By Rob Patterson
If there was ever a band that embodied the “one for all and all for one” notion, it’s Cross Canadian Ragweed. Although lead singer, lead guitarist and primary songwriter Cody Canada gets the lion’s share of the press attention, CCR is a genuine democracy and a true band of brothers. The group members all grew up together in Yukon, Okla., a small town they have at least somehow managed to redeem from the fact that it’s also where Garth Brooks hails from. As indicated by the title of their latest rocking platter, Garage, the band started out as a bunch of guys who loved playing rock and country for the fun of it and have since worked their way up to become one of the top acts on the Texas/Red Dirt music scene.
These days, the band is at least one-half officially Texan, as Canada and drummer Randy Ragsdale now live in New Braunfels. Bassist Jeremy Plato was also living there before he moved back above the Red River to the tiny town of Calumet, and rhythm guitarist Grady Cross has been holding down the fort in Yukon all along.
Lone Star Music caught up with Cross, Ragsdale and Plato by cell phone as they were on the bus to a gig after a break from their relentless touring schedule while the CCR family expanded with the births of some children. “It’s about time we get to a show, man,” said Ragsdale. “We’ve been off so much lately we’ve been getting cabin fever and going crazy at home.” And if you want the secret to their success, that’s a big part of it — these guys love playing music together. So much, in fact, that one has no doubts when they say they’ll be doing just that for as long as they can climb up onstage and plug in and rock out (with a country accent of course). Given how much spirit and fun Cross Canadian Ragweed offer on CD and live, we’ll borrow and adapt a line from Neil Young as a show of support for their goal of making a lifetime of the band: Long may they run.
What players on your particular instrument do you admire and you feel have inspired you?
Ragsdale: John Bonham for sure. The old Hendrix stuff with Mitch Mitchell. That old just bang away rock ’n’ roll stuff — Keith Moon, Ginger Baker. I’m just listening to the drums on stuff like that. I also like Buddy Rich when it comes to soloing. We’ve been getting into the drum solo thing in the past year, and I’ve been using all the old Buddy Rich tapes that I can find.
Plato: There’s several actually. As far as style, above all by leaps and bounds, is Jaco Pastorius. I’m really inspired by his stuff, and his use of harmonics and his versatility with all kinds of music. And then as far as playing in the pocket and groove all the time, I would have to say Bill Whitbeck. He’s really solid and I like his style. It seems every time we get around each other we talk shop.
Grady, how does the guitar playing relationship between you and Cody Canada work?
Cross: Oh man, I’m basically just a rhythm guitarist and we’ve been playing together forever. I just think it works pretty well. We kind of feed off of each other. I read an article about Waylon one time, and he said — and I always tell this to the rest of the guys just as a joke — “I think rhythm guitar is the most important piece in the band. I only learned a little bit of lead to stick up for myself.” So that’s what I always tell them if they give me shit. Hey, Waylon said it so it must be true.
In every band, each member plays a bit of a different role and brings something about who they are and their personalities to the mix in addition to their musical contributions. Can you each tell us what each of you brings to the band?
Ragsdale: Man, I just dig the fact that we’re close like a family. I think that started at the very beginning because of the way I was raised was that the music was in the house and in the living room. The TV might be on, but the music was blaring loud, so you might as well turn it off. There was always that thing growing up at my house. I think the closeness as a brotherhood maybe came from my end. My Dad would let us play on Super Bowl Sunday as long as he could see the TV while we played in the living room. The music was real important for my family when I was growing up, and the band grew up just like a family. So I say I’d brought a bit of that to the band, and eight or nine Merle Haggard songs.
Plato: I joke around a lot. I’m always trying to make people smile and laugh at me. I try to keep things lighthearted. Sometimes I go over the top, but that just happens. Other than that, all of us make up a glue that keeps us all together. Onstage, it’s my concentration. I always look like I’m mad, but I’m not. I’m just trying to concentrate.
Cross: I’m just a pretty good bullshitter, I guess. That’s kind of a tough question. Maybe you should ask someone else what it is.
Are there ever moments when you reflect on what the band has accomplished and think, wow, look at what we’ve done?
Ragsdale: If you sit and really think about it, it is pretty amazing really. None of us can actually read music. We’re just a glorified garage band that got lucky enough to be able to pay our bills and go play music. Yeah, we’re definitely blessed I guess would be the word.
What is it that has given Cross Canadian Ragweed such solidarity and will keep you going together for years to come?
Plato: We’ve always gotten along. We’ve always shared our musical tastes with one another. We’ve always just tried to make it work and not let the little things get in the way of the big picture, which is doing this for the rest of our lives. We love playing live — that’s our deal.
Cross: We were all friends first, so that is a big factor in it. We’ve been through the van days; we were in a van with a trailer for seven years, so you learn everyone’s buttons real quick. So once you get past all that, I think you’ve got it made. We’ve always been pretty tight. I think the music really keeps us together.
So what music are you guys digging while you’re on the bus these days?
Plato: We always listen to old Merle Haggard. I got the new James McMurtry last night, which I think is pretty cool, a great record. I always try to bring something a little different on the bus sometimes. I got a hold of a Steely Dan bootleg — live from the Record Plant in Los Angeles in March 1974 — and brought it on the bus and everyone liked that. We were up in Seattle not very long ago and there was a really good record store right next door and I bought the entire ’72 to ’82 Steely Dan catalog on vinyl for 60 bucks.
If under threat of death I asked you the question musicians hate to be asked — what’s your style and what do you sound like? — how would you answer it?
Ragsdale: That’s a tough one. I hate that. The easiest and shortest way would be Southern rock. We all grew from country roots. We all knew our Merle Haggard growing up. And we all got into the Nugent and everything like everyone else did when we were growing up. So I say maybe like a country-influenced rock sound.
Jeremy — you’re the one guy whose name isn’t included in the band name. How’s the feel to you?
Plato: It doesn’t bother me. I still feel like I’m part of the total package.
So Randy — how do you like living in Texas?
Ragsdale: Man, I love it. It’s awesome. It’s a breath of fresh air for sure. I’ve been here about a year-and-a-half. It’s great. A good place to raise a kid, too.
But you will always be an Okie at heart, won’t you?
Ragsdale: That’s where we all grew up. I’ll live here forever probably, but I’ll always deep down consider myself an Okie. I think it’s just all the memories that we have of growing up, getting to know each other, being friends, getting the band started. And going through all kinds of different struggles, and it was all in Oklahoma.
Grady — tell me how the folks back home in Yukon think of the band.
Cross: Now or how did they used to? It’s just an old farm town, so we used to get people asking, “How’s your little band doing?” That’s like asking, “How’s your little dick doing?” That’s kind of the way they used to relate to us. And now it’s a little different. We finally have people coming and talking to us now, which I guess is cool. I’m still the same guy, but it’s changed a little there.
No sign yet saying that Yukon is the hometown of Cross Canadian Ragweed?
Cross: They did that for Garth on the water tower. Some people climbed up one drunken night and painted our name up there. It didn’t get as high as Garth’s, though.
Randy — your father, who is now passed away, was a musician who had played with Bob Wills and used to let the band practice in the living room. Did he live long enough to see some of your success, and how did it make him feel?
Ragsdale: He passed away in ’97, and right after that, we put out our first record, Carney. So he knew we were in the studio. He saw that starting to happen before he passed away. And he knew we were going to do stuff. He was basically kind of like a damn drill sergeant or something. He knew if we had a big show, or what we thought was a big show back then, he would tell us to get our asses in there and practice.
What have been some of the proudest moments to date for the band?
Plato: There’s been so many of them. Whenever we get done with another record, we’re all very relieved and there’s a buzz, everybody’s high because of it. And lately, everybody having kids. That’s been a real big one of course. The places we’ve gotten to play and people we’ve met — there’s been so many. Being on tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd was pretty cool too. And playing shows with ZZ Top was really awesome.
Cross: Playing Waylon’s memorial service was pretty big in my mind. That’s someone we looked up to. We had become friends with Shooter, and when he asked us to do that I was just floored. Not only that, it was at the Ryman, which made it really cool too. That’s one of the highlights. And playing with Skynyrd was cool, too.
Are there any goals that Cross Canadian Ragweed still wants to accomplish?
Plato: I would say to just keep doing what we’re doing and not ever wavering — just staying our course and getting things done. Cranking out tons of more records and doing something different from time to time. It’s just been a hell of a ride so far and I’m liking every minute of it, that’s for sure.
Cross: I think playing Saturday Night Live would be cool, something like that. I always watched that growing up and they’ve always had some cool bands; they’ve had some shitty ones too. So I think that would be one of my goals still. And to just keep playing and doing this for the rest of our lives.