Odd jobs: Chuck Ragan is punk rock’s Paul Bunyan

If you took a family quarrel-type of inquiry into who the punk scene considered their version of Paul Bunyan, Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan would probably be the number one answer. How many other decades-old punk rockers have a fly-fishing business, their own sauce business, and a partnership with Traeger Grills?

With Hot Water Music becoming more of a part-time gig regular since their 2008 reunion, Ragan has had more time to pursue his other passions – many of which are given the same intensity and dedication he brings to songs that won over fans for 13 studio albums (four solo and nine Hot Water Music) and a slew of other releases. And that’s not even including the time he started the biggest traveling acoustic punk rock party of all time, the now defunct Revival Tour.

From the guided tour to the condiments, SPIN spoke with Ragan about all his passion projects outside of his music.

SPIN: What made you start fly fishing?
Chuck Ragan: Well, fishing has been an integral part of my life since I was a child, it is one of my oldest and fondest memories. It was always something my family participated in. It wasn’t a sport, it was just something we did. It was part of our life. We were meat harvesters, so it wasn’t like that for me these days, but it was something my parents and grandparents used to expose me to outdoors from a young age. They connected me outside and showed me something that just blew my mind. I realize now, at a later age in life, that they were just doing what their parents had passed on to them and what they were passionate about. It lit a spark in me. Not only has it given me the joy of the outdoors and the joy of fishing, but it has also given me a reason to protect these waterways and defend the species that live there.

I had to transform my career, so to speak, at the age of 40. In our thirties, my wife and I were talking about having kids, our future and what we were doing – and, in all honesty, I was looking at how what my life was like, how often I was on tour and how many time I was gone throughout the year. I realized that once the kids came on the scene, I didn’t want to be an absentee dad. I had to find some sort of balance. I had friends in northern California who were fishing guides, and I had known fishing guides since I was a kid, so that was always something on my mind. I had other guides calling me when they needed someone to help them with trips, and other people who wanted to fish with me, so it became clear that this was something I could have done for 20 years.

How was this transition for you?
It took a second to turn it around in my head to realize that if I just made a few adjustments to my schedule and schedule, I could make a living doing it. It would be something that would keep me more at home with my family – once we had kids – so I immediately had focus and perspective. And not only that, I started working with this non-profit organization called Cast Hope. Our goal is to take kids and their mentors – whether it’s their parents, a big brother or sister, a guidance counselor, a teacher, or anyone else they’re connected with – on three fishing trips on the fly to expose them to the outdoors and give them a reason to care about the outdoors and the waterways.

I started having to balance the music career with the heavy outdoor work I do, and that makes everything easier. It’s not easy because it’s always nose to the grindstone as an independent contractor, but it’s more time outdoors and with my family. It’s not much different from being a framer or a deck builder, and I’ve noticed that in a way it’s pretty much the same as being a freelance musician.

How is the life of a group similar to that of a fishing guide?
They are similar and completely different at the same time. It looks like a divided way of life. When I’m home, I wake up at 3:30 or 4:00 every morning. I don’t need to set an alarm, it happens. Most days I’m in bed when the boy goes to bed, so anywhere between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m., unless I have to stay up later for some reason to get the boat ready or whatever. Then when I switch to the road, those schedules really change all of a sudden. I get up immediately until 2:00 a.m. and get up at 9:00 a.m. It’s crazy, but when it comes to what we do – whether it’s playing in a band or guiding – you provide a service that you are passionate about and have learned. You’re just putting it on the table for someone and doing your best to make a good impression, so hopefully that customer or viewer will come see you again. You’re trying to work hard, deliver something great, and give someone a wonderful memory.

Is there any advice you would like to give to other aspiring fishing guides?
It’s like any other freelance business, you can’t expect a massive return right away. If it was about money, I’d probably do something else. You must be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices and bear the hardships that come with it. The best advice I can give anyone – whether it’s music, starting a sauce business, fishing guides, or any other type of artist – is to get back what you put into it. You can do whatever you want for the most part, but if you put your energy, your heart and your soul into it, there will be a return. Now, is this the return you are hoping for? It all depends on your goals. There are a lot of people who join a band and don’t realize that bands that do what they want have been doing for 35-36 years and have made a ridiculous amount of sacrifice. Things can sometimes happen overnight, but it’s like buying a lottery ticket. You have to be ready to work hard, make sacrifices and give it your all, then the positive things will come back.

In addition to being a fishing guide, how did you come to the Dandy Sauce Company?
The sauce business started in 2014 under a different name with other partners. We worked on it for a while and worked really hard to build this business, but for some reason we had some really tough times with the business side of it. People loved the sauce – in fact every time we made it it sold out immediately – but we just couldn’t keep up. I was busy with music and guides, and my partner with restaurants and such in Texas, and we just had a hard time getting it off the ground.

There were a few years where it just seemed to stagnate. We were trying to figure out what we were going to do with it, and just when we were about to throw in the towel, we ran into Mary Risavi of Wise Goat Organics. In fact, she went out on a fishing trip and she brought all this gear. Then she started making regular trips, and I mentioned the sauce company. The more I told her about how we were about to throw in the towel, the more different ideas she had. She offered to try, as our biggest issues were packaging and distribution, which she knows very well. Mary came on the scene and started killing him right away. She had all kinds of crazy ideas for the cast, and we immediately thought she should be a part of it. Rather than giving him a piece, we made him an equal partner to do it as a team.

We relaunched it recently and absolutely love everything we do. We have all kinds of new products and new things in the works, and these are just foods that we are passionate about and use ourselves. These are things that not only we appreciate, but also our families and our communities. It struck me a long time ago that the majority of people I know and work with in the music business run bars, restaurants, food trucks, catering businesses, festivals or whatever either else. We are all passionate about food and drink, and I truly believed we could do something different. The sauce is a saturated market, but we have something unique to offer, and I already have a lot of friends who love it and already order a ton of it. We just do our best to build Dandy, not just for our children in the future. I’m just passionate about music, food and fishing.

Diana J. Carleton