Cody Canada can almost see Oklahoma from here.
Cody Canada can almost see Oklahoma from here.
Photo by Karen Connell/Courtesy of T. Cannon Media

The Departed Start Over Again With Hippielovepunk

North or south of the Red River, pedigrees don't come any purer than Cody Canada & the Departed. Not so long ago, Cody Canada and Jeremy Plato were part of Cross Canadian Ragweed, the rangy Oklahoma rockers whose small-town spin on Steve Earle-style diesel-country was all the rage in Stillwater by the end of the millennium. For the next decade CCR's music spread like a brush fire, with songs like "17" and "Sick and Tired" helping them become one of the top-drawing acts in the Southwest and leading to several albums on Universal South, with 2006's Soul Gravy the arguable pick of the litter.

The band was an essential part of a scene that was growing so fast it soon had its own nickname: Texas country -- or, because CCR's fellow Okies like Stoney LaRue, Jason Boland and the Turnpike Troubadors were making just as much noise as Texans such as Pat Green, Kevin Fowler and Reckless Kelly -- Red Dirt music. But when CCR split in 2010, Canada and Plato wasted no time in forming the Departed, adding respected Austin blues-rock guitarist Seth James to the lineup and debuting with 2011's This Is Indian Land, a collection of covers by Oklahoma songwriters from J.J. Cale and Leon Russell to Kevin Welch. James stepped to the fore on the next year's Adventus (Latin for "arrival"), writing most of the songs the album, but decided to leave the Departed amicably about a year later.

Though things are cool between them, "both of us had been in our own acts for 16 years, and it just wasn't working out," says Canada, who has lived in New Braunfels since the early 2000s. "We made good music together, but we were also missing what we were. Once he left, I really felt like I could get back to doing what I feel that I'm good at, what I'm put here to do."

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The Departed's next chapter begins with new album Hippielovepunk (Underground Sound), a sturdy collection of songs that often sounds like Canada is spoiling for a fight and can be reduced to a line in one of its few relatively mellow cuts, "Easy": "bloody knuckles and a woman to love." The bizarre title, Canada explains, comes from a friend of his in New Braunfels who reduced Canada's description of its three types of songs -- love songs, "back-me-in-a-corner songs" and "take-care-of-each-other-songs" -- to those three words. Released in January, Hippielovepunk is also heavy with the kind of greasy, surly licks once common on vintage AC/DC and ZZ Top albums.

"That's the guitar playing that I grew up playing," says Canada. "What it all boils down to is that's all blues licks, and that's really what I know better than anything when it comes to guitar playing."

Houston Press: Do you have any idea how many times you've played the Firehouse over the year? Cody Canada: Oh, man. If I was guessing, I'd say probably 30 times in the last 20 years. A lot.

Do any shows there in the past stand out to you? We always have fun. That's the whole point. But I played like a Ten Man Jam with Gary Allan and Lee Ann Womack, Randy Rogers, and a couple of friends. It was downtown, and we just loaded up and went down to the Firehouse to see Django Walker play. Before the end of the night, we took over Django's set. We all got up there and jammed.

At this point what does it take to distinguish one show from the next one? Well, after awhile they really do start running together. My thing has always been, no matter what you do, if you don't love it then don't do it. I always approach every day with, "Tonight's gonna be a great show, and I play music for a living."

I'm a pretty positive person. I try to stay as positive as I can, and even when you're four weeks out on the road and you miss everybody, there could be a lot worse things. I could be a soldier away from my family for a long, long, long time.

How has living in Central Texas changed you as a musician and a songwriter, do you think? Well, when I was in Stillwater, I was surrounded by a bunch of musicians. People started getting record deals, and people started moving off, some people quit, so the scene in Stillwater really started diminishing. Most people were going other places, like Austin or Tulsa. I decided for two reasons: I was tired of tornadoes and cold weather in Oklahoma.

The other thing is, I don't know, I wanted to get where the action was, and moving down here I got closer to Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers and Ray Wylie; there's just so many people. George Strait's guys. I think changing me as a writer, I was witnessing other people writing that I hadn't ever been around, so it kind of changed my perspective on certain things. I never really was the kind of songwriter that wrote about Texas as much as some people do, you know, but I started running around with some of the other cats I looked up to, so it definitely made me grow.

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When you were with CCR, when did you start realizing that this whole so-called Red Dirt movement was becoming a thing of its own? Well, you know, when we were all up in Oklahoma, like Jason Boland and Stoney LaRue and us, we hadn't really traveled anywhere but Oklahoma. Once we started getting out, we started realizing that there really wasn't that much of a difference between Oklahoma music and Texas music. Really, hardly any at all.

Once we got down here, we all started playing more shows together and we started noticing more people were showing up and comng out. Probably about 2001 there was a pretty good buzz about the Okie bands coming into Texas, and we worked for six or seven years really hard, being gone 300 days a year. Nobody had kids, so it was easier.

Since CCR was so successful, do you feel responsible for this movement coming into its own? Oh, I don't know. That's really somebody else's question. I feel like we had something to do with it as a group, not as one band. I think that everybody was on the same page. A lot of folks were...like, you can stop one band but you can't stop 12 of them. We were going to do something.

I think everybody's mentality at the same time. Pat was on fire, Reckless was just starting. Everybody had the same goal, and that was "Let's make this music well-known not only in this state but as many places as we can take it." So yeah, I guess so. I feel responsible a little bit for being a bearing in the wheel.

How tight are you and the Departed with the Reckless Kelly crew? Very. My youngest boy Willy is named after Willy Braun. They're family to us. We go up there and spend several days up in Idaho with their folks, and when they come down here we all gather round and have dinners together and stuff, so they're definitely family to us.

How many of their softball events have you participated in? We've been a part of every one of them, from the very first one. We haven't missed one yet. This year we have that and Wade Bowen's golf tournament in the same day, and are damn sure going to make both of 'em happen.

Cody Canada & the Departed perform with special guests Thieving Birds 9 p.m. tonight at Firehouse Saloon, 5930 Southwest Fwy.

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