He may have toured Europe and the Caribbean playing bass for bluesman Corey Harris, but Houston Ross is firmly rooted here at home. A Charlottesville native, he lives just over the Fluvanna County line in a small brick house that holds four generations of his family: his mother, his daughter, three grandchildren and a godson—plus a great-grandchild on the way.
Within this very full house, he has a refuge: a basement bedroom where he can relax, be alone, practice music and ponder. Over the last several years, he’s given up drugs and alcohol and refocused on music and exercise, two of his passions. “Most of my time is spent practicing and sleeping,” he says—because, in a good week, he might have gigs six nights out of seven. He plays regularly at Miller’s and also appears with the Houston Ross Trio and the Powerhouse Trio at places like Michael’s Bistro and Bel Rio.
For 24 years, this has been his room—so it’s also an archive of his life. Posters of Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and other musical heroes share the space with a big record collection, health magazines and a log of his workouts. “This is a recovery spot,” he says. “The main thing is, I have so much to think about. I have so many places I want to go.”
“I grew up in Charlottesville on Georgetown Road. I lived there until I was 30 and we moved here. I’m 54 now.
“These past few years have been a lot of soul-searching. I spent times in this room where I wouldn’t go out. The only light would be the light from the TV. [Finally I said] it’s time to get clean. Some friends got me out of it.
“Miller’s really saved my life. I didn’t have anywhere else to get work from at the time. They said we’re going to let you have every Monday. I [originally] started playing there in ’83.
“Everything I do, I do in here. [My family and I] have always had each other to depend on. I’ve always come back here.
“This room reflects more of who I was than who I am. These pictures have been on these walls for 20-some years. Jimi’s been a great inspiration to me…more [as in] what you shouldn’t do. And Marvin Gaye—his life was very tragic. But there’s some positive too—Steve Reeves, he was a great bodybuilder. Ron Coleman, he’s tied for the most [wins in] Olympian competitions, which is eight. Arnold Schwarzenegger did seven. Physical fitness is something that means a lot.
“And the picture of LeRoi [Moore, the late saxophonist for the Dave Matthews Band]—he and I were really close. I met LeRoi around 1976, and he was still in school. Later on we met musically. He was one of my biggest inspirations. He’s in my top five saxophone players of all time. My hero is Junior Walker, of Junior Walker and the All Stars, because I met Junior when I was 11 years old. I was on 10 ½ Street and I heard this horn playing and I said, that sounds like Junior Walker.
“I just kind of followed the music, and [found them] on a little stage in Madison Bowl. I went on down there. I said, ‘This is Junior Walker playing “Shotgun” and “Pucker up, Buttercup!”’ A student came up and said, ‘You gotta go, you’re too young.’ Junior said ‘No, he’s O.K., he’s my nephew.’ He could see I was a little musician. The cool part was, I was 28 years old and I was opening for him in Richmond, and I said, ‘I know you don’t remember me, but…’ and he said ‘You that little musician! You have a beard now, but you can’t hide that face!’”