Wopat.
Wopat these days is living in New York City. Since the release of his latest album last year, he’s been playing more and more with a trio, or sometimes a duo. He says he’d like to line up “a bunch of clubs within 300 miles” of New York that he could play fairly regularly.
Wopat is not one of those performers with no time for a life outside of music. He says he likes to cook, garden, make things out of wood, ride motorcycles, watch football, and he’s learning to fly a plane.
He also says he has plenty of time for music fans.
“Let everybody know that I hang around the club before and after the show,” said Wopat. “Tell everyone I’ll be around.”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Jonathan’s, 92 Bourne Lane, Ogunquit
HOW MUCH: $27.50