Ron Weiss // Arrow & Heart
There are musicians with extraordinary back stories. And then there is Ron Weiss, whose dazzling full-length solo debut, Arrow & Heart, is the zenith of an astonishing musical journey begun decades earlier, then paused for a family and wildly successful medical career.
What’s more, many of the album’s 10 original compositions — an assured amalgamation of pop, folk, and soul buoyed by Weiss’s skilful guitar and piano and some very marquee guests —serve as a monument to honest-to-goodness true love.
Stories like Weiss’s — years in the making and inspired every step of the way by wife Debbie Halton-Weiss — just don’t come along every day. Yet the music on Arrow & Heart scans as authentic because Weiss’s lyrics are adapted straight from real (maybe sometimes surreal) life.
Co-produced by Weiss alongside acclaimed musician/bandleader Brian Asselin and celebrated singer/songwriter Rebecca Noelle (cohorts in soul-funk combo The Commotions) and cut at Ottawa’s Metropolitan Studios with engineer and co-producer Jason Jaknunas, Arrow & Heart elevates the term adult contemporary to thrilling new realms.
Weiss’s eclectic songs juxtapose French horns against electric guitar, Rhodes and Hammond organ with tenor and baritone sax, played by a small but esteemed army of musical vets. Always central to the action is the almighty melody, ably abetted by Weiss’s conversational lead vocals and Noelle and Commotions co-singer Jeff Rogers’s soaring backup.
Dubbed the ‘Gretzky of Vasectomies’ by a besotted media that has profiled his day job extensively, the affable Weiss acknowledges with a chuckle that Arrow & Heart may seem like the ultimate convergence of left brain creativity and right brain logic. In fact, it’s a sterling example of how one very determined but realistic man ultimately pursued his dream, even as it took some detours along the way.
“I am friendly with (Ottawa-based Canuck music impresario) Harvey Glatt. He has followed my musical career over the last 10 years and whenever he introduces me to people, he makes a point of announcing that I am a doctor first,” Weiss says. “And that changes everything! It seems like being a professional somehow impacts your credibility as a musician. Yet I don’t know too many musicians without a day job. And if you canvas a group of engineers or physicians, you’d be astonished how many are musicians. There’s something in the brain that’s related.”
Weiss is living proof. Witness his improbable career trajectory which began when, as a bright but disaffected teenager, he dropped out of high school to play guitar and read poetry with like-minded others hanging out around Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity. Without his parents’ knowledge. Weiss howls: “As a parent, there’s no way my kids could drop out without my knowing! But anyway, I just kind of bummed around and eventually made my way to Vancouver where I got into music in a deep way.”
He continues: “My dream was to learn how to play instruments properly, so I had private tutors for both classical guitar and classical piano, and I practiced hours and hours each day for a year. My skill level zoomed up. At 20 I was headed for the Berklee College of Music when I met Debbie. I had to decide what my priorities were and that was to have a family. I didn’t think I could make a consistent and reliable living as a musician. So, I put that on the back burner for 40 years and went to med school.”
Many years and three children later, it was Debbie Halton-Weiss who rather fittingly sparked Arrow & Heart’s creation, and not just because she is the inspiration behind every love song on the album, from the knock-kneed acoustic ballad ‘You Mean Everything’ to the strident, horn-goosed opener ‘Armageddon,’ triggered by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing which got Weiss wondering, “If the world is going to end, where do I want to be and who do I want to be with? I want to be with my love.
“I first met Brian Asselin back in 2011 when I was working on a five-song EP after a band I had been in, the docweissband, had dissolved,” Weiss says. “Brian played this amazing solo. Anyway, in December 2016 Debbie was having a special birthday and I organized a party for her. I wanted to play some songs I’d written for her over the years, so I contacted Brian. He agreed to join my living room concert, and brought along some other players including Rebecca Noelle.
“Afterwards, Rebecca and Brian said, ‘You should really record these songs’ referring to ‘You Mean Everything’ and ‘You Gotta Hold.’ We went into the studio in February, recorded the songs and they came out beautifully. I mean, these are world-class musicians. It went from there.”
Weiss is quick to credit others — Asselin and Noelle, Jason Jaknunas and the many guest musicians, most drawn from the Ottawa area — with Arrow & Heart’s accessible sound and instrumental prowess. “Jason had some great input for me and was a real purveyor of opinions about everything,” Weiss confirms. “He was really on the mark.”
Of course, Jaknunas and company had Weiss’s vivid, tuneful songs to work with, like the lilting (and oh so hummable) title track, conceived as a piece of functional wisdom for Weiss’s granddaughter.
“I used to labour under the illusion that you had to be inspired to write a song which is very dangerous thinking for a songwriter,” Weiss offers. “You might be inspired one day and then not inspired for months. I took an online songwriting course from the Berklee College of Music and the most important thing I learned in that process was you just have to sit down and write. Inspiration is often only a small part of the process.”
Today, age 61 and with nothing left to prove, Weiss is ready to bring Arrow & Heart to the world, one intimate audience at a time. Talk about a happy ending to what, with less resolve, might have been an unfulfilled musical dream.
“I count myself lucky in many ways,” Weiss confirms. “In particular, I am lucky for having this love of my life who is also my muse. Music has always been my abiding passion. Now I have the freedom to pursue it. And maybe a song of mine will become an emblem for a specific moment in someone’s life.”
“I have memories affixed to James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Carole King songs from my past,” Weiss says. “That’s the most special thing a songwriter can have.”