Riding 'Gravy' train: Former Ragweed singer takes charge of his own music
Most everyone likes gravy.
In 2004, a lot of music fans sopped "Soul Gravy," the second album by the band Cross Canadian Ragweed. It sold a lot of copies and turned out a few hits.
But Cody Canada believed the project was rushed and could've been better.
So, the singer and his current group, The Departed, re-recorded it and released it last summer.
Canada and the Departed will play several songs from the album when they return next weekend for the Outlaws & Legends Music Festival at the Back Porch of Texas. The band is on stage at 6 p.m. Friday ahead of host Mark Powell and headliner Carly Pearce.
Canada said his only regret about coming back to Abilene is that he's not performing the same night as Willie Nelson, who headlines Saturday night.
"The one thing that I will say is that one year," he said, "I would like to be on the same day as Willie Nelson."
"But I'm sure that's everybody's thought," he said.
Even festival organizer Powell, who worked hard just to get Willie here at all, thought that.
Nelson was a headliner for the 10th anniversary show in 2020, but the pandemic canceled that.
Three years later, Willie's on the road to Abilene.
Out in the Weeds
There wasn't much tying Cross Canadian Ragweed to the Great White North, unless you consider it formed in the Yukon - the one in Oklahoma, which also turned out Garth Brooks.
The name of the group was a mashup of the names of lead singer Cody Canada, guitarist Grady Cross and drummer Randy Ragsdale. The other member was bass player Jeremy Plato, Canada's childhood buddy.
After the band called it quits in 2010, Canada and Plato formed The Departed.
Canada said he didn't know what to do after the breakup, but Plato kept his cool.
Let's form a rock band, he advised. After all, Ragweed was pretty much that.
They did, and Canada now is in his 28th year of making music.
"I've been doing it for a long time," he admitted.
Cross Canadian laid a lot of road for a music genre now commonly called Red Dirt. Red Dirt is akin to stew, adding a little of this and a little of that to create a distinct sound. It's country but also folk, Americana and rock - whatever the artist wants to cook up.
Canada took advantage of the pandemic to make "Soul Gravy" better.
"I wasn't real happy with the way it turned out when we first did it," he said. "We were in such a hurry. We did it the year we did 240-something shows. Yeah, I wasn't home."
Canada did not like the sound - he wanted to use tube amps to bring forth the rock sound when turned up but digital amps were used instead. It's personal preference, experts say.
The lead guitarist in the group, he was outvoted.
"Thank goodness it sold really, really well. That sucker was No. 5 on Billboard," Canada said. "But I always thought it could've been recorded a little better."
Still,, the album produced the hit "Sick and Tired" with Lee Ann Womack and "Alabama."
When Canada began his new group, he wanted to sell the Ragweed box set on the road. The label said that was OK, but would charge him $35 per item.
"I thought, why would I pay for my own music?" he said. "The same thing happened to Taylor Swift, and she started re-recording. And I thought if they're not going to get on to her, then I can get away with it.
"So I did that."
Canada was prepared for backlash because the Ragweed Nation remains loyal to the band.
"It's a crowd we built but, man, they're relentless sometimes," he said. "They're still asking when the band's going to get back together. I say, 'Man, just kind of go with it.'"
Canada and The Departed have been playing Ragweed songs for years.
"Me and Jeremy were the band," he said. "The other guys contributed but me and Jeremy were the writers and the players.
"Once I put 'Soul Gravy 2' out, everybody changed their tune. It has been great. Everyone has been very supportive."
Back Porch fans will get some "Gravy" next week.
"I would say that 75 percent of my shows is old stuff," he said.
Yet, Canada quickly added, he doesn't have to separate his music into then, with Ragweed, and now, with The Departed. It's all his music.
"Ray Wylie Hubbard told me, 'These are your songs. These are just eras of your life,'" Canada said. "So now, I just make a set list without thinking about what band it came from. It came from me and Jeremy.
"Ray has been really good about keeping my head level and on a swivel. Making me realize who I am. He has been a good friend to me, a good mentor to me."
Hubbard has been an Outlaws performer. This will be the 12th year for the spring music festival in Abilene.
Hubbard's song "Wanna Rock & Roll" is on the "Soul Gravy" recording, and he was asked by Canada to join him for the reboot.
"It has become such a part of our show and part of our identity," Canada said. "Once we were going re-record it, there was no way I was going to leave him out. I wanted him to share vocals on it."
Interestingly, another singer whose songwriting work is on the album will be at this year's Outlaws show - Stoney LaRue ("Number"). He's playing the 6 p.m. slot Saturday.
The 'Lonely Girl' story
The Departed recently have had a good run on the re-release of "Lonely Girl" from the "Soul Gravy" album. It spent more than 20 weeks on the charts.
The story behind that offers a bit of payback.
Canada wanted that released as the first single in 2004 but a radio guy told him it was a forgettable song.
"I remember being so hurt. And mad," Canada said. "We're not rock stars by any means, but if it works for the record label and it works for us ... Basically, he told me that my song sucked.
"He wouldn't stand behind it, so we never got to release it."
So when "Soul Gravy" was redone, "I said, man, this is the first song we're doing. I'm 1,000 percent in charge of this now. It stayed on the Texas charts for so long, I actually was pretty surprised. This song has been in my set list for almost 20 years. It's almost like it has a new life again."
Canada said he's one to pay attention to the journey.
"I remember every piece of it," he said. That includes a guest vocal on a cover of a Tom Petty song.
Getting schooled on rock
Another side story to Canada is operating a franchise called School of Rock.
The music academy, in New Braunfels, will celebrate its fifth anniversary next month.
It's run by his wife, Shannon, who once managed her husband's band as wells as the likes of Randy Rogers, Charlie Robison and the group Micky and the Motorcars, which is on stage at 2 p.m. Friday.
One day, she decided to go in another direction.
"She said she was tired of dealing with adults who act like kids," he said. So why not work with kids trying to become adults?
Give them the guidance that, Canada said, he didn't get as a teenager. He met Plato in the sixth grade.
"We were both skater kids," he said. Plato played metal; Canada was between grunge and country.
"Which I think I still am," he said. "We became instant friends."
But it was hard getting started.
"I didn't know anybody who played music. They were there, but I just didn't know them," he said. "She wanted to have a place for the misfits to go. We always tell all the kids all the time they walk in the door, 'Look, you're freaks . You're talented freak and I want you to fly that freak flag. Don't let somebody tell you that you can't do something.
"I'm not knocking our state, but being a kid and not being a hunter or a sports kid is a little hard when you're in high school."
And so his wife opened the school "so those kids could have someplace to go," he said.
Some of the young musicians went to Portugal last year and played at a festival that included Muse and Black-eyed Peas.
"It's such a wonderful thing to watch, to see these kids going from 'I'm scared to play guitar, I'm scared to sing in front of people' to getting up there and saying 'I dare someone to be better than me,'" Canada said. It's not a competition, he said, "but you definitely want the headliner to work for their money.
"How can you stand out if you're trying to fit? Be who you are."
Who's playing when at Outlaws
Gates open at 1 p.m.
2 p.m. - Micky and the Motorcars
3:15 p.m. - Jamie Richards
4:30 p.m. - Tanner Ussery
6 p.m. ; Cody Canada and The Departed
7:30 p.m. - Mark Powell
9:30 p.m. - Carly Pearce
Gates open at 10 a.m.
11 a.m. - Davis Brothers
11:45 - London Talley & Jackson Hatch
12:45 p.m. - Kin Faux
2 p.m. - Dale Watson & his Lonestars
3:15 p.m. - Williams Beckmann
4:30 p.m. - Exile
6 p.m. - Stoney LaRue
7:30 p.m. - Kevin Fowler
9:30 p.m. - Willie Nelson and Family
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Riding 'Gravy' train: Former Ragweed singer takes charge of his music