Cody Canada has spent a good chunk of the past two decades in bars, and he doesn't expect that to change anytime soon.
That's just life as a red dirt musician.
But one bar in particular has played a pivotal role in the Yukon-bred singer/songwriter/guitarist's life and career: The Wormy Dog Saloon.
“I hate to put my life around a bar, but you know, I met (singer-songwriter pal Jason) Boland there, I met Stoney (LaRue) there, I met my wife there. And I love it,” Canada said in a recent phone interview from his office in his adopted hometown of New Braunfels, Texas.
The original Wormy Dog in Stillwater, which was open from 1992-2004, was the main stomping ground for Canada's previous band, the late, great red dirt rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed.
His new band, Cody Canada & The Departed, will headline the saloon's 20th anniversary party Friday night at the Bricktown location, which he and his wife/manager Shannon Canada helped establish in 2003.
“It was really a shock to my ears to hear that it's 20 years old. I didn't even think about it. You know, I showed up the Wormy Dog when it was 2 years old. That's when The Great Divide was blowing up and I'd just discovered what was in my backyard with all this great Oklahoma music. I can say it now 'cause nobody's gonna get in trouble, but I'd sneak in there at 17 years old — well, I guess I was 16, — and talk to a certain few people that knew how old I was, and it was just, ‘If you're gonna drink beer, drink it in back, be quiet, don't get drunk ... ,'” Canada recalled with a laugh.
“Then when I was 18, I got a gig with (Great Divide frontman Mike) McClure. I played Mondays with him for about six months and then they gave me my own night.”
Canada, 36, learned all about music, life and himself during those Dog days, including that he was a band kind of guy rather than a solo artist type.
For 16 years, seminal red dirt quartet Cross Canadian Ragweed was that band. Formed in 1994 in Yukon, Ragweed — Canada, bassist Jeremy Plato, guitarist Grady Cross and drummer Randy Ragsdale — planted its musical roots in the fertile red dirt soil of Stillwater, particularly at the Wormy Dog.
In May 2010, Ragweed shocked its fervent followers by announcing it was going on indefinite hiatus, giving the reason that Ragsdale, who lives in Yukon, needed to spend more time with his family, particularly his son, JC, who has autism.
While Ragsdale and Cross settled down off the road, Canada and Plato formed The Departed with Texas guitarist Seth James, Tulsa keyboardist Steve Littleton and Yukon drummer David Bowen, with the band playing its first shows before the end of 2010.
In June 2011, The Departed released its debut album, “This Is Indian Land,” an 18-track salute to Sooner State songwriters, from Leon Russell and J.J. Cale to the Red Dirt Rangers and Tom Skinner. Even as the covers record garnered acclaim and The Departed played to packed houses, some die-hard Ragweed fans clung to the notion that the old band would eventually get back together.
“I really appreciate people hanging on to Ragweed, but it's like, man, if you don't let go a little bit, then you can't accept what we're doing,” Canada said. “This is not a side project. Ragweed was so much fun, I love those guys in the band with all my being, and I wish everybody well. I still keep in contact. But it got to the point where people started having kids, and the highway started taking its toll, and some people can handle it and some people can't.
“In my opinion, I'm going to be in bar for the rest of my life, whether it's a bar of 300 people or a bar of 3,000 people. That's the kind of music I do.”
Fan speculation that there was more to Ragweed's don't-call-it-a-breakup breakup intensified when Ragsdale returned to the road as drummer for LaRue's band and The Departed never turned up on the lineup at Cross' Yukon pub Grady's 66, which often hosts red dirt bands.
In a March interview with the Dallas Observer, Canada bluntly acknowledged that Ragsdale's family situation was just one aspect of the split and that what he now calls other “irreconcilable differences” were involved.
“There was a lot of people pointing their finger at me, and it was like, ‘You know, you people don't know anything about anything.' I mean, we let everybody in on a lot of our personal life and a lot of our musical life with music, with lyrics. But when it comes down to it, when the door shuts, not everybody knows how everybody feels and what's going on. And everybody tried, you know, and it was just to the point of, man, it's kind of outta gas,” Canada said.
“Randy, he'd called me and asked about coming back out on the road. And I was like, ‘Man, you know I'm a commitment person, and I've already committed to these fellas. And I'm not gonna turn my back on 'em,'” Canada added. “And Randy said, ‘Well, man, I can appreciate that. ... I'm gonna go play with Stoney.' It's like, ‘Right on, man, go do it. Go do your thing.'”
Future of Departed
The frontman added that Bowen basically came out of retirement to help The Departed get started and recently left because of chronic rotator cuff problems. The band is working with a new drummer, Chris Doege, as it forges ahead with its first album of original material.
“Really, for the last two years we've just been writing a lot. Once we got to the studio to start this thing ... I don't know if Seth did or not, but I didn't realize that we had so many songs. I hadn't really assessed how many we had written in the last two years; I knew we had a bunch of ideas. Then once we got in there and started recording stuff, it hit 12 songs, and it was like ‘OK, cool,' and then it hit 15, and it was like ‘Oh, wow.' And you get to like 18 tunes, and it's like ‘OK, we're way, way, way ahead of the game.' So this is a good place to be.”
The singer-songwriter said The Departed was planning to finish recording the as-yet-untitled album this week at Yellow Dog Studios in Austin, Texas, in the hopes of releasing it in fall.
In the meantime, he and his bandmates will make music and reminiscences Friday at the Bricktown Wormy Dog, with a set list that includes Ragweed and Departed tunes.
“I remember the first time walking in there, (owner) Chuck (Thomson) asked me, ‘What do you think?' And I said, ‘Well, I don't think it's anything like the original. It smells too good.' He was like, ‘Well, give it about four years.' And now you walk in, and it's that same old beer-smoky smell. It finally became what it used to be in Stillwater,” said Canada, who is still a partner in the bar, along with his wife and Plato.
“It's a trip to me. I'm starting to get to the age where it's like, ‘Wow, that was 20 years ago? Holy (expletive)!' I used to go, ‘When was that? Like four, five years ago? Aw, I can't remember.' Now it's like, ‘Oh, man, I'm 30-what?'”
Wormy Dog 20th Anniversary Party
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Doors open at 4 p.m.
Where: Wormy Dog Saloon, 311 E Sheridan.
Friday lineup: Cody Canada & The Departed and Charlie Robison.
Saturday lineup: Pat Green, Mike McClure and Kyle Park.