20 year old Twin Cities' guitar sensation Ross William Perry has been making waves on the blues scene throughout the Midwest for the past 2 years. Ross' musical education began at the age of 4 when he got his first guitar. He spent many nights tucked away in the kitchen of his dad's bar listening to the live music in the other room and playing along with the bands. One night when he was 7, one of the bands heard him playing and insisted he join them. "I reluctantly got up on stage," recalled Ross, "and played 'Pipeline' and 'Walk Don't Run' with them. I'll never forget it, my knees were shaking so much I had to sit down to play." When Ross got off stage his dad asked him if he was nervous, and he said "yeah." Then he asked Ross if he wanted to do it again, and he replied, "YEAH!" Ross was smitten. At that point he knew that this is what he wanted to do. Listening to blues music before he even knew what to call it, he knew there was something special about the blues. An early fascination with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and the Yardbirds led him to discover the roots of their music. He began listening to Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, T. Bone Walker and Hound Dog Taylor and absorbed their music like a sponge. Since graduating from High School in 1998 and forming his own band, Ross has been hitting the clubs and touring the Midwest almost non-stop, developing an enthusiastic following along the way. After joining Debbie Davies on stage one night, she had this to say about Ross - "I've played with most of the young, up and coming guitarists, but Ross just might be one of the best ever."
Ray: Lets begin with your background. When and where were you born? Also tell me a little about your childhood, growing up, etc.
Ross: I was born in Anoka, Minnesota on January 14th 1980. I grew up in St. Michael / Albertville and went to school there the whole time growing up and I graduated from there in 1998. I believe I had a fairly normal childhood. I'd do normal kid stuff like ride my bike, go fishing, sledding or whatever. My parents had divorced when I was four, so I'd spend the week with mom and the weekends with dad during the school year. During the summer it'd flop around. Mom lived next to a lake and dad did too - so there were always all kinds of things to do with the kids in the neighborhood growing up.
Ray: When did you first become interested in music? How did that come about? What were some of your earliest experiences and memories?
Ross: Music was always around me growing up, so I guess the interest was always there. The things I remember the most are just the good times that music brought. My dad would have his friends come over and have little jam sessions in our kitchen or living room. I remember watching the fun they were having and just wanting to get in on it.
Ray: How did you first learn to play the guitar? And how old were you when you first played on stage or when you first played in a band?
Ross: My dad taught me how to play because I kept picking the guitar up and making noise with it. I had a little Mickey Mouse plastic guitar before I was 2 - but I don't think that counts :-) I was four years old when dad started to teach me on a real guitar. It had to look pretty comical, because the guitar was actually taller than I was. I do recall it being really, really hard to play because it was so big. I'd have to stretch my arm all the way out just to play and open E chord! I think the first time I played onstage was when I was 7 with a band that was playing at the bar that my dad owned. I had been sitting back in the kitchen playing along with the stuff they were playing, and one of the waitresses saw me. She went and told the band and they called me out onstage. I remember I was so nervous that I couldn't stand up because me knees were shaking so bad, so I ended up sitting down on the stage. I think we played "Pipeline" and "Walk Don't Run." I got off stage and my dad asked me if I was nervous - I said "yeah," and then he asked me if I wanted to do it again and I said "yeah!" I knew at that point that I wanted to play music all the time. I'd get together with some of the kids from school and we'd jam on the weekends sometimes. I also played clarinet in the school band and I played guitar in the jazz band for a year. When I was fifteen my dad and I formed a band called Niles Summit with some other friends of ours. We played around for awhile and then I formed my own band when I was a senior in high school.
Ray: So you knew at an early age this is what you wanted to do?
Ross: I knew that I always wanted to play music, and to be able to do it as a
living was kind of a dream that seemed unrealistic back then. When everybody else in school was trying to decide what college to go to, my parents were supporting me with the idea of trying to do it for a living. They said it was better to try it out now while I'm still young and have time, rather than to wait and possibly never get the chance. Finishing off school and getting my diploma was really important for me. I wanted to be able to experience graduating and all of the stuff that came with that - I'm glad that I did that. Right now playing music is a living for me - I guess you could say I'm one of the lucky few people who's dreams did come true. I've got to give my parents the credit there for supporting me with that dream and guiding me.
Ray: How did you become interested in playing blues and why?
Ross: The records that my dad had was stuff like the Rolling Stones, Credence, Clayton and a lot of the other stuff from the sixties - a lot of the stuff that had that blues influence. Dad and I didn't really know that the style that we loved had a title, or that it was called "blues". I heard RSV on the radio one afternoon playing the Sky Is Crying and after that I read interviews that he had done talking about his influences. I started from there and just started buying all kinds of blues CD's and tapes, trying to
dig back further to the sources. It's hard to say exactly what it was that drew us into blues - maybe the rawness or emotion? It's kind of hard to put a finger on it, ya know?
Ray: What other music were you listening to at the time?
Ross: I'm kind of embarrassed to say it, but one of the first groups I got into was the Monkeys! I'd jam along with the re-runs of the show that they had. I used to play along with their records all of the time too.
Ray: Didn't you have any peer pressure to play or listen to other types of music?
Ross: My friends thought what I was playing was really cool. I think some of them got into blues because of the records I had. A couple of us kids would get together and play the talent shows at school. We'd play blues-rock type stuff and everyone would really get into it - it was a lot of fun for everybody.
Ray: Who were some of the influences on your guitar playing?
Ross: Clapton, the Kings, Albert Collins, SRV, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Smokin' Joe Kubek and Howlin' Wolf. I like to listen to a lot of Texas guitar players.
Ray: How much time did you spend practicing when you were first starting out?
Ross: It was more like just trying to figure out what guys were doing rather than sitting and practicing scales or whatever. When I was going to school, I'd usually come home and play until supper time, and then after supper until bedtime. That wasn't a set routine though. I still had tons of time to be a normal kid and everything. But instead of watching TV like most kids, I'd rather go off and play my guitar or listen to music. Weekends I'd usually jam with my dad or friends for a couple of hours.
Ray: How much time do you practice today?
Ross: I don't really sit down and play for any set amount of time. I do a lot of noodling around the house off and on. Sometimes I'll be listening to a CD and I'll hear a lick that I really like, and I'll stop and try to figure it out. Sometimes I just put something on and just try to jam along with it. It all depends.
Ray: What new things are you learning?
Ross: I've been listening to all kinds of new stuff. Hollywood Fats is fast becoming my favorite guitar player. Rick Holmstrom, Anson Funderburgh, Duane Eddy, Debbie Davies, Ronnie Earl, Hound Dog Taylor. What's really great is being able to meet some of those people and learn from them first hand.
Ray: Tell me about your slide playing? When started; who is an influence; what are you trying to do with your slide playing?
Ross: It needs work! :-) I guess I started a couple years ago just messing around at the house. One of our friends suggested that I play a couple of slide tunes during our show. I love Hound Dog Taylor! That stuff is so raw - there's just this "thing" that attracts you to it. I'm listening to Elmore James, Luther and Bernard Allison, and now I'm starting to get into Johnny Winter a little bit. What am I trying to do?...Learn! :-) There's so much stuff out there to learn, it's incredible.
Ray: Why did you settle on forming your own band rather than playing in someone else's band?
Ross: It all comes down to what everybody was looking for. It was getting hard for me to find guys who wanted to do this all of the time. I also wanted to play all of the stuff I had been listening to, in addition to the songs I had been writing. I knew it would be a lot more work for me in the beginning to form my own band, but that in the long run it would work out better.
Ray: Is it much of a problem keeping a band together?
Ross: It's a challenge. Everybody has different commitments in life. Finding people with the same goals and enthusiasm in addition to finding guys that can play full time isn't easy. Musicians don't make that much money :-)
Ray: How would you answer the critics who say a young white boy can't play the blues?
Ross: Blues has nothing to do with color of skin. A friend of mine was told by Willie Dixon that the blues isn't just music for blacks, it's a music for the whole world to enjoy. Freddie King toured with Clapton. Muddy Waters had the whitest guy, Johnny Winter, you know? :-) The old bluesmen didn't have a problem with it because blues is music for all people. Besides, I am working on my tan :-)
Ray: Tell me about the past 2 years of your musical life?
Ross: I started out playing the local jams around town. I tried to learn from the people I was seeing - guys like Joe Juliano, Gerry Francis and Leonard Shapiro. They gave me the support and the opportunity to learn from each of them, and I'm grateful for that. I gradually started to pick up gigs here and there with my band and it just kind of spread out from there. We recorded our first CD in January of '99. We recorded most of it in Chicago with Patrick Doody, Biscuit Miller, and Rusty Hall of the Lonnie Brooks' Band. Some of it was recorded here in Minneapolis at Oarfin Studios too. It was a great experience and I learned a lot. We also had my current bass player, Damon Lee, play on some of the tracks in Chicago. Last summer we played a bunch of festivals and really had a great time meeting and listening to everyone. Last winter we got a distribution deal with Paulstarr Distributing - one of their divisions is Cannonball Records. They helped to get our CD into the record stores and stuff like that. Other than that, we're still just trying to learn and grow.
Ray: I know it has been a little tough this past year, without getting too bloody in your description , can you describe what happened with your management and where you are heading now?
Ross: We had a verbal agreement which was entered into in May of 99. Things didn't work out to our satisfaction, and we decided to end that relationship in January. Without going into detail, since severing ties there have been some strange things going on - but we're hanging in there, moving forward and keeping our eyes on our goals. I'd like to add that we would be receptive to management opportunities.
Ray: What are you short term plans (for the next few months to the end of the year)?
Ross: We're planning on recording a live CD in early June. It's going to be at a place called the Harvest Moon in Greenville, Iowa. It's a really fun place to play. The owners are great people and the crowds really get into it down there. All kinds of national bands and big names play there - it should really be more well known. We're going to try to get into the studio sometime after this summer to record another studio album too.
Ray: What festivals are you playing in this summer?
Ross: We're playing at Heart and Soul. The Blue Moon in Kasota, MN is putting on a festival that we're playing at. We're playing Apple River Blues Fest in Summerset, WI. Sawdust Days in Oshkosh, WI. Taste of Minnesota. Tree Frog Festival in Fairbault, MN. We're playing the Octoberfest in Lacrosse, WI with Smokin' Joe Kubek which I'm really looking forward to! We get some of our shows added at the last minute, too. People can find our up to date schedule on our website at www.rosswilliamperry.com
Ray: How are you planning to get more local gigs?
Ross: We get offers all of the time and we try to fit what we can into our schedule. Local venues can contact us via our website.
Ray: Who do you like to listen to now?
Ross: I'm starting to get into jump blues. Also, more and more of the old sixties instrumental stuff like Duane Eddy, Dick Dale and Link Wray. Doyle Bramhall Jr. & Sr. The Arc Angels. I always end up going back to the Kings, Albert Collins - meat and potatoes type stuff.
Ray: What are your longer range plans?
Ross: I'd like to spend my life playing my guitar and music.
Ray: Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now? What would you like to have accomplished, etc.
Ross: I hope to be still doing what I'm doing now, which is playing for a living and enjoying it! I really enjoy traveling, and I think it'd be really cool to see different places through playing music. I'd also have liked to put out good music and be able to look back and say that I've maintained the integrity of the music, myself and the band.
Ray: What would you like your fans/audience to get from listening to you play?
Ross: We have a lot of dedicated fans that follow us all over. We've had a couple that have shown up when we're a couple hundred miles away from their home! The kind of support that we get from everybody is really special and makes us feel really good. Without their support, we definitely wouldn't be able to do what we're doing. The more and more we work on the music, the business or anything else we can see the results and the pay off is worth it. I think the people that come to see us can see that everybody is trying to grow and get better and they feel like they're a part of it - because in reality they really are. As far as what I'd like them to get out of it - I'd like them to have a good time, maybe hear something new they hadn't heard before and want to come back to see us again.
Ray: Do you have any interesting road/show experiences that you can share?
Ross: Well, we're still a young band - we can still share most of our road stories. They've all been rated PG (PG-13 at most) so far :-) Nothing really too bizarre or crazy yet.
Ray: Is there anything I have missed that you would like to comment on?
Ross: I think we've covered all the bases. I'd just like to say thanks to all the folks out there who support the musicians and their music, and thanks to you, Ray, for this interview - it was a lot of fun!
You can reach Ross at:
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