B-movies and true tragedies inspire Canadian guitar wizard Don Ross



By Steve Newton

Acoustic-guitar wizard Don Ross isn’t much of a Lennon/McCartney kinda guy. As a Beatles-crazed youngster growing up in Ontario, Ross originally wanted to be Ringo Starr—if only because he always drummed on things. But when his sister brought home a guitar from boarding school, George Harrison quickly became his fave mop top. It wasn’t just Harrison’s timeless contributions to the Fab Four that struck a chord with Ross, however.

“Some of the stuff he did after the Beatles broke up was amazing,” cites the acclaimed fingerstylist, on the line from West Germany, where he’s in the midst of a European tour. “The slide-guitar work, especially on tunes like ‘Give Me Love’, was wonderful. And remember Badfinger? He was the one who discovered those guys and signed them and produced them, and he did some beautiful slide-guitar work on their albums.”

As Beatles devotees are aware, Harrison succumbed to cancer in December of 2001, at the age of 58. Six months earlier, Ross’s 43-year-old wife had died from the same disease, and the sorrow generated by her passing is heard in “Goodbye Kelly Goodbye”, a tune off his latest CD, Robot Monster. Ross wrote the dobro tribute to his late soulmate a week or so before her death, and recorded it live in concert at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto. “I was playing the record for a friend of mine in the car the other day,” he notes. “We were driving to Dresden and Berlin, and that tune came up, and he actually started weeping. And then I realized, ‘Yeah, that’s a pretty emotional tune, especially when you know what it’s about.’ ”

As suggested by its cheesy title, Robot Monster is not all sadness and sentiment. There are several upbeat songs, one being “Dracula and Friends, Part One”, which Ross got the idea for backstage one night while musing on the sound of funk-rock drummer Buddy Miles. “Growing up, I was a huge funk and R & B fan,” he relates, “and you can hear the funkiness in that tune, for sure. But the song I was kinda thinking about is a great tune of his called ‘Changes’. It’s from when I was very young, like the early ’70s or something. I always loved that one.”

A devoted fan of ’50s B-movies, the 43-year-old Ross—who plays a solo gig at St. James Hall on Saturday (November 15)—named his latest CD after a 1953 sci-fi flick that features a guy in a gorilla suit wearing a diving helmet. “It’s the best bad movie that was ever made,” he claims with a chuckle. “I think it’s even better/worse than Plan 9 From Outer Space, which is the movie most people consider to be the worst. Robot Monster’s even more delightfully horrible.”

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