Singer-songwriter Susie Ross knows about weird dates, so much that she wrote a song about them, First Date, a fan favourite at Whitewater Wednesday Jam Nights.
“There is a lot of exaggeration in that song,” she says as we sit down to lunch. “I don’t actually pierce myself for kicks.
“I’ve had incredibly weird first dates. People explaining their aneurysms, and why they limp. You go on pity dates, because you feel sorry for a nerdy guy at work, and then you can’t get out of it.”
But luckily for me, this isn’t a date. This is just lunch with my friend and frequent Whitewater Wednesday jammer, Susie Ross. Still, there are similarities: for example, as with dating and job interviews, she fills me in on her life story.
“I was born in Halifax, and raised in Penticton,” she says, as the waitress pours our coffee. “I grew up in the Yukon. But I don’t know if I’ve grown up actually, after all. I’m a work-in-progress.”
Her musical training began at a young age, with piano lessons and then French horn in the BC Honour Band. “I took voice lessons in university in Victoria, but I quit voice lessons because my instructor wanted me to sing in public,” she laughs at herself. “I could’ve been a contender.”
After what she refers to as a “crisis in my life”, Ross returned to singing and public performance after taking some vocal workshops from Edwin Coppard. “I felt more alive than I had in years. I did this performance workshop where I sang Flying on Your Own for Rita MacNeil, using his approach, which is trying to get really into the music, really, deeply feeling the song.
“And these women in the audience cried. It was so powerful. That’s when I realized the power of music to touch people, not just from me, showing off as a performer.”
Later, driven by the vibrant music scene, she moved to Whitehorse, first for the summers, then, in 1998, permanently. She joined Yukon Women in Music and recorded on its first CD, Ancient Wisdom, co-writing the title song with Barbara Chamberlin, and later releasing her own CD,Breakup.
“When the CD came out, it was a real reality check. I had to ask myself,Do you really want to be on the road all of the time, and to really make it as a real, career musician? And to be honest, a lot of my CD was about breaking up.
“I started to tour a little bit, and I was tired of being identified as a person who writes these songs about breaking up and heartache. I kind of made it my mission to write a happy love song.” She pauses, and confesses, “I haven’t done that yet.
“The most fun I have is writing lighthearted songs,” she says, and tells of writing a song for her friend Bruce’s party, after he’d shot and mounted a bison.
“After dinner, I introduced it, saying, I’m a singer-songwriter, and it’s been a long winter, and everybody had known that I lost my best friend, Robbie Benoit. And I said, ‘We have to speak for those who have no voice to speak for themselves’. So I just started this song,” and here, Ross sings her song, “I am a lonely bison, roaming in the Yukon … And I got to the chorus:
Bruce the hunter shot me dead!
Bruce the hunter took my head!
Bruce the hunter needed to be fed!
And now I’m stuck on this wall,
Staring out at you all.
“And by the end everyone was singing along. Those are the best moments.”
By this time, our lunch has come, and we reminisce about our poet friend Robbie Benoit, who Susie introduced to the Whitewater Wednesday jam.
“I met him in 2002, May 7,” she says, as the waitress refills our coffee. “When I met him, I found out he had a book of poems that he’d Xeroxed for his family. We were going to the jams regularly that summer and he saw me performing and thought, I could do that.
“I knew he had the genes for it and he would get good. He got exponentially better.”
Ross’s influence on Benoit continued as she recorded her CD. “Basically, whatever I was doing he looked at. He watched me going through the recording process and thought, It’s not rocket science. If she can do it, I can. He’d do it simpler and cheaper.
“He put out his CD, Tall Yukon Tales, in November, 2004, and then was diagnosed with cancer two months later.
“He got better, and he had his big show with Shelagh Rogers, and got invited to some cowboy poetry contests. He was just starting to get really known when the cancer came back. There were lots of things he was going to do, and didn’t get a chance. C’est la vie.
“I miss Robbie everyday, pretty much.” Ross laughs again, bravely. “But we have to carry on. We had some pretty good years.”
Five things you should know about Susie Ross …
- She was Canadian Archery Champ in 1984.
- She can move both her ears independently.
- She’s written a romance novel, Waking Up in Alaska.
- She spent her 40th birthday in Tuscani.
- As part of her job in health promotion, she’s been known to show up at events with a bucket of condoms.