Editor’s Note: Today (May 25) is Cody Canada’s birthday. In honor of the singer’s birthday, here’s one of our favorite interviews with the Red Dirt hero.
By the time Cody Canada was in his mid-twenties, he and his band Cross Canadian Ragweed were being hailed as the fathers of the Red Dirt resurgence. Along with longtime producer and musician Mike McClure, Canada had honed a sound that would spawn as many imitators as fans.
After the 2010 breakup of Ragweed, Canada formed The Departed with Seth James — though that lineup of The Departed would ultimately, well depart. In 2015, The Departed have settled into a firm lineup and Canada has gotten back to the sound he always knew was his.
In the midst of touring with the new iteration of The Departed, Canada also (finally) released a live record with Mike McClure. He took some time to chat with Wide Open Country about the new release and getting back to basics.
WOC: You definitely picked one of the more interesting names for a live record. Why Chip And Ray, Together Again For The First Time?
CC: (Laughs) We’ve always called each other Chip and Ray and never really knew which one was which. We were just messing around one goofy night probably and started calling each other that. We thought “Together again for the first time” was kind of funny — probably because we’ve been friends for 21 years.
WOC: After 21 years of friendship and musical collaboration, this is your first record together. Why now?
CC: It was time. I played with Mike in The Great Divide back when I was 16, then when I put Cross Canadian Ragweed together he was helping out since day one. And then when Ragweed split, as much as I wanted it to be a nice split, it wasn’t. Mike and I kind of got lost in the mix. I was trying to figure out what I was doing with The Departed — and it took me five years to figure it out — and Mike and I lost contact. Which is terrible because we were the best of friends. Brothers. But once we did get back in touch we decided to never let that happen again, and it was easy. We said let’s do this record together, go back to old songs, do some new songs. And then when our friend and songwriting hero Tom Skinner passed away, it really changed what the record meant to us. It became a tribute.
WOC: Did you have a plan for the record?
CC: Mike and I have never had a plan.
WOC: Even when he was producing Ragweed records?
CC: Never! We’d always write in the studio because it was more fun that way. When we did this record, we didn’t even talk about what each of us wanted to put on it. He told me right before we went on stage he was going to do a Skinner song and I said perfect. It keeps us on our toes but I think doing it on the fly can make us better. I was playing lead on songs I’d never played before.
WOC: And why did you choose to record in Port Aransas?
CC: I recorded my first solo live record there. I wanted to do it with [former guitarist and vocalist for The Departed] Seth James, but he didn’t like the idea, so I said, “Ok, stay home and I’ll do it myself.” I’m glad I got to do it by myself because it set in motion the next step of my life, which was getting back to old songs and old friends. Then I found out Mike did a record down there and I figured it just made sense to do this one between the two of us.
WOC: Is it hard to keep track of everything you’ve got going on?
CC: It has finally been easy again. Since the Ragweed split and the original members of The Departed left, it’s been just [longtime bassist] Jeremy Plato and me again. And we’ve been making music together for 21 years and friends for 32. But once the new fellas in The Departed came in, we found the right fit and it’s been easy.
It’s hard to be in a band. You have to have this mindset of, “We’re blessed to do this.” Don’t bitch, don’t complain; I’m sorry you didn’t get to eat what you wanted to eat or the crowd wasn’t what you thought it would be, but that stuff happens. With these guys, they just want to play music and laugh. It’s easy to keep track of that. The HippieLovePunk record was to me the beginning of this band. Before it was me dipping my toes into the water to see what works, and it didn’t work. Now that I’m free of the record deal and old band members — not saying anything bad about those guys, but I needed to do what I need to do. If I want to put out an acoustic record I do, or if I have two original records in the pocket, we record them. I fronted Ragweed for 16 years. It was my songs and my direction. Now we’re back to doing that again.
WOC: When you started The Departed, do you think you tried to get away from the Ragweed sound too much at first?
CC: You know, The Departed really was Seth and I. I wasn’t trying to get away from my voice, but I did. Looking back on it, I realized it wasn’t me. It felt forced. I told Seth I’ve gotta do what’s natural, and he said get back to the old sound — I said it’s not an old sound, it’s my sound. I never disliked it but I got away from it because I surrounded myself with a different style of musician. Now I’ve got guys who, when I bring songs to the table, there’s no questions. We rehearse it so we can play it live and record it.
WOC: You just recorded a video for the song “All Nighter” off HippieLovePunk with the Braun family of Reckless Kelly and Micky and the Motorcars fame. What was that like?
CC: We’ve been friends with those guys for a long time, and I wrote that song about Mark McCoy, Micky’s bass player who passed away in a fishing accident. We were hanging out up at their place in Idaho after that and my wife told Muzzie [the father] he had really good boys, and we hope our boys look at us the way they look at you. He said, “They already do I can see it. You just gotta keep them close by your side.” So I held onto that song for awhile, and finally wrote it on new year’s eve last year. I really wanted to have the song written before the year was up so I sat down at my kitchen table at 10 p.m. on new year’s eve and wrote it. I called it All Nighter.
In January, we went to their house up in Idaho and stayed with Muzzie and he had the wood burning stove going — on the front of the stove it was stamped “the all nighter” and I thought that was freaky since it’s about that family. I really wanted to get all of those dudes to sing on it with me, and there was no doubt in my mind that we had to get it documented on video so our kids can see it when we’re gone. We had dinner in it and that’s in the video. It felt like two families really coming together.
WOC: You also named your youngest son after Willie Braun.
CC: My oldest boy is named Dierks after Dierks Bentley, and he was excited about that. Me and Dierks did a few tours together and got to be good buddies. We’re like song friends now, but Willie and I will be brothers forever. So I named my youngest, who is 7 now, Willie. There was lots of love and hugs exchanged when I told him. When we get together I just turn Willie lose with Willie and I know he’ll be protected and I don’t have to worry about anything. Complete trust.
WOC: What is it like for you knowing you’re kind of the granddaddy of red dirt music, and what do you think of the scene now?
CC: It’s still weird for me. I’m not even 40 years old, and it’s weird to hear I’m one of the ones that kicked it off. I believe it, of course, cause I was there and I saw it (laughs). We had an interview in Dallas at a radio station called The Wolf, and they asked me what we called our music. I told them in Oklahoma we always just called it Red Dirt. I never thought it would take off like that. It’s on posters everywhere, and when you listen to The Wolf, they say, “Home of Red Dirt Texas music.”
There’s not a band in Oklahoma that I disrespect. There’s something about the Okies. Nothing against the Texans — I’ve lived in texas for 14 years now, and I see the camaraderie between the two. It’s just a river. We’re all writing the same stuff. But you get attached to the people that write about real stuff and sing about real stuff. There’s always those people and you think “that person could’ve done better,” and then people who you hear and go, “Oh shit I’ve got to get back to the drawing board cause that guy is 20 years younger than me and he’s brilliant!”
WOC: Like John Moreland?
CC: Man, he is incredible. It’s funny because we were on a mountain tour with American Aquarium two years ago, and we were sitting on the back of the bus. They played me some John Moreland, and I go, “who is this?” He says, you’re from Oklahoma, and you don’t know who this is? He looked at me both like, “You’re and idiot,” and, “I’m proud to be the one to introduce him to you.”
WOC: The Oklahoma scene really is different than anywhere else.
CC: It’s hard to explain, though I know every bit of it. When we were growing up at the farm, we grew up next to Tom Skinner and Bob Childers. In the scene, it was Childers, then behind him was Skinner, then the Red Dirt Rangers, then McClure, then me, then Boland and Stoney. Everybody learned from each other and respected each other. It wasn’t a competition, which I’ve seen in other scenes. Oklahoma never had that. It was like, “Let’s all do this and let’s do this together.” It’s really hard to do something by yourself but it’s a lot easier when you attack it as an army.