Don Ross

Guitarist, composer, b Montreal, of Scottish-Mi'kmaq parents, 19 Nov 1960; BFA (York) 1983.

Don (Donald James) Ross. Guitarist, composer, b Montreal, of Scottish-Mi'kmaq parents, 19 Nov 1960; BFA (York) 1983. Self-taught as a guitarist in the folk-based fingerpicking style, and a pupil of David Mott, James Tenney, and Phil Werren in composition at York University, Ross began his professional career in 1986 with the release of a cassette recording, Kehewin. His victory in 1988 at the National Guitar Championship in Winfield, Kansas, brought him to the attention of Duke Street Records and by 1990 he had made two albums (CD and cassette), Bearing Straight (DSR-31054) and Don Ross (DSR-31065), of virtuoso solo pieces in folk and New Age styles.

In addition to his solo appearances across Canada in clubs and at folk festivals, he performed with the soprano Kelly McGowan (his wife, d 2001), first in 1986-7 as a duo and then, with the violinist Oliver Schroer added, as the Harbord Trio (heard on the cassettes In from the Cold from 1987 and Harbord Trio from 1990). Ross was also a member in 1987-9 of the New Age/jazz quartet Eye Music, which released the cassette Shorelines in 1987 and performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1988. He composed music for several Toronto theatre productions concerned with Indigenous life in Canada including The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (York University, 1989), Dreaming Beauty (Inner Stage Theatre, 1990), and Big Buck City (Cahoots Theatre, 1991). He also composed music for the radio series Dead Dog Café.

Ross recorded several more albums, predominantly instrumental but with occasional songs in English and in French, and can also be heard on the First Nations compilation Children of the World (PPFC-2023, Group Concept Music). His album Huron Street reached the top ten on Billboard's new age chart. Ross also toured and recorded with the guitar ensemble Men of Steel.

Ross's guitar transcriptions were published in The Answer Book (New Media Video Concepts, 1993); he made various instructional videos for guitarists, and contributed to Canadian Musician magazine. With McGowan, Ross received a songwriter award from the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals. In 1996, he repeated his earlier win at the US National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship, the first contestant to have done so. Ross counted Bruce Cockburn among those who influenced his playing.

Further Reading

  • Perusse, Bernard. "Loss and love of guitar flavour Ross's music," Montreal Gazette, 19 Feb 2003

    Regenstreif, Mike. "He's finger-picking good," Montreal Gazette, 9 Nov 2001

    Adamson, Bruce. "Guitarmania '96: The Tone Zone," Canadian Musician, June 1996

    Wright-McLeod, Brian. The Encyclopedia of Native Music (Tucson, Arizona 2005)

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