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Andy Ross: making it real

Rossland musician Andy Ross has been playing music for most of his life; he finds inspiration from his musician son and in everyday experiences. During a set he'll multi-task, playing harmonica in between singing verses while playing either left-handed guitar or dulcimer. This is surely not just another guy with a guitar.

The Winnipeg, Manitoba native was initially introduced to music by his older sister. Listening to records from her collection, Ross was exposed to bands like CCR, The Beatles, Commander Cody and The Velvet Underground. These first impressions helped him get a feel for harmonica and Ross started to learn guitar at the age of fifteen. In early bands in Winnipeg he picked bluegrass and spent a lot of time jamming with folks like Benjamin Darvill, formerly a member of Crash Test Dummies and now a solo musician under the moniker, Son of Dave.

“We were at the Blue Note when it first started. We'd always be there jamming, and the owner would come out and go, 'Do a set you guys!' We'd all come flying out of the back playing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" or something. I played a lot of that kind of music; I like it, it's natural. We weren't that good, but we did it anyway.”

In a city most famous among musicians as Neil Young's old stomping grounds, Ross was naturally influenced by Young's music and saw him come through the Blue Note.

“He got up on stage, and he was just playing some cowboy tunes, and Ben from Crash Test Dummies got up and started playing harmonica, but I didn't have a guitar and I'm left-handed and I wasn't going to risk it. And Ben was actually sitting there going, 'Get up here you dummy!' And I was like, 'I can't! It's Neil Young!'”

Ross also spent nine years living in Toronto, years which he considers crucial to his development. There, he played paying gigs with The Mordels and grew a lot as a musician, writing most of the songs that he now has in his repertoire.

“I played lots of music. There's an amazing scene there, as you could imagine – crawling with really good musicians everywhere. I did some solo stuff, and I was in a band called The Mordels. We were a duo and we had a backing band; we were really good actually. We played around in the clubs and stuff, played in the subway, played private parties, played CBC gigs, this and that. It was fun. That was the high point. It was country if you listened to it, but it was kind of Everly Brothers material. I played bluegrass-like, Clarence White picking guitar.”

After almost a decade in Toronto, Ross decided to move east to Vancouver. Although he loved the city and spent a lot of his time on the nearby mountains, he found himself less artistically inspired.

“I just wasn't connected. Nothing really happened for about nine years. I made a few albums in the basement, probably about four. The songs are good, but the records aren't very good at all. I didn't really know what I was doing.”

During this musical hiatus, Ross's son, Jamil Harvich, was born. Today Jamil, like his father is a performing musician in Vancouver and recently recorded his first demo with some help from his father. Although Ross has influenced Harvich's musical style, the son has an original take on music and even teaches his father a thing or two.

“He's not the same kind of musician as me, so it's really good to get together with him because he's in a totally different place. I can see how I influence him, obviously, but to see it go backwards is really neat because he's pretty good. He's got his own thing going.”

The instrument that singles Ross out from other singer/songwriters is his dulcimer, which he bought used in Vancouver. He finds that it draws people's attention, as it is not a very common instrument. While most dulcimers have two to four strings, his has six, giving it a fuller sound.

“It was used a lot in the early days in the hillbilly music and stuff because they're really, really easy to play. Sometimes you'll go to music festivals and you'll get the old-timers, the hard-core dulcimer guys, and they'll play with a wooden thing instead of making chords and they'll even pick it with a feather quill, singing about you know, their grandma and that kinda thing. That's the old way, and most modern people prefer to use chords because there's actually a lot of richness. Musically speaking, it can't get the full voicing that a guitar or piano can get because it doesn't have enough strings or frets. So you can play partial chords, but together with a guitar you acquire everything that is supposed to be there.”

Throughout the years, Ross's music has changed. He calls himself a singer/songwriter and generally performs slow tempo songs with a mellow sound. However, listening to him play his mostly folksy style, he has obviously been influenced by blues, rock, reggae, country and more. As he has grown as a musician over the years, he has seen music change as well.

“There was a time when people – the general public – took music a lot more seriously. Music was something that was in people's consciousness; they thought about it; it meant something. It's less so now. Music is now often just a form of distraction for the general public but, you know, there're always great musicians around – there always will be. So it's changed that way, I guess, and plus, you know, the sixties, they pretty much wrote all the stuff and we've just been mulling over it for a few decades now. Every once in a while somebody gets one off that kind of catches your ear the same way, but it's pretty rare. I've realized that I'm just working inside of an idiom that is well established, and I guess that's why I'm coming around. I thought before maybe I could do something a little different, but then I realized I'm never going to do anything all that different. So now I don't worry about trying to make it different. I just see if I can find the truth in it, if I can make it real, if I can connect. So I'm kind of coming to terms with that. I think the world likes good music, and you might not get rich doing it but if you bring it and you bring it strong from the heart, it's going to work. It's like electricity: if you plug it in the light goes on. You just have to plug it in and that's where it takes guts and tenacity.”

Rossland has become home to Ross over the past three years. He initially moved to town on a recommendation from friends. He loves to snowboard and has found great joy becoming a part of the community here, happily accepting the change from fast-paced life to easy living.

“It's a good place, and the music vibe is good too. There are some good musicians around here.”

Ross has been playing music a lot more since moving to Rossland. He has performed around town and surrounding area over the past couple of years and plans to play more this winter and record an album by spring.

“I take my music very seriously. I need to do it: it's more than just 'want'. If I don't, I'm going to wish I had. This I know for sure. I've got some good toys now. I've got enough songs: a lot of them are good. I just want to say the truth about what is happening to me as a person, but I want to do it in a way that is poetic. I don't want it to sound cheesy or self-indulgent. I'm not going to try and go out and write the amazing Dylan-esque tune, but if I can put together something that works, then good. That's what I'm trying to do now.”

Andy Ross will be playing original tunes on guitar and dulcimer at the Redroom Lounge in the Prestige Hotel on Thursday, December 10th as a part of original Thursdays. Admission is free and there will be drink specials. The show will begin at 8:30pm.