Former Cross Canadian Ragweed singer Cody Canada's current band, The Departed, is a properly named one. In May of 2010, Ragweed, or CCR as many fans still refer to them, were arguably the most beloved of all Red Dirt acts. It was then the band made national news by announcing they would be taking a break from touring after 16 years in order to allow the band's drummer and founding member, Randy Ragsdale, to stay at home in Oklahoma and help care for his special-needs son.
At the time, the announcement was presented as something akin to an amicable family decision. Guitarist Grady Cross was quoted in an official statement from the band as saying, "I'm sure we'll be back on the road soon."
Now, almost two full years removed from the biggest break-up in the young Red Dirt scene's history, Canada is rolling in a new direction. The Departed's 2011 debut album, This Is Indian Land, comprised of cover songs from some of Canada's Oklahoman musical heroes, has been well-received and the band, which includes guitar virtuoso and songwriter Seth James, keyboardist Steve Littleton, drummer Dave Bowen and fellow Ragweed alum Jeremy Plato, has been a steady draw on the road. Even though Canada is enjoying himself and feels rejuvenated by this still-fresh pursuit, it's clear there are some remnants from the past that must be addressed before he can move ahead.
"There was one person who really wasn't happy, regardless of what the situation was," Canada says over the phone as he and The Departed gear up for a run of shows with Shooter Jennings. "Once things started getting uncomfortable and just weren't going right, Randy said he wanted to go home and take care of his family. When Ragweed played our last show, Randy came up to me and said, 'You know, my family isn't 100 percent of the reason for this. I just didn't want the band to go out like that,' which I knew.
"So I said, 'Here's how we should say it: If we say it's a break-up, then it looks really bad, and if we say it's a hiatus, people will think one day, we'll get back together.' But that's not how it was, or how it is now. We just wanted to protect the name of the band."
The reason for the band's discomfort was friction, which had been building for months as the group played to the biggest crowds of their careers.
"It's been long enough and I'm tired of covering up for a certain guy," Canada says, detailing the circumstances that brought an end to his first band. As popular as Ragweed had become, most fans simply accepted it was indeed Ragsdale's need to be home with his family as the only reason the band shelved themselves.
Citing legal advice to not speak specifically about which band member Canada was experiencing the most creative and personal friction with, he instead refers to a show where three of the four Ragweed members performed after the break.
"Three of us did a show in Steamboat [Colorado] earlier this year as Cross Canadian Ragweed," he says. "And the three of us are cool with each other."
The member who didn't perform in the short-lived reunion: Ragweed guitarist Grady Cross.
"There was one person who wasn't happy from an artistic or business perspective," Canada says. "We decided that in order to press forward as individuals, we should just split it. I'll just say that the person in question was uncomfortable, and it was time to move on. It's not fun to play music when one person from the band isn't into it."
Before Canada and Plato could forge ahead with a band that was only beginning to find its footing in a live setting, Canada had to also have a tough talk with the drummer he had known since kindergarten.
"Once 10 months or so had passed after the break-up, Randy called me and said, 'I can't take it, I miss playing music too much, is there a spot for me?' We had talked about the possibility of doing a double-drum thing, but I had to tell him that, 'There are more people in The Departed than there were in Ragweed, and some of the places we're playing have stages that can barely fit our gear. I just can't afford to feed your kids.' He understood, and he's been playing with Stoney [LaRue] since."
While The Departed features a few Ragweed tunes in its set list, and Canada understands fans will always hope to hear their favorite CCR tune, he's excited about working with longtime friend Seth James. In fact, the seeds for The Departed were planted well before Ragweed's collapse.
"About two years before Ragweed ended, Seth and I were kicking this idea around for a band," he says. "And, no offense to the guys I was playing with at the time, but I was getting kind of bored, so we decided, 'Why don't we record something? Life's too short for us not to record some stuff together.' When Ragweed tapered off, I called Seth and said, 'Man, I think this is more of a life than a project.' And he said, 'I'm in.' We're now sitting on 25 to 30 new songs. We're both really excited to get creative."
To hammer home the point, Canada continues: "I'm a commitment guy, and I'm all about The Departed now."
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The band will begin to cut a new album after its tour with Jennings is complete, according to Canada. Until then, their covers-heavy record will make up the bulk of their live shows. Such a record was something Ragweed had planned on doing, only for it to be derailed by the fractured dynamics which led to the band's split.
"Ragweed had talked about it forever," Canada says. "But it was never going to happen because of inner discussion and disagreements, not to mention that the record company [Universal] would've never let it see the light of day."
As it stands today, Canada and Plato aren't hoping people will forget about the band that provided them with national success. He simply wants people to know artistic lightning strikes more than once.
"My thought is that if people believed in Jeremy Plato and me in Ragweed, they should still believe in us now, because we still got it."