There is an old cliché that says the family that plays together stays together.
In the case of Cody Canada and his son Dierks, the family that plays musically together grows together. As in father and son. Man to man. And man oh man can these two play.
On Saturday afternoon I was fortunate to meet Cody Canada and his son Dierks Cobain Canada (named after Dierks Bentley and Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain) just outside of Gruene Hall. As y’all know, Cody is the man behind Cody Canada and The Departed and was the main inspiration behind his old band, Cross Canadian Ragweed. Cody was the headliner act on Saturday night, and his son Dierks was going to open with the band The Waves.
A few weeks ago, my friends Phillip Moore and Bret Tillery texted me and asked if I would be interested in interviewing Cody at Gruene Hall. I was covering the Shiner-Hearne football playoff game when I got the text, and I literally jumped out of my seat in the press box in Sealy and shouted “Yes!” One of the wags in the press box made a snide comment about my outburst (which he was right to do) but when I showed him the message he shouted, “Yes! You lucky dog!”
On Saturday, Cody, Dierks and some friends attending the concert met on a lovely stretch of the Guadalupe River behind Gruene Hall and the Gruene Mansion Inn. When we sat down to chat, I told Cody youth would have to be served first and starting interviewing Dierks. The smile on Cody’s face told me a couple of things. First and foremost, Cody was one proud daddy that his son was being interviewed. His 14-year old son (yes, only 14 but the kid can play) means everything to him. Second, it was an insight into the type of man who Cody Canada is, and throughout the interview he showed himself to be a man of dignity, intelligence and compassion.
It turns out Dierks has been playing guitar since he was six years old. He has one of his dad’s older guitars, but he has been around the block and draws his inspiration from a number of diverse bands, including Alice in Chains, Metallica, Pearl Jam and Slipknot.
“My dad taught me the basics,” Dierks said. “But listening to the great guitar players like Eddie Van Halen, I knew I would love doing this. It’s a little nerve-racking when you are opening for your dad and his band, but tonight we are on our home turf. It’s not like the night we opened in Dallas in front of 16,000 people.
“I was definitely nervous that night.”
“I’m extremely proud of him,” Cody interjected with a big smile on his face. “He’s come a long way already, but he is his own man. I respect him for that. My other son (Willy Vedder Canada named after Reckless Kelly’s Willy Braun and Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder) has all my respect too.”
Dierks just beamed at the compliment, but then I had to muddy the waters by asking what he liked best about working with his dad and what he liked least. I glanced at Cody and he smiled and looked at his son not knowing what the answer would be, but confident he would nail the answer.
‘’Sometimes he really gets on my nerves,” Dierks said, before grinning. “But heck, he’s my dad and I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now if it wasn’t for him. I’ve learned from my dad that parents should not make their kids play sports because that’s what they did growing up. If a kid wants to play music, then let him play and encourage that. My dad did and tonight I’m playing Gruene Hall.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
Then it was Cody’s turn, and I could tell immediately that not only was he going to be sincere in his answers, but he is a man in transition and knows where he wants to go.
“My dad worked in the oil fields,” Cody recalled. “He took me to my first concert. It was George Strait and I was hooked. I wanted to start writing songs that are filled with things and people I am familiar with and care about.”
Canada was living in Oklahoma back then, and that’s where he met his wife Shannon and the band members that made up Cross Canadian Ragweed. They were living in Stillwater, Okla. and Cody’s music started to take off. So did the size of his family. For a number of years, he toured up to 280 days a year, but still he kept writing. Eventually, the need to protect his own words and songs caused the band to break up. But he still had his wife and sons.
About 10 years ago, Canada started writing again and formed the band Cody Canada and The Departed. His wife is the band’s manager, and now the family spends a lot more time together.
“It would be perfect if we could be on the road for two weeks, and then home for two weeks,” Canada said. “That would be a perfect blend of time and creativity.”
In listening to him talk, I saw a kind and thoughtful man in evolving and growing more mature and deeper as he gets older. I asked him about that.
“In my opinion, I think your lyric writing has gotten much better and so has your music,” I said. “What changed from Cross Canadian Ragweed to early Cody Canada and The Departed to now?”
He looked up with a very emotional but sincere look on his face.
“Kids and my family changed me,” he said. “I had traveled, had some ups and downs about my music and didn’t play for a while. But the way I felt about my wife and family and being on the road all the time took its toll emotionally. I wanted to be home with them more often.
“My early music had a lot of anger in it. I would write songs about people or friends who made me mad, but that’s what I write about—things that I feel and care about.”
Over time, his philosophy has changed, and he is relishing the role of being a father to his two talented sons. He knows there are other things he would like to do, perhaps even be a producer.
“I had a friend who produced all our music over the years named Junior LaFave. He had a great understanding of music,’’ Canada said. “A little while back he got sick and knew he was going to die.” “What am I going to about making music?” Canada asked LaFave before Junior passed away.
“Find somebody else to do it,’’ was the emotional response he gave. After talking about this, Cody turned and smiled. “Maybe that’s the next step. Who knows what the future holds?’’
Based on what he had mentioned before about writing with emotion about his friends, I asked him if he was going to do or write a song about Junior. He sat there for a few seconds, shuffled his feet, looked at the ground and then looked up with a powerful determination and sincerity.
“I think I’m going to do an all acoustic ballad,” he said softly.
Our eyes locked, and I felt the pain and emotion he felt about losing his friend. I can’t wait to hear his song because I am sure he will write a beautiful but mournful ballad for his friend.
Time started to run short, so I asked him about the School of Rock he started in New Braunfels.
“It’s a franchise, but I saw a need for it here,’’ Cody said. “I wanted to give Dierks some lessons from some of the great musicians who live in this area but either they weren’t available or didn’t show up at all. So I bought the School of Rock franchise, we opened it here, and now we teach kids and anyone who wants to learn how to play. We even make them perform. There are a lot of great artists here and it is nice to be able to provide an opportunity for people to play and follow their dreams.”
We shook hands, took pictures, and Cody and Dierks went off to get ready. The Canadas rocked the house that night on Gruene Hall. That makes me smile.
Interview (MAIN): Saturday afternoon, Gonzales Inquirer publisher Terry FItzwater was fortunate to meet Cody Canada and his son Dierks Cobain Canada just outside of Gruene Hall. They sat down for an interview before the show later that night.
Cody Canada: Cody Canada was fantastic at Gruene Hall, rocking the house in his holiday spirit attire.
Dierks: Dierks Cobain Canada (son of Cody Canada and named after Dierks Bentley and Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain) is only 14-years-old, but has been playing the guitar since he was six.