WHO'S NEW ... PURPLE REIGN

CROSS CANADIAN RAGWEED

The cover of country-rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed's new self-titled album is completely purple - and it's more than just a fashion choice.

"We unfortunately lost my little sister, Mandi, last year in a car wreck," explains drummer Randy Ragsdale. "It was our way of dedicating the album to her, because her favorite color was purple. Now everything we get is purple."

Guitarist Grady Cross perks up and nudges bass player Jeremy Plato. "I've got your purple lighter, by the way," he says.

"I want to paint my motorcycle purple," ponders Jeremy, thinking out loud.

"Everybody says it's a self-titled album, but it'll forever be 'The Purple Album,' " says singer and lead guitarist Cody Canada with a smile.

That heartfelt, straight-ahead gesture isn't just a testament to the band's sincerity - it's a good clue to their honest country-flavored rock sound, as anyone who's heard their hit "17" can tell you. "It smells like country, tastes like rock 'n' roll," jokes Cody.

It's a sound forged when the band members, who have known one another since childhood, began playing backyard parties and other casual gatherings in Yukon, Okla., as teens. They got serious in 1994, cleverly dubbing themselves after a combination of the band members' surnames and setting out for the music-friendlier town of Stillwater to make that name famous.

Soon they began cultivating a fiercely devoted following all over the Texas-Oklahoma area, where they all still live. CCR satisfied that audience with a series of self-released albums, without worrying whether a major record company would come calling. "We never thought it would happen, for damn sure," laughs Cody.

But it did - Nashville label Universal South signed them up. Along with a nationwide Dodge TV commercial that features the band's 2001 song "Long Way Home," it all adds up to a suddenly high profile for these low-key guys. But whether they stay in the public eye or not, don't expect them to slow down anytime soon.

"We just want to keep playing music," says Cody. "That's what brought us together in the first place. We'll be a bunch of 50-year-old, hacking, wheezing, emphysema-ward guitar players!"

-- Chris Neal

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