Ukulele, guitar and Hawaiian steel guitar.
I began playing guitar at the age of fourteen, but my first musical instrument was a plastic recorder (song flute) that my brother gave to me. I would play along with records or with the music on the radio. I never thought about what I was doing I just played what sounded right to me. It must have sounded pretty good because my brothers would have me perform for their friends. They would turn on the radio and I would immediately be able to play along with whatever song they found.
I also played the musical instruments that my three brothers would bring home from their school music lessons, a trumpet, a violin and a snare drum. My brothers quickly tired of their music lessons but during those few short months that those instruments were in the house I had a wonderful time making sounds and attempting to make music with them.
I never took formal music lessons in school because my family was in the process of moving from Detroit when I was in fifth grade. Fifth grade was the year students started on a musical instrument in the Detroit public school system. My family was busy with the move to our new home and my school music lessons were lost in the shuffle.
In the late 1960’s it seemed like every kid had a guitar, and the kids in my neighborhood were no exception. A friend of mine showed me two chords on his guitar, a ‘D’ and an ‘A’. I was hooked. I went to his house every day for a week just to strum those two chords over and over again. I begged my parents to buy me a guitar. My birthday was approaching and I was eyeing a thirty dollar acoustic guitar at Montgomery Wards. I asked my parents if they would pay for half of it. They reluctantly agreed thinking that I would give up this project in a few weeks. I proved them wrong and progressed quickly. I learned everything the local kids knew and checked out every guitar book from my local library. I have never had formal lessons on the guitar.
A year later I was playing bass in a high school rock band. I wanted to play guitar with the group, but at the band’s first audition eight guitar players including me showed up. I realized that I had a better chance of getting into the band if I played bass. That night I bought a used twenty dollar Japanese electric bass and by the next day I was the band’s bass player. A few months later an event changed my life.
Our band was hired to play a Saturday night dance at the local teen center. We played our five song repertoire over and over again for four hours. At the end of the night the director of the teen center came up to me and placed eleven dollars in my hand. I looked at the money and couldn’t believe it! I thought, “I had the time of my life, people applauded me, the girls all think I’m wonderful, and I have eleven dollars! This is the life for me!”
While in college I played electric guitar in a Western Swing band and acoustic guitar with a Bluegrass band. The Bluegrass band played every weekend for two years at a local club. That weekly gig provided me with much needed money, and it also taught me about performing. I learned how to construct a set of music, how to keep musical material fresh and how and talk to and “read” an audience.
After college and throughout my twenties I worked full time as musician while supplementing my income working at a music store and giving music lessons. I played with the old-timey, blues, jugband, Cajun, swing group; “The Lost World String Band” from 1978 until 1993, playing guitar, bottleneck National guitar and Cajun accordion. The Lost World toured the Midwest and the East Coast many times during my tenure. I got a chance to meet and play with many of themusical idols of those those years; most notably Bonnie Raitt, Bill Monroe, John Hartford, Riders In The Sky, Earl Scruggs, Brownie McGhee, Doc Watson, Johnny Gimble, and Hot Rize, and others.
The Lost World also performed several times on the nationally broadcast radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor. It was quite a treat to perform on that show knowing that our music was being broadcast live throughout North America.
I started playing the Hawaiian steel guitar in 1998. I’ve always enjoyed Hawaiian music and the sound of steel but never got serious about learning the instrument. I decided to finally buy a steel guitar and learn to play. I foolishly thought that I would “have it down” in about two weeks… Well, it’s been five years and I’m still learning. I enjoy Hawaiian steel guitar music from the 1930’s , 40’s and 50’s. The sounds of Sol Ho’opi’i, Dick McIntire, David Keli’i, and Jules Ah See have been a major influence on my learning adventure and a constant source of inspiration.
What the critics say…
Successfully blending the sounds of jazz blues and swing, Gerald Ross has created a guitar style uniquely his own. Whether he is playing jazz standards, popular favorites, delta and urban blues, Tin Pan Alley melodies, New Orleans rhythms or boogie woogie, it’s bound to be a delightful surprise to any listener.
He has the rare ability to transmit an infectious good humor to his audience through a tasteful combination of outstanding instrumental talent and an eclectic repertoire. An experienced musician, Gerald Ross is equally at home in a concert hall or on a small club stage. He has performed in concert with Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie, Doc Watson, Johnny Gimble, Riders In The Sky, Brownie McGhee and many other nationally known artists. Gerald is the winner of the 1993 WEMU Jazz Competition (solo artist category). Other radio work includes appearances on National Public Radio’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ with Garrison Keillor.
When the mood strikes him, he has been known to pick up a mandolin, bass, steel guitar, banjo, harmonica, Cajun accordion and ukulele. A ukulele is not a toy.