Love Finds a Way for Ron Weiss

Some people spend a life looking for true love. Ottawa musician Ron Weiss put a life on hold for it.

Before there was the heart stopping, time freezing, world changing moment named Debbie, Weiss was on a fairly straight trajectory to becoming the singer-songwriter he'd always wanted to become even having gone to the lengths of dropping out of school to chase a career in music. While living with his brother in Vancouver he studied classical guitar and piano, often spending six hours or more a day practicing and, not satiated, he'd then going off somewhere at night to play some more. He would later find himself as part of a group of 32 like-minded people who founded an artistic utopia of sorts in the basement of Toronto’s Holy Trinity church where they’d play music and read poetry all day. This was his life and he couldn't picture any other one. 

At 20 he was heading towards Boston’s Berklee College of Music, the next step of what was planned to be a fulfilling path sharing his songs with the world. Then, out of nowhere, a Cupid’s arrow sideswipe right to the aorta would see to it that it’d be some time before he would find his footprints back on that road he was sure sure of walking. Love had other plans for Ron Weiss. One Montreal afternoon, Debbie Halton appeared like sunshine over the horizon. The singer fell silent. The arrow had struck.

“We hung out that day for a few hours and I don’t think I said more than a few words,” recalls Weiss on the first meeting with the woman who would eventually become his wife. Less tongue-tied, he would later meet Debbie again. The couple this time found themselves locked in conversation at a bar called the Rainbow until staff told them they were closing up for the night. It was still early but Ron felt like he'd struck gold!

“I wanted a smart, strong woman in my life who had a similar cultural background and here she was, and beautiful to boot! The first night we really spoke we both decided to be totally honest with each other. I think our honesty is a lot of what makes the relationship strong.”

It didn't take long for Weiss to make the choice to put his musical aspirations on the back burner. They’d have awhile to simmer. Ron wouldn’t pick them back up again for 40 years. Instead, his focus turned to starting a family, something he knew would be hard to support living the road life of a musician. Not to mention, he couldn't fathom being away form Debbie for long touring stints. He just wanted to be with her. But did she want that too, he wondered? Would she spend the rest of her days with him? With ring in hand there was only one way to find out. The proposal was not without some stomach churning nervousness.

“I almost threw up!” reveals Weiss. He’d played the scene out repeatedly in his head, his innards resembling a sack of pretzels. What would he do if she said no? “Sitting through dinner I couldn’t make it through to the end and grabbed the ring and proposed, promptly running to the bathroom right after. Very romantic.”

Debbie, of course, said yes. Before their wedding the two would take waltzing lessons hoping to wow their friends and loved ones during the first dance. The band, however, opted to ramp up the tempo leaving the two newlyweds struggling to keep up and, instead, they exploded in a fit of laughter. It was a sign of how they’d weather life’s unpredictability together.

Ron and Debbie

As for Ron’s choice to change careers, Debbie would be a rock of support, something Weiss needed as he decided to move into something vastly removed from music. Though some might have suspected he’d become a music teacher or even somebody who ran a shop selling instruments, the one-time high school dropout was trading in his guitar pick for a stethoscope and heading to med school.

“Medicine appealed to me from the point of view of the science –you will find a lot of doctors and engineers who are also musical– and the challenge,” Weiss tells Ottawa Life. “It was a long uphill climb with no guarantee of success. Debbie supported us through this entire period, first working cleaning toilets and as a nursing aide to elderly people. Day by day…one step at a time. It all went so quickly in a way.”

The years rolled by and with them came three children. Though he’d set it aside, music was never far out of reach in the Weiss household.  Ron’s kids will be the first to tell you just how loud dad blasts the stereo, how he liked to dance in the kitchen and make up songs for them as they grew up. On a deeper level, Weiss knew he’d one day go back to wanting to writer and perform.

“I had an early mid-life crisis in my late 30’s and went out and bought an electric piano so I could play without disturbing the children,” he says looking back on nights living his dream in the notes that came through the headphones. Even though he’d put that life on hold to raise a family with her, Debbie didn’t want her husband to lose track of his ambitions. Secretly, she saved up $400 and handed it to him one day with one request on how he should spend it: "Buy a guitar."

“I settled on a Seagull guitar at Metro Music and started writing all these little instrumental pieces literally immediately. It was gushing out,” says Weiss on how the instrument reinvigorated him. Soon he would start attending open mic nights at Rasputin’s.

“I was terrible. I went there a number of times, sweated profusely, and tried my best to perform. I was terrified but I knew that this was something I wanted to do. I wanted to confront my fears so I persisted. One thing led to another and I eventually started a band to play the material I wrote.”

Picking up where he had left off, Weiss completed a Master Certificate in Songwriting from Berklee Online. They say write about what you know and over the last ten years he’d put pen to paper and hand to the strings and keys to compose songs about what was most dear to him: Debbie. It was all part of wanting to surprise her with these odes on her 60th birthday. This milestone had to be perfect. He turned to The Commotions’ Brian Asselin and Rebecca Noelle, musicians he admired, to hatch out a plan.

“I had seen some movie years ago where a guy has this band appear out of nowhere in a restaurant or somewhere to play for his love. I always wanted to recreate that, and I approached Brian with the idea. He had worked a lot with Rebecca and it just mushroomed from there.”

The birthday bash collaboration would result in Weiss’ first album. You could say it was 40 years in the making. The aptly named Arrow & Heart is a loving tribute in song to the woman that changed his life so many years ago.

“I’m also a sucker for a love song,” Weiss says with a smile.

Today, at age 61, Weiss is about to bring his songs for Debbie to a larger audience with a performance at the National Arts Centre on March 7th. He jokes that he has graduated from sweating profusely at those Rasputin’s gigs to some healthy butterflies. When looking back at what could have been an unfulfilled music career, he feels he’s reached a happy ending as he describes his second chance as one he's blessed and lucky for having.

When it comes to his new musical future, Weiss walks ever forward into the wonderful unknown holding the hand of a love that has remained true no matter where the journey has taken them.

“I think life is a series of forks in the road. There’s the right way and the wrong way. It never fails that the right way is often the more difficult path,” says Weiss. “If you and your partner are both up to taking the right road, I don’t think there is anything that can stop you.”

For Ron and Debbie, truly, love finds a way.

Ron Weiss Album Release: Arrow & Heart / NAC Fourth Stage / Wed. March 7 – 7:30 PM / Tickets on sale now