Genre: Southern Rock
Let’s get this straight right off the bat, though it should be obvious to any and all who have been listening over the last decade or so: Cross Canadian Ragweed are a rock’n’roll band. They may be the last great Southern rock band still stomping the boards, says All Music Guide, while USA Today proclaims that this ferociously rocking band is one of the better-kept secrets around. But not a secret for much longer, as their seventh studio album, Happiness and All The Other Things, amply proves.
And, yes, being from a small town in Oklahoma and two of them now residing in the Lone Star State (where they are kings of the thriving Red Dirt/Texas music scene), Cross Canadian Ragweed also qualify as country, and have even played The Grand Ole Opry. It’s only natural, part of the musical heritage that the members of the band grew up on.
Ragweed’s utterly natural Southwestern rock style abounds on Happiness and All The Other Things. The 12-track opus opens with a one/two punch/kiss combo that sets the band’s wide parameters: The fiercely rocking road tale 51 Pieces followed by a sweet taste of the Texas Hill Country springtime on Blue Bonnets,whose sparse and lovely arrangement features harmonium by Joe Hardy (the star recording engineer who mixed the album) and dobro by noted musician and producer Lloyd Maines (also the father of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines). And then it only gets better.
All of that is no secret to Cross Canadian Ragweed’s legion of fans across the nation, especially those in the Texas/Oklahoma area who have supported the band from the start. It’s a rare bond of mutual loyalty between a group and its listeners that was grown the good ole grassroots way organically if you will through years of dedicated road work and delivering the nutritious rock goods that keep the fans coming back for more. Thanks to such fervent support, Ragweed hosts three annual festivals: their Music & Mayhem concert every Memorial Day back home in Oklahoma, which just celebrated its third year; the band’s Red Dirt Roundup in Texas, every Labor Day, now in its third year packing the Fort Worth Stockyards with 20,000 plus revelers this festival was featured in a 2007 New York Times article on Cross Canadian Ragweed as the leading lights of the Red Dirt scene; and their Family Jam held every year at the Zoo Amphitheatre in Oklahoma City to benefit Mandi’s Ministries, a charity founded by drummer Randy Ragsdale dedicated to his sister who passed away in a car accident in 2001.
It all began in Yukon, Oklahoma, where Canada, Plato, guitarist Grady Cross and drummer Randy Ragsdale all grew up together. We’ve known each other forever, Canada says. And in a small town with nothing much going on, what could the four boys do 14 years ago but start a rock’n’roll band?
We’re country boys that rock’n’roll, Canada explains, crediting their propulsive and rocking roots style to the kind of stuff we grew up on. My sister had nothing but Creedence, Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker just blasting out of her room. Then you’d go to the poolroom and my dad would be listening to Merle Haggard, Willie, Johnny Paycheck and George Strait. At Grady’s house it was the same thing: His older brother would be listening to Skynyrd, his dad would be listening to Merle. And Randy’s dad, he played with Merle and Bob Wills and all those guys.
The foursome eventually moved to Stillwater, OK, the college town that has been the state’s musical breeding ground, and also started winning over Texas with a weekly gig in the Lone Star musical mecca of Austin. After releasing two studio albums and two live discs on their own label that generated handsome indie sales and becoming a top live attraction in both states, the group’s crackling regional buzz caught the ear of music business legend Tony Brown, who signed Cross Canadian Ragweed to Universal Records South. Over their four previous major label albums Cross Canadian Ragweed (aka the purple album), Soul Gravy, Garage and Mission California ??? Ragweed has reaped a slew of rave reviews and began cracking the country Top 10 and pop Top 40 charts while expanding its fervent Southwestern following nationwide with dedicated touring throughout every year.
To get prepped to hit the studio for Happiness and All The Other Things, the band were joined by McClure and Briggs onstage for a road trip from Chicago to Southern California, where they all ensconced themselves together in a house and nearby studio to lay down the album. As with their previous releases, a unifying thread emerged by sheer fortuity from the songs as they were recorded. “It seems like every record we make there’s always a theme, but it”s never really on purpose, notes Canada. It just kind of happens.This time out, We call it Happiness and All The Other Things because it’s also sad,” Canada explains. “I write a lot from watching other people’s relationships, and there were a lot crumbling down around me. I just watched everyone else’s life unravel and also looked at mine, and it can be either happy or sad.
At the heart of Cross Canadian Ragweed is a spirit and sound that the Arizona Daily Star hails as simple, driving rock common-man’s poetry set to music. And it works marvelously for the group, two of whom now live in and around the burgeoning musical center of New Braunfels, Texas in between Austin and San Antonio, while Cross and Ragsdale hold down the home front back in Oklahoma. But any physical distance between them has no effect on their dedication to going the distance as a band. “We were all friends first, so that is a big factor in it, Cross explains. “We’ve been through the van days; we were in a van with a trailer for seven years, so you learn everyone???s buttons real quick. So once you get past all that, I think you’ve got it made. We’ve always been pretty tight. I think the music really keeps us together.”
And as is evident from the musical unity and passion that brims throughout Happiness and All The Other Things, “We love doing what we do,” concludes Canada. “If you love doing what you do and you can feed your family, keep doing it.”