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SIDEMAN BLUES: Cross Canadian Ragweed's Grady Cross
by Randy Cunningham; photo by Mike Galloway
Grady CrossIf you’re a fan of stand-up comics, you know that George Carlin is a comedy Godfather who has spent his career splitting sides and pushing the boundaries of laughter with his strange-but-true takes on life. Years ago, Carlin brought down the house with his “7 Dirty Words” routine, in which he discussed those terms that network television censors simply would not allow to be broadcast over the airwaves. Sorry, can’t print them here. C’mon, this is a family magazine.

Man, but how the times are a changin’. Sometime, sit down in front of the tube and try to find a show that doesn’t have language that would make a grandma blush. Just ask Jerry Springer. His show has more “beeps” than a Star Wars robot.

Carlin had his “7 words.” I’ve got one more to add to the list. It’s nasty, folks, so those of you music buffs with weak stomachs might want to ask a friend to preview this for you. Here goes: fame.

Yep, fame. See, music fans love to find that underdog singer or band with a small following and leap onto their bandwagon. Being a fan of an up-and-coming band means front-row seats at shows with plenty of time afterwards for conversation and a cold beverage. But, as the band becomes more popular, tickets are harder to find, and conversations are reduced to a momentary visit. Band fame can be a fan’s worst nightmare.

Cross Canadian Ragweed played their first paying gig on a flatbed trailer at the Czech Festival in Yukon, Oklahoma years ago, and though they brought tons of energy and the desire to succeed onstage that day, twenty bucks says that not many folks made a long-distance drive to see them. Tell you what. Let’s bring them back to their old stomping grounds next year and watch as the ticket sales for their show don’t just increase, but explode. Yep, to say they’ve got a bit of name recognition now is probably the understatement of the year.

So, when I learned that I would have the opportunity to interview Grady Cross, I thought, “I met him years ago at a small club and we had a great visit. He was really friendly and easy to talk to. Now, he’s really well-known, and Ragweed is perched on the edge of real fame. Has he changed? Will my questions get the politically correct band responses, or will he share stories fans will love?”

The phone rang, right at the agreed-upon time. His first words were, “Hey, this is Grady Cross. I’m sorry my voice sounds so bad. I went to the drugstore in Yukon last night and they didn’t have any allergy medicine. I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to visit, but I think I’ll be OK.”

Fame. Some musicians guzzle it like a favorite adult beverage, while others swallow it in small sips. Grady could easily have allowed this intoxicant to affect him, but it was immediately obvious he’s the same guy from the flatbed trailer, and every performance, no matter how big, means the same as that day at the Yukon festival. Don’t believe me? Take a listen:

• You’ve been named the President of Music. You make all decisions regarding radio, videos, etc. What’s your first act as the new President?
Man, I’ll be playing more Merle Haggard. He doesn’t get the respect he deserves.

• What musician causes you to pull over to the side of the road, just so you can stop and really listen?
You know, I love listening to guitarists. Right now, I’m listening a lot to Kenny Vaughn, the guitarist for Marty Stuart. I’m a huge fan of Eddie Van Halen also. Really, I enjoy listening to a lot of guys.

• A lot of fans feel nervous or excited knowing they have the chance to meet you. Who have you met that caused that feeling, and was there something you wanted to say but forgot?
Willie Nelson. We met him about 9 years ago when we opened for him. When I first met him I just froze, but we got to go on his bus and meet all the guys in his crew. But, we learned why he’s so successful, and that’s because he and everyone who works with him is so humble.

• Who’s your hero?
I’m a big fan of my dad. He’s a businessman, and just a really good guy.

• What were you thinking when you held Carney in your hands for the first time?
Man, I just wanted everyone to hear it. We finally had our own product. I remember getting off work after framing houses all day. I would drive an hour-and-a-half one way up there, record until late, then have to drive all the way home and get up at 7a.m. to go back to work. I was so proud of it.

• Let’s say that A&E wants to make a reality show about Ragweed. What’s the title, and what will we learn about you that we don’t already know?
We’d have to call the show Not Made For TV. Man, we play a lot of X-box. We also watch a lot of television. Cody is a big fan of The Simpsons and we all love to watch Family Guy. Also, we love watching really stupid movies.

• What went through your mind the first time you were asked for an autograph?
I thought, “Are you serious?”

• What music do you listen to that might surprise fans?
Dylan, the Black Crowes, Dwight Yoakum. I listen to everything, except Top 40. I’m a huge fan of Dierks, Lee Ann Womack, George Strait. Man, I just like good music. It could range from Pantera to Frank Sinatra. Just good music.

• Which show is your favorite, American Chopper or Monster Garage?
Oooh, that’s tough. I’d have to say American Chopper. We have several bikes and we like to cruise together. Cody’s really into muscle cars.

• Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin?
Man, there’s no way I can choose between those two. They’re both great.

• Kiss or Aerosmith?
Aerosmith. They’re still out there doing it every night. I’m a huge Joe Perry fan, also.

• What musical goals do you still want to achieve?
We’ve always wanted to be on Saturday Night Live or David Letterman. It would be amazing to play with the Black Crowes, the Stones, or Neil Young. Playing with ZZ Top just blew our minds.

• Talk about a compliment that you’ve received that you still remember today.
A lot of soldiers tell us, “You kept me going when I needed it the most.” My dad and his dad served, and we meet a lot of military guys.

• You’ve been asked to play one Ragweed song that you feel best represents the band. What is it?
Man, that’s a tough one. Probably “Anywhere But Here.” We love to jam on that song, and we can make it as long or short as we want it.

• What’s been the biggest change for the better in Ragweed over the past 12 years?
We have kids now. We are big family guys. Family is huge for us, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love spending time with my wife and son, like going to the park and just hanging out together. My son is taking a liking to the drums, and I keep telling him that’s just too much for him to keep loading in. Just get a vocal mike and an acoustic mike and you’re set! (laughs)

• Ever been asked to do something musically you felt unsure about?

We’ve been asked to do stuff that we knew wouldn’t sound good. Sometimes when you start adding things to the music it just doesn’t work, and when that happens, we just say no. We know better than anyone else what we sound like. We know what’s us.

• Who would you drive 100 miles to see perform, even if you didn’t have a ticket and you knew it would be sold out?
Stoney, ‘cause I know he would get me in! (Laughs) We get that a lot from folks. They’ll say, “I drove 8 hours to see you”, and we say, “You shoulda called!” But, we usually get ‘em in.

• What happened the moment after you walked off the stage at Cain’s when you recorded Back To Tulsa?
We’re family, man. We just hugged each other.

Fame. It’s a legal drug that, when placed in the wrong hands, can create more long-lasting damage than some temporary-acting substances. Simply put, some folks just can’t handle success. Instead, success handles them.

Grady Cross wants to hear more Merle Haggard, idolizes his dad, loves spending time with family, and still resides in the hometown of his youth with both feet firmly planted, not just in the red dirt of Oklahoma, but in the real world. Is he well known? Yep, but on a planet that constantly evolves, it’s nice to realize that some good guys simply will not change. The price of fame? It can be costly, but Grady Cross isn’t buying.

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