The group is led by singer Cody Canada, who has been known to sport Iron Maiden t-shirts on stage and even break into a guitar-squealing version of Ted Nugent's "Strangle-hold" when the mood strikes him just right. In fact, a recorded cover of that Motor City Madman's familiar hard rock classic is even included as a hidden track on the new album.
Yet, even with all of its loud music tendencies, this Texas-based band's album entered at number five on the country album chart the week it was released in March. Additionally, this same group recently organized a hometown tribute to country outlaw Waylon Jennings. It just can't be denied that there's still plenty of country seasoning spicing up this hard-driving outfit's unique stew.
"We wanted to do something a little different, and go for like a "Houses Of The Holy"/"In Through The Out Door" kind of approach," says Canada of the album's intriguing title, "and make it kind of Led Zeppelin and kind of rock and roll because we're more of a rock band than a country band. Actually, we just kind of stumbled upon the name because we were kidding around one night on the bus saying different names. Just idiotic stuff."
It started with "Plaid Gravy," since someone saw that written on a bathroom wall, and then it evolved (devolved?) from there.
"Then Chris (McCoy), our sound guy, pretended like he was kicking me in the face cause he thought we were stupid. He put his foot in my face and was like, 'sole gravy,' but like from the soul. All the guys were kind of leery about it, and I said, "Man, I'll tell you what. I really dig it." But everything's voted on around here. So I said, "Let's put it to the band, and see what they think." And they loved it."
The group realizes it's not fooling any diehard country fans about the contents of "Soul Gravy." But then again, typical country fans did not put this album in the top 10 in the first place.
"It was because of our fan base." Canada explains, "We have a great fan following. We've been a touring band for 10 years. We were still in high school (when we started). And we've been a heavy hardcore touring band for about 6 (years). We've seen a lot of people and a lot of miles. There's lot of people out there who wanted to get their hands on it, so that helped us out. And the record label - they did a lot of promotion for it. But 90 percent of it goes to the fans spreading the word."
The group believes Universal South was simply the natural label to sign with.
"When we found out that Tony Brown and Tim DuBois wanted to come check us out...you know, we followed those guys. We were the kids that would buy a record and read every the name of every 'thank you,' and every person that worked on it. We've been following Tony Brown Tim DuBois since '85, since we were 10 years old. Steve Earle had a big part in it because Steve Earle is the reason that we got into the roots rock. When we were kids and hardly knew each other, we all dug the same stuff. We knew that if they (Brown and DuBois) had an ear for him, then they'd dig us. There were two labels that didn't want to change a thing. We had a gut feeling. We go a lot on instinct. When they (Universal South) came out to see us in Raleigh, they said, 'Well, we just offered you a deal.' And we said, 'Alright, we'll get back with you.' So we got off the bus and said, 'I think this is what we need to do.'"
It's hardly surprising to learn that Cross Canadian Ragweed shares an artistic kinship with Earle because its songs, such as the new "Hammer Down," rock hard the way Earle has similarly rocked on albums such as "The Hard Way." But an older song like "17," in stark contrast, shows off an equally Earle-like sensitive side.
"The 'Guitar Town' record bit me right in the ass," Canada admits. "That was it. I mean, this guy was writing true stuff, and he was not trying to find a jingle or find a hook. He's writing about his ' life and everything that's going on around him. And that was everything that I wanted to be. I wanted to craft words like that guy, instead of spitting a song out in two minutes. Just sit and dwell on one for an hour or two a year, instead."
Canada has a funny story to tell about briefly meeting Earle once.
"I met him out in Nashville when we went to a party that the record label invited us to. And he walked in, and there was Brooks & Dunn and Donna Summer and all these people that were you were like, 'Hey, nice to meet you,' but not overly excited about. And then he (Earle) walked in, and Tim DuBois knew it. He (DuBois) walked up to me - and Grady (Cross), our rhythm player, he said, 'Man I can't go meet him.' He goes, 'I'm just going to stand here in the corner.' And Grady was - and I don't know if afraid is the word - but he just didn't want to go talk to him. He said, 'Man, I just respect that guy so much. I know it's going to happen again, but now is not the time.' Tim came over to me and said, 'Do you want to meet him?' And I said, 'Hell yeah, I want to meet him!' We talked for probably 10 minutes, 15 minutes. And it was pretty funny because you could tell he didn't really want to be there. He was invited by Tony. There was probably about a 30-second pause in the conversation, he looked at his watch, "Well, 'The Sopranos' starts in 30 minutes, so I gotta get out of here. Nice to meet ya.' And I respected the hell out of that, because he was nice and polite and like, 'Alright, gotta go.'"