Interview: Cody Canada talks about The Departed, Cross Canadian Ragweed, the Wormy Dog Saloon’s 20th anniversary
A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
The past, present and future of Cody Canada
The frontman of the late, great Cross Canadian Ragweed and current red dirt rockers The Departed will play Friday night during the 20th birthday celebration of the Wormy Dog Saloon, a venue that has played a pivotal role in his life and music.
Cody Canada has spent a good chunk of the past two decades in bars, and he doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
That’s just life as a red dirt musician.
But one bar in particular has played a pivotal role in the Yukon-bred singer/songwriter/guitarist’s life and career: The Wormy Dog Saloon.
“I hate to put my life around a bar, but you know, I met (singer-songwriter pal Jason) Boland there, I met Stoney (LaRue) there, I met my wife there. And I love it,” That’s why we invested in it and became partners because we wanted to see it succeed and we wanted people to have that same feeling even if only for one visit,” Canada said in a recent phone interview from his office in his adopted hometown of New Braunfels, Texas.
The original Wormy Dog in Stillwater, which was open from 1992-2004, was the main stomping ground for Canada’s previous band, the late, great red dirt rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed. His new band, Cody Canada & The Departed, will headline the saloon’s 20th anniversary party Friday night at the Bricktown location, which he and his wife/manager Shannon Canada helped establish in 2003.
“It was really a shock to my ears to hear that it’s 20 years old. I didn’t even think about it. You know, I showed up the Wormy Dog when it was 2 years old. That’s when The Great Divide was blowing up and I’d just discovered what was in my back yard with all this great Oklahoma music. I can say it now ‘cause nobody’s gonna get in trouble, but I’d sneak in there at 17 years old — well, I guess I was 16, damn — and talk to a certain few people that knew how old I was and it was just, ‘If you’re gonna drink beer, drink it in back, be quiet, don’t get drunk and be a dumbass,’” Canada recalled with a laugh.
“I got to do that for a long time, and “Then when I was 18, I got a gig with (Great Divide frontman Mike) McClure. I played Mondays with him for about six months and then they gave me my own night.” But man, it was really boring. I mean, it was fun to play music for people, but being alone just sucked. I was so used to playing with a lot of people in the last six months being with McClure. And then I met Jason and … I started bringing him to the Wormy Dog on Tuesdays.”
The past with Ragweed
In other words, Canada, 36, learned all about music, life and himself during those Dog days, including that he was a band kind of guy rather than a solo artist type.
For 16 years, seminal red dirt quartet Cross Canadian Ragweed was that band. Formed in 1994 in Yukon, Ragweed — Canada, bassist Jeremy Plato, guitarist Grady Cross and drummer Randy Ragsdale — planted its musical roots in the fertile red dirt soil of Stillwater, The band forged a following playing college crowds around Oklahoma State University, particularly at the Wormy Dog, built a strong fan base with virtually nonstop touring and took the music mainstream by inking a record deal with Universal South.
In May 2010, Ragweed shocked its fervent followers by announcing it was going on indefinite hiatus, giving the reason that Ragsdale, who lives in Yukon, needed to spend more time with his family, particularly his son, JC, who has autism. While Ragsdale and Cross settled down off the road, Canada and Plato formed The Departed with Texas guitarist Seth James, Tulsa keyboardist Steve Littleton and Yukon drummer David Bowen, with the band playing its first shows before the end of 2010.
“With the split up of Ragweed happening so fast, we decided that there was not gonna be a gap between acts. I mean, obviously Jeremy and I are gonna keep playing. I mean, Jeremy and I have really been connected at the hip since we were kids and then when we started playing music together, the cards were set. We knew what were gonna do. And There was that day and a half of freak out when Ragweed split, like ‘What the hell we gonna do?’ And Jeremy said, ‘Well, what do you think we’re gonna do, man? We’re gonna rock. We’re gonna get a band together,’” Canada said.
“We decided that instead of throwing together a record and putting out our first Departed original record, let’s take our time with it and make it the best we can possibly make it.”
In June 2011, The Departed released its debut album, “This Is Indian Land,” an 18-track salute to the Sooner State songwriters, from Leon Russell and J.J. Cale to the Red Dirt Rangers and Tom Skinner. Even as the covers record garnered acclaim and The Departed played to packed houses, some diehard Ragweed fans clung to the notion that the old band would eventually get back together.
“I really appreciate people hanging on to Ragweed, but it’s like, man, if you don’t let go a little bit, then you can’t accept what we’re doing,” Canada said. “This is not a side project. Ragweed was so much fun, I love those guys in the band with all my being, and I wish everybody well. I still keep in contact. But it got to the point where people started having kids, and the highway started taking its toll, and some people can handle it and some people can’t.
“In my opinion, I’m going to be in bar for the rest of my life, whether it’s a bar of 300 people or a bar of 3,000 people. That’s the kind of music I do. You know, we’re not stadium musicians; it’d be fun to do that, but it takes away from the personal effect of having people right in front of you. But it just gets to that point with anything; you know, sometimes people are married for 50 years and get sick of each other and divorce,” he added.
“It was time to just come out and say, ‘Look, man, thanks. If you think you’re upset, you think your feelings were hurt, man, mine were crushed. But now I know that we gotta bounce on to the next thing and make that as good at the last, or better.’”
Fan speculation that there was more to Ragweed’s don’t-call-it-a-breakup breakup intensified when Ragsdale returned to the road as drummer for LaRue’s band and The Departed never turned up on the lineup at Cross’ Yukon pub Grady’s 66, which often hosts red dirt bands. In a March interview with the Dallas Observer, Canada bluntly acknowledged that Ragsdale’s family situation was just one aspect of the split and what he now calls other “irreconcilable differences” were involved.
“I was getting a lot of hell. “There was a lot of people pointing their finger at me, and it was like, ‘You know, you people don’t know anything about anything.’ I mean, we let everybody in on a lot of our personal life and a lot of our musical life with music, with lyrics. But when it comes down to it, when the door shuts, not everybody knows how everybody feels and what’s going on. And everybody tried, you know, and it was just to the point of, man, it’s kind of outta gas. As much as it sucks to admit it, it’s not as rambunctious as it was. You know, you’re on the road for five weeks and everybody starts getting grouchy and that sucks,” Canada said.
“Randy, he’d called me and asked about coming back out on the road. And I was like, ‘Man, you know I’m a commitment person, and I’ve already committed to these fellas. And I’m not gonna turn my back on ‘em,’” he added.
“And Randy said, ‘Well, man, I can appreciate that and I can honor that. We were all committed to each other for 16 years and our music. I’m gonna go play with Stoney.’ It’s like, ‘Right on, man, go do it. Go do your thing.’” He thought that he was ready to be done and then once about 10 months set in of not playing music, it started getting to him. I understand it. I couldn’t go three months without doing it.”
The future of The Departed
The frontman added that Bowen basically came out of retirement to help The Departed get started and recently left because of chronic rotator cuff problems. The band is working with a new drummer, Chris Doege, as it forges ahead with its first album of original material.
“I really don’t have any days off here lately. We’ve been in the studio. When we get home (from tour dates), we’ll be home for just a few hours and then pack up and head to Austin and try to get a little bit further down the line on the record. As soon as that record’s done, I’m actually gonna have days off,” Canada said with a laugh.
“Really, for the last two years we’ve just been writing a lot. Once we got to the studio to start this thing … I don’t know if Seth did or not, but I didn’t realize that we had so many songs. I hadn’t really assessed how many we had written in the last two years; I knew we had a bunch of ideas. Then once we got in there and started recording stuff, it hit 12 songs and it was like ‘OK, cool,’ and then it hit 15 and it was like ‘Oh, wow.’ And you get to like 18 tunes, and it’s like ‘OK, we’re way, way, way ahead of the game.’ So this is a good place to be.”
The singer-songwriter said The Departed was planning to finish recording the as-yet-untitled album this week at Yellow Dog Studios in Austin, Texas, in the hopes of releasing it in fall.
“I think the people that are ready to accept it will love it, and I think the people that haven’t got over other things, man, that’s completely up to them,” he said. “If they have faith in the music that was made before, then they’ll have faith now, they’ll dig it now.”
In the meantime, he and his bandmates will make music and reminiscences Friday at the Bricktown Wormy Dog, with a set list that includes both Ragweed and Departed tunes.
“I remember the first time walking in there, (owner) Chuck (Thomson) asked me, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t think it’s anything like the original. It smells too good.’ He was like, ‘Well, give it about four years.’ And now you walk in, and it’s that same old beer-smoky smell. It finally became what it used to be in Stillwater,” said Canada, who is still a partner in the bar, along with his wife and Plato.
“It’s a trip to me. I’m starting to get to the age where it’s like ‘Wow, that was 20 years ago? Holy (expletive)!’ I used to go, ‘When was that? Like four, five years ago? Aw, I can’t remember.’ Now it’s like, ‘Oh, man, I’m 30-what?’”
Wormy Dog 20th Anniversary Party
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Doors open at 4 p.m.
Where: Wormy Dog Saloon, 311 E Sheridan.
Friday lineup: Cody Canada & The Departed and Charlie Robison.
Saturday lineup: Pat Green, Mike McClure and Kyle Park.