By Richard Skanse
So did you hear the one about the Texas music revolution being crashed by a bunch of (gasp!) Oklahoma boys? At the time of this writing, half of the Lone Star Music Top 10 is occupied by Red Dirt invaders, with three of the albums — including the top seller — belonging to Stillwater-by-way-of-Yukon country rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed. And you better get used to it, because come Septermber — right about the time the quartet’s brand new live album, Live at Billy Bob’s, might be beginning to lose a little steam — they’ll be ready to drop their long-awaited third studio album, officially self-titled but destined to be forever known by Ragweed’s growing legion of fans as “The Purple Album.”
But fear not, Lone Star xenophiles. By the time Ragweed launches that formidable offensive, Texas will be able to claim at least half of the band as it’s own: both lead singer/guitarist Cody Canada and drummer Randy Ragsdale are leaving their Oklahoma digs for the Texas Hill Country. And if we can collectively forgive Jerry Jeff Walker for having been born in New York, a couple of Oklahoma boys should do just fine. Fact is, the band has long since proven its mettle to Texas music fans, both on album (particularly their last studio outing, Highway 377) and on stage. You can still find the occasional Texas music festival these days that doesn’t feature Cross Canadian Ragweed on the roster, but such Ragweed-deprived festivities just aren’t quite all that they can be. Take away the rock ’n’ roll energy these guys bring to a festival line-up of next-generation honky-tonkers, take away their rousing anthems about Vietnam War veterans, Jesus, and smoking pot — hell, take away the gargantuan Cross Canadian Ragweed merchandise booth — and it’s like taking “Whiskey River” out of a Willie Nelson concert. It just wouldn’t feel right.
To mark the occasion of the release of CCR’s Live at Billy Bob’s — and his imminent move to the banks of the Guadalupe — we caught up with Cody Canada for a quick chat while the band was en route to yet another Texas gig the day after rocking the stage at Pat Green’s 4th of July blow-out at Austin’s Waterloo Park.
So rumor has it you’re finally moving to Texas.
Yep. We’re looking in the New Braunfels area right now. Me and my wife, and our drummer Randy and his wife. We’re trying to do it in the next month. We’re going to rent a house first until we find one to buy. Every time we go to New Braunfels, it’s been a blast. It always feels like you’re on vacation down there. And we’re ready to go.
So how long has that been on the table? Did you get tired of people assuming you were a Texas band, and figure, “What the hell, let’s just make it official.”?
No. It doesn’t have anything to do with that, really. We just have a lot of friends down there. And where we live right now [Yukon, Okla.], the friends we have are in the band. So we’re ready to go somewhere by the water and hang out with more friendly people.
So what took you so long?
We’ve talked about it before, but we all live within a mile of each other — everybody in the band. And to get to this level, we all needed to live near each other. But now we’re on the road more than home, so if we moved, it really doesn’t matter. We’ll still see each other more than we’ll see our homes.
Do y’all take a lot of heat from Pat Green and those guys for being Okies?
Yeah. It’s always fun. “Damn Okies!” Or “Yankees” — that’s my favorite. But it’s not too bad.
So what are the Texas jokes that Okies have?
I really don’t recall any. [Laughs] Because every time anybody thinks of Oklahoma and Texas they think football, so Okies don’t have a lot of room to talk. OSU has no room to talk shit on anybody. I think the only thing we’ve ever beaten is Baylor.
Have you ever wished you were born in Texas?
Well, I actually was born in Texas — Pampa. But we’re proud to be Okies. We love coming to Texas because of all the fans down here and all the musicians treat us good, but we’re proud to be Okies. There’s a lot of good music in that state; not as much as there is in Texas, but Texas is a hell of a lot bigger.
Did you go to OSU?
No, I didn’t actually go to school there — I went to Stillwater for the music. It’s a really good music scene. They call it North Austin. [Laughs] And the people in Nashville call it West Nashville. It’s got a good vibe. The summertime’s real slow — the population is 40,000, and when school’s out, it’s 20,000 — but the whole Red Dirt scene, as people call it — everybody knows everybody and everybody helps everybody out. It’s the same way that it is in Texas. It is Austin on a smaller level.
So what was your introduction to music?
My mom bought a guitar when I was 5. She never played it, and I guess when I was about 7 I started messing around with it. She was going to sell it and I went, “No!” It kind of started from there. That and Merle Haggard.
And when did Cross Canadian Ragweed as we know it come together?
We got the band together eight years ago. We all went to school together — from kindergarten through high school. Played a lot at parties, just sitting around playing acoustic. Jeremy, our bass player, played in several other rock ’n’ roll bands. And Randy, our drummer, played with his dad. His dad was Johnny Ragsdale, who used to play with the Texas Playboys, and he played with Merle a couple of times, and Reba McEntire. Randy was his drummer forever.
So it started with us playing at parties really, in high school. It was more in the country vein back then. We did a lot of Haggard, and a lot of Todd Snider. Then we found Ian Moore, and it completely changed us. It rocked us more. But it took us forever to find our own sound — we really didn’t know that the songs we were playing by other people was our sound. That was the vein we were going for.
The band gets its name from you, rhythm guitarist Grady Cross and Randy Ragsdale. What about your poor bassist, Jeremy Plato? Did you try any variations of the name with him in it?
Yeah, it didn’t work out. [Laughs] We couldn’t figure out how to do it.
Does he carry a grudge?
Oh no. The joke is, we always say is Grady Cross, Cody Canada, Randy Ragsdale and Jeremy likes to smoke weed. [Laughs]
So what’s kept the band together for so long?
We knew each other long before the band, so we knew everybody’s pressure points and buttons before we actually tried living on the road together, so we had all that figured out. We don’t really argue about anything, and if we do, it lasts for about five minutes. We’re all one. Everybody brings something — it’s four pieces, and without one, you don’t have the band. When I get booked to do acoustic singer-songwriter shows I’ll go, “I’m not doing them without Jeremy.”
Do you do a lot of those?
Yeah, I have been lately.
Any plans for a solo album?
No. I’ve done guest appearance stuff with buddies, but it will always be a band thing. A couple of years ago I talked about doing an acoustic record with the songs that would take us 10 albums to record — the slow songs and stuff like that — but it’s a different deal now. We’ll keep it the way it is for a long time, I’m sure.
What’s your proudest moment so far as a songwriter?
You know Mike McClure from the Great Divide? We’ve known those guys for years. They’re really the guys that got us going. We saw them play and it blew us away. We were in high school, and we’d never heard of bands writing their own music. Anyway, I was at the Wormy Dog one night and I wrote a song, and Mike told me it sucked. I went, “You know what? I’m going to get you one day.” And we were in the studio later — he produced 377 — and there was this one song — “Johnny’s Song” — that made him cry. I told him, “I finally got you! I’ve been trying for seven years to get you, and I finally did it.” He just got to missing his daughter, and that song is about love and missing people, and he lost it. He sat there crying, but we were laughing about it. So that was it for me.
The title track of Highway 377 was inspired by the accident you had a couple of years ago, when the ’82 Chevy you were driving with a couple of other guys after your old day job in an oil field went off the road and fell 60 ft. into a ditch going 65 mph. The vehicle was totaled, but you all walked away. Is it safe to assume that’s the type of experience you think about every single day for the rest of your life?
Oh yeah. Like we’re driving down the road right now in the bus, and every little turn freaks me out. It’s pretty freaky, man.
So it definitely changed you?
Oh yeah, it did a lot. We didn’t know what we were doing or what we wanted to do [with the band], and when that happened it was like a wake-up call. We had all talked about quitting our jobs and hitting the road full time, and that’s what did it.
Not too long after that, Randy lost his sister Mandy in an auto accident.
Yeah, that was last year. Sept. 16. She was 9.
As close as you all are, how did you react as a band to that? Did it set you back any?
No. When Randy’s dad died, we were playing a four or five-hour gig in Stillwater, and we took maybe an hour-and-a-half break. And Randy comes back out and says, “Let’s go play.” I said, “No, you break your stuff down and go home, your dad just died.” He said, “Nope. My dad told me right before I left the house, he said, ‘Tonight I’ll probably die, and when I do, I want you guys to keep playing.’” So, since then — when Mandy died, it was like, you just keep on going. Don’t let anything slow you down. And it’s made everybody stronger, especially Randy. I don’t think I know a stronger person than that guy.
Your Christian faith seems to factor into a lot of your songs, including “Highway 377.” Is that a common ground for everyone in the band?
Yeah. It’s always been there. We’re all sinners. We party and drink and smoke pot, but we all know where we’re going when it’s all done. We pray before every show. And when we have a really, really good show that’s just a groundbreaker, we pray after the show to say thanks. It’s one of those deals that has to be written about for me, but it’s not something I write about every song. I pissed one guy off in Dallas at Adair’s — he wrote me a note that said, “Jesus Christ doesn’t believe in smoking pot and drinking beer, you hypocrite piece of shit.” Those were his exact words.
But Jesus does believe in people judging people, right?
Yeah. [Laughs] Like, the guy was giving me hell over something he was doing. Who’s the hypocrite here? But I wish I knew the guy, because I wanted to thank him — he made me write a song about faith and people’s opinions on it. It’s on the new record, it’s called “Carry You Home.”
Speaking of the new record — why “Purple”? Will we be hearing a Prince influence?
No. Randy’s sister, when she died — we hadn’t actually gone into the studio yet, but we were talking about what we were going to call the album. That’s always the hardest part. So we were trying to think of something, and we were remembering Mandy, and Randy said, “How about Purple?” Because that was her favorite color. The little girl was addicted to purple. And when he said that it was like, “Yeah! Duh! Why didn’t we think of that?” But we’re going at it the Beatles/Primus way — it’s not going to actually be titled “Purple,” it’s just going to be the color purple. It’ll be self-titled, but we’ll call it “The Purple Album.”
So what type of changes do you see between this album and 377? It’s been a couple years.
That’s it right there, it’s been a couple years. But for one thing, we finished 377 in three days. That’s hardly any time to do an album. And this one, we had like three weeks.
Which is still pretty quick.
Yeah, but to us it was like we had forever. “Three weeks? We can make a great album.” We recorded it in Denton. It’s a lot like 377, but it’s like the next level. There were songs on 377 that were touching the rock side, and there’s some on “Purple” that are belly deep in rock ’n’ roll. We didn’t try to tiptoe around the rock ’n’ roll to satisfy radio. We did it for ourselves this time.
Any favorite songs on it spring to mind?
“Broken,” the one I wrote with Mike McClure. We wrote it the second day we were in the studio, and we’re pretty proud of it — that’s one we’re going to push towards radio. And “Anywhere But Here,” which we’ve been playing quite a bit lately. It’s about our hometown, Yukon, where we never got any respect for playing music. We had to go to Texas or Stillwater to get respect, because Yukon’s one of those towns where it’s, “You’re born here, you grow up here, you die here,” and anything else is not acceptable.
So it’s got to be asked — why the new live album, so soon after the last live album [Live & Loud at the Wormy Dog Saloon]? Was the Billy Bob’s offer just too hard to pass up?
Yeah. It was like, “There’s no way we can turn this down.” When Randy’s dad was alive, he said, “If you ever play Billy Bob’s, you guys are big time to me.” So when Billy Bob’s called us to record the album, it was like we had to do it. We had to do it for Randy’s dad. It was the second time we played there, and the show was awesome. There was like 3,500 people, and they were rockin’, man. They were ready.
What was the highlight of the show for you?
The Reckless Kelly song [“Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah”]. We called those guys five minutes before we went onstage, because we couldn’t get a hold of them. We were like, “We really want to record one of your songs, and you’ve got to call us back.” Finally they called us back like two minutes before we went onstage and said, “Hell yeah, do it.” The crowd didn’t know we were going to do it, so it was real cool. They were Reckless fans, too.
So what’s the label situation right now? Any majors circling?
Yeah, we’ve got several offers right now. We’re not in a real big hurry. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t we’ll just keep going. We’re not really into the music business to be rich and famous — we’re doing it because we like to play music. So if we do sign something, terrific, and if not, we’ll just keep playing like we are. We’re looking for the right deal right now. But we’re probably going to release “The Purple Album” on a national label. That’s why it hasn’t come out yet.
You must feel like you’re on the edge of something big with this one.
Oh yeah, we’re excited about it. We went out to Nashville a few weeks ago and played for some of the biggest guys in the business, and those people were telling us, “We don’t want to change a thing about you guys.” Most artists go in and they’ll tell them, “We want you to do this, cut your hair, do these songs.” And the ones that came to us said, “We want you to be exactly what you are — don’t change anything.” You can’t get a better deal than that. So we feel like we’re on to something.
What, for you, would signify success? Where would you like to see Cross Canadian Ragweed go in the near future?
Saturday Night Live. You’ve got to be a pretty popular band to get on there. We really want to do that, just because it’s so hip, you know? You’re not cool unless you do that. Or Sesame Street. It’s crazy man, but there are big time guys doing Sesame Street — it’s the thing to do. Other than that, the goal is just to stay together … and don’t sweat the small things.