Smile Politely

Caught between a rock and a…

Believe it or not, Cross Canadian Ragweed is neither Canadian nor full of allergens. They’re actually from Oklahoma, and they play a mix of country and rock that doesn’t fit too cleanly with their label-mates on Universal South. However, they’ve built a substantial following with constant touring over the course of a more than a decade.

They’re playing the Canopy Club tonight. Tickets were $15 in advance, so they’re likely to be a couple bucks more at the door. Seth James opens the 9 p.m. show.

I caught up with CCR drummer Randy Ragsdale (the band’s name is a mashup of three of the members’ names) last Thursday at his home base in Yukon, Oklahoma, and he talked about calf fries, Taylor Swift, and the uniquely-Oklahoman Red Dirt sound.

Smile Politely: What’s the weather like today in Yukon?

Randy Ragsdale: Not bad, there’s a little wind from the south, that’s about it. It’s really not that cold; I expected it to be colder. I’ve been gone for a little while, and I thought it would be colder when we got back to town, but it’s not that bad. Wind, that’s what we deal with a lot.

Smile Politely: Where’s Yukon compared to the big towns in Oklahoma?

Randy Ragsdale: Yukon’s basically Oklahoma City. We’re like 10 minutes away from Oklahoma City. It’s basically connected. If you’re on the interstate, you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Stillwater’s more between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. It’s out there by itself. There’s a lot of stuff to do, but the main reason it’s there is because of the college. Because of that, it has all the kids, and they bring in a lot of cool stuff. We started going there because there’s a cool music scene going on, a lot of people coming into Stillwater and playing, a lot of cool bands. The original Wormy Dog was in Stillwater, and we kind of got our foot in the door up there, and started going to watch a bunch of bands up there that had influenced us, and once we started coming of age, that’s where we made our start. We started coming up there on the weekends and it just snowballed from there.

Smile Politely: How did you get started playing drums?

Randy Ragsdale: My dad was a musician, and there was always music laying around the house, here and there. I just decided — he wanted me to play guitar, and I like guitar and everything, but I just always wanted to play the drums. He never would take the dive to get me a drum kit, and then one day, I was at a jam session with he and his buddies, and the drummer left early, and he said, ‘I know you’ve always wanted to play. Jump back there and see what you can do.’ So, ok, I did, and before the end of the jam session, I had what I thought was a pretty good beat down, and I had a blast doing it, and I caught the fever from then. I was probably nine or ten at that point, and I was just old enough to go mow some lawns. I bought a drum kit off of one of his drummer buddies for like 50 bucks, and I mowed a bunch of lawns and made 50 bucks. I took it over there in a coffee can and a bunch of change, and a bunch of ones and fives. He didn’t even let me finish counting it, he just said, ‘Give me that! Here’s the drums.’ And I’ve been pretty much hammering away ever since.

Smile Politely: That’s the way to do it, huh?

Randy Ragsdale: Yeah, it was always something I wanted to do. I think my dad just wanted to make sure I was serious about it. After that, he bought me a drum kit, a nice one. But I mean, I guess I got started because of him being a musician, too. It was always around.

Smile Politely: Do you guys still play your hometown very often?

Randy Ragsdale: We still play Stillwater about once a year, this thing called the Calf Fry, that’s a big festival they have up there — they cook cow nuts. Every year in September, we do a show called the Family Jam at the Zoo Amphitheater here in Oklahoma City, and it’s a pretty big show. It’s a 10,000-seat, outdoor amphitheater thing, and it has an all-day music festival atmosphere. We’ll do that every year, and then we do a show the first day of the year, we call it Hangover Ball, and we do that in Oklahoma City at the Wormy Dog, the new Wormy Dog. As far as playing in Yukon, we haven’t played in Yukon in — jesus, it’s been over 10 years. It’s been a while. They don’t really bring in bands anywhere around here. It’s more or less a farm town that’s gotten overrun by the Lowe’s and Chili’s and Chick Fil-A and stuff like that. It’s still just a farm town.

Smile Politely: How much time do you spend on the road? Does it vary from year to year?

Randy Ragsdale: It’s pretty much a constant tour. We call it the NET — the never-ending tour. It’s been, jeez I don’t know, the last ten years have been just hammerin’ away. We got up to 265 shows a year and that was four years ago, something like that. Ever since then, it goes down just a little bit. I think now we’re between 200 and 220 a year. We’re pretty much on the road a lot more than we’re home. When we come home, it’s usually for a couple days or three days. We might get a week off in the summer and a week off at Christmas. It’s pretty much like going to work, except you don’t come home. Hopefully, we can change that. That’s not something I want to do forever. That’s just what we’re doing right now.

Smile Politely: I was wondering if burnout’s an issue, or whether you get enough of a break to get refreshed.

Randy Ragsdale: It’s getting to the point where we’re needing that. It’s like, man, come on, I got two kids at home, my wife — I love playing music and it makes me happy, but I want to, just like you said, get refreshed. Go home and get refreshed, not go home and do laundry and then get back on the road.

Smile Politely: Well, we’ll shift gears off of that, then. When researching for this article, I saw that you’re referred to as “Red Dirt Music,” and I’d never heard of that before. Could you talk a little about that, and if that accurately describes what you guys play?

Randy Ragsdale: Yeah, that’s what we play. I think it’s the same thing if Tom Petty were from Oklahoma, he’d be considered a Red Dirt artist, you know? It’s not a genre as far as rock, country, blues, jazz, anything like that. There’s a twangy side to the Red Dirt, and there’s a rock side to it. It’s the same thing as the overall attitude of Americana, but it’s our own brand of it from Oklahoma, where the soil’s red, so we put our own name on there. We got started in the whole Red Dirt deal with what we’d consider the godfathers of it, which would be, like, Bob Childers and Tom Skinner, and those are the guys when we first left Yukon and went up to Stillwater, they were playing out at a place called The Farm, and that’s where we learned the etiquette of listening to some guy’s new song around a campfire, and then at the same time, you’d go watch him at the bar the next night. You got to hang out with the really good musicians, and they coined the term. We’ve been around it, I wouldn’t say since it’s been called Red Dirt, but a damn long time.

Smile Politely: That’s good, a lot of bands get labeled with something they don’t like, so I’m glad you’re comfortable…

Randy Ragsdale: Yeah, I don’t mind the Red Dirt thing at all. What we have more trouble with, we’re a rock band that has a country label (Universal South), and that’s what hurts us more than anything. I don’t know… yeah, they are a country label. They’re from Nashville, so they are country, but we’re not really a country band. We have country roots, but when you see us live, or we just get together and jam on a song or something, it usually comes out as a rock tune. We don’t sit around trying to make a rock record or a country album or a blues album or jazz, we just play and what comes out, comes out, and it’s usually more rock ‘n roll-sounding. That doesn’t work so well for them sometimes. They don’t really know what to do with us.

Smile Politely: Yeah, that’s tricky I suppose. They like to put everything in a nice package with a bow on it, I suppose.

Randy Ragsdale: Yeah, they’ve got to call it something so they can sell it, but they deal in the country market, and we’re not really a country band, so it kind of hits a wall. Well, Americana, though, that’s what I was saying, that’s a great home for a band like us. If one album has one song that’s a little too rock ‘n roll for country, and a little too country for rock ‘n roll, or vice versa, like Fogerty’s new stuff — he’s not really country, but there’s not really a rock market for what he’s doing, so he’s Americana. I think we follow that pretty well.

Smile Politely: It’s got a big enough umbrella that a lot of people can fit under that and be pretty comfortable.

Randy Ragsdale: Yeah, exactly.

Smile Politely: But it’s still difficult to market to a super-broad audience, I’m sure.

Randy Ragsdale: Right, right. But they do it, and if it’s friendly enough, it can be done. But ours is a little edgy. Like Taylor Swift, I wouldn’t consider that country, but she’s taken home every award she can, you know?

Smile Politely: I don’t know, you want to talk about that?

Randy Ragsdale: No, no, but last night I was playing a show, and my family was at home watching that, and it made me think about it, they said she was winning all kinds of stuff, and I was like, ‘Damn. That’s not even — it’s not like I listen to her or anything, but obviously I’ve heard the songs, like everyone else in the world — but it’s not country, and it’s supposed to be a country music awards show. I just don’t get it. Yeah, don’t get me started on that shit [laughs].

Smile Politely: Yeah, you’ve gotta enjoy your break. I don’t want to get you all fired up.

Randy Ragsdale: I’ll be all right [laughs].

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