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Cross Canadian Ragweed tunes up in the "Garage"

By T.J. Simon, October 2005

Cross Canadian Ragweed wants you to know that they are an American band.

Although the name often evokes images of hockey, maple leaves and universal health care, the group actually originates from Oklahoma, and the foursome now calls Texas home. The band's name is actually a combination of the members' own names: Grady Cross (guitar), Cody Canada (vocals, guitar), Randy Ragsdale (drums). Jeremy Plato (bass) also is in the band, but his name isn't part of the CCR.

Of course, this explanation is lost on many.

"We played the National Anthem at a Texas Ranger's game once," explains Canada, age 29, via cell phone while on tour in Texas. "Somebody came up to our manager and said it was bullshit that these damn Canucks were singing our national anthem at a baseball game."

He continues, "The further north we get, the more we're asked what part of Canada we're from, and we then have to explain the whole thing all over again."

The band had been pleasing audiences with its unique brand of country and southern rock for over a decade, so the opportunity for a name change has long since past. For his part, Canada is absolutely uninterested in any sort of extreme makeover. "The name is us. It's our last names, so we're proud of it," he says.

On Oct. 4, the childhood friends who comprise Cross Canadian Ragweed release "Garage" on the Universal South label, the band's seventh album in a decade. The disc showcases the county rock sound that Canada says hearkens back to his childhood tastes.

"I grew up with my sister who is 12 years older than me, so we always had really good rock and roll music - classic rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd," he says. "We lived in a little town without much to do, so I learned how to play guitar from her Skynyrd records. When I turned 28, she gave me her record collection in a box with like 300 albums. It was one of the greatest presents I ever received."

Another revelation occurred as a teenager riding in a friend's car. "In the early '90s, I was real deep into Top 40 country music like Garth Brooks," Canada recalls. "I was hanging out with my best friend in his El Camino, and he was playing Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. It completely changed my outlook on music."

Cross Canadian Ragweed's previous release, "Soul Gravy" debuted at number five on the country charts. Are the guys feeling any pressure on the cusp of the follow-up's release? "No, we never feel any pressure," Canada says. "We have a really strong fan base, so it's not about making it on the charts or hitting number one on the radio." After a string of independent releases and a fan base carefully cultivated by non-stop touring, Cross Canadian Ragweed signed to the Universal South label in 2002. The decision to go with a major label happened after being personally approached by the label's honchos, Tim DuBois and Tony Brown.

"They came to a show in South Carolina, and there were only about 30 people there," Canada remembers. "After they watched 30 minutes of the show, we were offered a record deal. We weren't ever really going for a deal, so we sat and talked about it for a day. They had signed a lot of artists that people look up to including George Strait, Jimmy Buffett and Steve Earle. We decided to sign on because they had luck with all these other guys."

It turned out to be a good investment for DuBois and Brown. Universal South released the band's already-completed self-titled CD (nicknamed "The Purple Album"), and Cross Canadian Ragweed had its first honest-to-goodness Top 40 hit with the track "17."

"It was really cool since we'd never had a song on the radio other than some local stations in Texas," Canada says. "I still remember walking through a mall and seeing CMT playing the video on a television. It was pretty flabbergasting."

Because Cross Canadian Ragweed has always had one foot firmly planted in the country world and another in the world of southern rock, radio airplay has been pretty elusive. "We complain about not getting enough airplay on country radio," Canada admits. "There are a lot of towns who won't play our music on the radio because it's a little bit more rock and roll than they had planned on, so sometimes it's a liability."

Nevertheless, Canada explains that this desire for commercial success doesn't impact his approach to songwriting. "I never let any of that stuff bother me because the minute it does, you start writing songs that are different from what you've been doing," he says. Canada's "quality first" approach to songwriting is on full display throughout the new album. The first single is "Fighting For," a track that will be sure to please long time fans and convert those who like their country with a healthy dose of rock and roll. "It was the last song we recorded for the record," Canada says. "It relates to everybody's relationship with their significant others."

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