For the last 20 years, Texas-to-Oklahoma transport Cody Canada has been sharpening the alt-country-infused sounds of the Red Dirt movement. The former leader of Cross Canadian Ragweed for 16 years formed his new band, the Departed, in 2010 and has since released two albums that both peaked in country’s Top 20. Keeping the Oklahoma sound flourishing, Canada may not consider himself the face of the Red Dirt movement, but that hasn’t stopped droves of fans from buying his albums, packing his live shows and holding his name in esteem with other Red Dirters like the Great Divide, Red Dirt Rangers, Jimmy LaFave and Woody Guthrie.
In Rolling Stone Country‘s “5 Minutes in Texas” series, we talk to Canada about hippies, honing his lead guitar skills and his Oklahoman heart.
It’s been about four years since you formed your new band, the Departed. You’ve released two albums, and at your last live show, it seems like I heard as many fans calling out for Departed songs as Ragweed songs. That’s got to make you feel good.
Yeah, it does. It’s taken some time, but I finally feel like we’ve gotten over the hump and people like to hear the tunes from both bands.
When can fans expect the Departed’s third album?
We finished recording an album in Austin three weeks ago. Looks like it will come out in October. It’s 12 songs, all of our stuff. It’s a pretty organic record. We told the sound engineer not to add anything. It’s exactly what the band is. We didn’t want to add anything and make it something that it wasn’t. I love it. In all honesty, front to back, I haven’t been this pleased with a record since Ragweed’s Mission California record seven years ago. It’s the best things we’ve done. Not to be cocky, I’m just proud.
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What’s the name of the new album?
We’re calling it Hippie Love Punk.
Where’d that name come from?
I have a really close friend down in Texas who is an Americana radio station owner, and he asked me what the vibe of the record was, and I said, “You know, it’s about taking care of each other, don’t back anyone into a corner, and I-love-you kind of stuff.” And he goes, “Oh, so like a hippie-love-punk thing.” I said, “Well, there you go. There’s the title.” It really fits the demeanor of the whole record.
Last year at Third Coast Theater in Port Aransas, Texas,you recorded a live solo album, Some Old, Some New, Maybe a Cover or Two. Was that a fun experience?
Definitely. You really just go into the gig, press record and put on the show. That’s the easiest record I’ve ever done. I think the whole thing cost me like 300 bucks. It’s really simple to do something like that because it’s a show. Actually, on August 30th, I’m going back there, and I think I’m gonna record the show — do a whole new batch of songs. Maybe I can release it next summer or something. I just want to have an ace up my sleeve, you know?
You sing lead vocals and play lead guitar, which not a lot of performers can do. How did you hone that talent?
I really didn’t have anybody to play with in the beginning when it was just me playing acoustic shows. I was playing lead and rhythm during solo shows, and once we formed Ragweed, we needed a lead guitar player because we had two rhythm guys. So I just started learning all I could.
You also blow a mean harp. What’s the secret to that finicky instrument?
I don’t know. I really don’t know the answer to that [laughs]. I learned harmonica by listening to Neil Young and Bob Dylan. That’s another thing, when I was playing by myself when I first started as a teenager, I needed some accompaniment, and harmonica was the closest thing I could find.
You’ve been in this game for more than 20 years and you’ve got two young sons now. Do you ever get tired of touring?
No, not tired of it. If I was tired of it, I just wouldn’t do it. There are some times when I miss home pretty badly. But we’ve really got it down. Shannon — my wife [and manager] — and I have always been really big Robert Earl Keen fans, and we’ve really been following his mold: go out for a couple of weeks, then come home and play local. Don’t be gone longer than three weeks, because that’s when things get stale and people start missing home.
Besides Robert Earl Keen, who else influenced your music and style?
Merle Haggard I hold in high regard. When I was a young kid, he really made me listen to the lyrics and the way he delivers. I don’t think anyone can deliver a song like Hag can.
You’ve written a number of songs for your wife. Is that the secret to a musician’s happy marriage?
Well, it sure helps [laughs]. I’ve caught a lot of hell for it over the years from my friends, but I just love her. I met her when I was young, and we both realized we were both put here to be with each other, to take care of each other. I don’t purposely go out of my way to write those tunes, they just happen. Sometimes, she’ll just do something or say something — one comment — and it makes me want to write a tune around it.
Who’s someone on your scene that really impresses you?
Kevin Russell. He was with the Gourds for like 20 years. His new band is called Shinyribs. It’s hard to explain how his music makes me feel, but it’s such a performance, it’s so happy. Right out of the box, the first song he plays live, you’ve got people dancing and hopping on stage. He’s kind of a maniac when it comes to performing. There’s no safety net. There’s no fear. On top of all that, he makes the show fun and the music is uplifting. Shinyribs, I’ll preach that until my last breath.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your musical career?
Being remembered. It doesn’t matter if it’s the very first record or the very last record. It’s a longevity thing. Back to the Robert Earl Keen mold, it means a lot when you’ve got those people who are going to listen to you forever.
You were born in Texas but moved to Oklahoma when you were young. What do you consider yourself?
I think I’m a little bit of both at this point in my life. I’ve been to both places an equal amount. I left Texas when I was a really young kid and moved to Oklahoma for a bunch of years. When it comes to music, I’m 100 percent Oklahoma at heart. But I sure do like Texas, like the people and like where I now live in south Texas. It’s beautiful down here by the river. I guess you could say I’m a Texas resident with an Oklahoman heart.