When Cody Canada returns to Cain's ballroom this weekend, it will be under a different guise than ever before. As most fans know by now, Cross Canadian Ragweed is no more, after agreeing to a break when drummer Randy Ragsdale finally made the decision to step away from the group to stay at home with his family and autistic son.
Just because the days of Ragweed had come to a close, didn't mean we wouldn't see its members on the live stage again, however. It should come as no surprise, then, to see Canada return to action with bassist Jeremy Plato and another group of old friends. And although the new band is starting its journey by revisiting a catalogue of red-dirt chestnuts, pretty much everything else has changed course.
For starters, Canada isn't necessarily the main attraction. Yes, his name is out front for the time being, but he's splitting lead vocal duties with Plato and old friend Seth James and sharing guitar duties with James as well.
"Seth and I have been playing shows together for 10 or 12 years and over a year ago we talked about possibly doing a side project together -- writing some songs and recording an album, but not touring for it -- just to do something different," he said. "Once the hammer came down on Ragweed, though, it just seemed like the right time to do it."
Playing with Plato was a given, as the two remain close friends (as do all of the members of Cross Canadian) and are soon to be in-laws. In turn, finding a drummer was a natural fit, as well.
"We just called Dave Bowen," Canada said. "Dave's dad actually gave Jeremy his first bass lesson and we always thought we'd play together."
The lineup is rounded out with keyboardist Steve Littleton, formerly of Medicine Show.
"I met Steve the first day I was in Stillwater and I've always wanted to play with him," Canada said.
"He was playing in Stoney LaRue's band so I did the professional thing and called Stoney -- we've been best friends for years -- and asked him if I could borrow him to record the album and then for about three months to tour," he said.
Once the band came together and all the pieces fit, however, Littleton quickly became a permanent fixture.
When asked what to expect from the new band, Canada said. "Well, my load has been lightened quite a bit. I'm playing a lot of rhythm guitar -- a little lead, too, but when you've got a guitar player as good as Seth, it's hard to not just sit back and let him take them all. He's singing, Jeremy's singing and I'm singing. We've got twin guitars and a stack of keys and Dave and Plato are off, over in their jazz area."
"I can tell you this: you won't see an unhappy face on the stage," he continued. "We just played our fifth show and everybody keeps saying 'You all look so happy again.' I didn't know I was unhappy."
More introspectively, however, Canada reflected that The Departed is more deliberate in its approach. "It's loud and it's fun, but it's more well thought out," he said. "Before, with Ragweed, we were just a four-piece garage band: turn it up with distortion pedals and haul ass. This is different. It's definitely more musical, but it's in the same vein."
Instead of setting out with all new material, however, the new band went into the studio to record "all the Okie covers that Ragweed talked about doing for years," as Canada put it. Artists covered range from JJ Cale and Leon Russell to Tom Skinner, Bob Childers, Kevin Welch and even Medicine Show. Tentatively titled This Is Indian Land and scheduled for an April release, Canada shared that the group recorded 17 songs and kept 16, saving the last one (an original) for the band's next album.
"If anybody has any knowledge of Oklahoma music, they'll know all the songs," Canada said. "And you can't make an album of Oklahoma or red-dirt music and not cover Bob Childers and Tom Skinner."
Canada said Saturday's show will feature 20 to 25 songs, mostly classics from the Oklahoma playbook, as well as three or four originals that will end up on the band's second album.
"We're going to get 'em down, learn 'em live with the whole band and rework 'em before we get back to the studio," Canada said about the new songs that are already being worked up with a sophomore release in mind.
"It's been really cool," he said. "We played out first show at Gruene Hall and it sold out. No one knows what they're going to hear, but no one leaves and I've said thank-you more times than I can count. I did have a couple people come up and say 'I was skeptical, but I loved it,' so it's all going really well."
When reflecting on the past and looking towards the future, Canada admitted that he needed a bit of a break and although he hasn't been out of the saddle long, he's ready to get back to action with The Departed.
This initial tour and the release of the debut CD, This Is Indian Land, in April are just a primer for what's to come. When teamed up with a band of close friends and musical companions this tight, one can only imagine what's ahead. The combination of Canada's red-dirt background and rock tendencies, combined with James' more bluesy tendencies open up a whole new realm of possibilities.
"People keep saying how different Seth and I are, but we really aren't. Maybe musically we are, but not really," Canada said. "We're both originally from the same part of Texas and grew up with the same people and the same teachings. We've been good friends for a long time, so this is just natural."
From an outsider's perspective, seeing Canada start fresh with a new group of old friends is more than promising. Instead of losing a group of old friends with the end of Cross Canadian Ragweed, we get to see Canada continue to develop as an artist and gain a while new batch of friends in the process.
Cody Canada and The Departed play Cain's Ballroom this Saturday, Jan. 22. 2 Steps will open the show at 8:30p.m. and tickets are still available for $19.
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