Local Dukes#039; fans enjoy Cooter#039;s Garage Band By Jason Norman 07/26/2005 When you#039;ve gone from playing a good ol boy mechanic on a worldwide-loved television show to battling Newt Gingrich

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 26, 2005

When you've gone from playing a good ‘ol boy mechanic on a worldwide-loved television show to battling Newt Gingrich for a Congress seat, what else is there to do?

How about starting a band? That's what Ben Jones, who played Luke, Bo and Daisy's car-healing buddy Cooter Davenport on the show "Dukes of Hazzard," did n and Friday evening, a few hundred Suffolkians heard the sounds of Cooter's Garage Band at Constance Wharf outside the Suffolk Hilton. Formed in the late 1990s, the band has played at the Grand Ole Opry and up and down the east coast.

Even before he became the makeshift mechanic, Jones appeared in more than 200 films, television shows and theater productions. But it wasn't until the tales of Bo, Luke and Daisy Duke and their Uncle Jessie and the family's weekly battles with County Commissioner Boss Hogg and his right-hand man Roscoe Coletrain in Hazzard County premiered in 1979 that America truly got to know the man whose CB handle was "Breaker one, breaker one, might be crazy, but I ain't dumb!"

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Since it kicked off on Country Music Television with a marathon in February, "Hazzard" has pulled in some of the station's highest ratings, and its DVD sales have been going well. Next Friday, the cinematic version of the show, starring Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville and Jessica Simpson as the three Duke kids, will hit theaters.

"The show is a hit right now," said Jones, who grew up in Portsmouth. "Not just in the United States, but all over the world. It was such a positive thing that we did with the show."

After the show ended in 1985, he took the unsuspected step into politics, serving two terms from the Fourth District of Georgia in Congress, and still appears on political talk shows like "Crossfire" and "Hardball."

"I've had a lot of careers," said Jones, who still introduces himself to fans as Cooter. "I worked as an entertainer for 40 years, and some of my best acting work was in Congress. Unfortunately, C-SPAN doesn't pay residuals."

While Jones took a few minutes to warm up his band, fans started to crowd in front of the stage.

"I LOVE the ‘Dukes of Hazzard'!" said Helen Green, 78. "I love Bo and Luke and Daisy and Uncle Jessie, but I think Boss Hogg would swindle his own mother! I watch the show every night. Someone asked me if I ever got tired of it, and I said, ‘Never!' No matter how many times I've seen a show, I'll still watch it."

She's often joined by her granddaughter Angie Allen.

"We're both big fans of the Dukes," said Allen. "I was about five or six when it came out. It was my favorite show, and it's still my favorite show."

Near the stage, other Hazzard fans milled around one of Cooter's most common projects on his mechanic shop n one of the 1969 Dodge Charger orange confederate flag-displaying General Lee stunt cars used on the show. Although roughly 300 were used during the course of the show (after all, Bo and Luke could only jump so many ditches and cliffs on their way away from Boss Hogg), only a few are still in running condition.

"I got it because I could get it," said owner Keith Winfrey of Chesapeake, who bought the car from a friend in 1991. "I was about 16 years old when the show came out, and I watched every episode for the first five years. I had to do a lot of mechanic work to make it drivable. I usually put it in shows and tours, or drove it for fun when the weather's nice. There's no air conditioner or carpet, so you could fry eggs on the floorboard when it's hot out."

Jones and his band entertained the crowd with old hits like "Ramblin' Man" and "Johnny B. Good."

"I want to thank you all for coming out here to see us tonight," he shouted to the crowd. "Duke fans will always be the best!"