Ross was born in Montreal, Quebec to Scottish and Mi’kmaq parents. He studied composition at the music department of York University in Toronto with David Mott, James Tenney and Phil Werren. After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music in 1983, he studied philosophy at St. Hyacinth College and Seminary in Granby, Massachusetts while living at San Damiano Friary in Holyoke, Massachusetts and then started his novitiate for the Canadian custody of the Conventual Franciscans of Immaculate Conception Province at St. Francis Friary in Staten Island, NY. He decided to leave that pursuit and become a musician.
Ross’s music borrows from blues, jazz, folk and classical music creating a style that he describes as “heavy wood”. Ross names Bruce Cockburn, John Renbourn, Pierre Bensusan, Keith Jarrett, Egberto Gismonti and Pat Metheny as his main sources of inspiration.
Ross’s advanced technique and his sure feeling for rhythm combine with uncommon ideas to make his style instantly recognizable. He often uses percussive techniques and plays intricate down and upstroke patterns with his thumb. These techniques have found their way into the toolboxes of many competitive fingerstyle guitarists. His use of acrylic nails allows him to get the sound of long fingernails without the hassle of broken nails.
Bruce Cockburn writes, “Nobody does what Don Ross does with an acoustic guitar. He takes the corners so fast you think he’s going to roll, but he never loses control.”