Skip to content
Next Chapter
Josh Ross on stage at the Footprint Center, Phoenix, Arizona, July 12, 2023

Josh Ross rising

From football to country music

Josh Ross is on the road. On a January afternoon, he appears on the Zoom screen, logged in from his tour bus lounge. The driver needed a break, so Ross, his band and his dog Pax are parked in a hotel lot near Detroit. They journeyed here from Nashville en route to Montreal, where he’ll continue his headlining tour of six Canadian cities. After that, he’ll join a bigger tour, opening for hot American singer-songwriter Bailey Zimmerman with a slew of U.S. and U.K. dates through­out 2024.

It’s all happening for Ross, a life young music artists dream about. He’s signed with the mighty Universal Music Group. He lives in Nashville and works with top-flight musicians. He’s got shows in fan-packed venues. He’s even played the venerable Grand Ole Opry. He’s got big hits like “Ain’t Doin’ Jack” and he’s opened for Nickelback on a 52-city tour. In February, he was nominated for a Juno Fan Choice award. And in late March, he released an eight-song EP, Complicated

He’s worked hard to get here. But it was a football injury as a Western Mustang that kick-started his music career. 

Ross, 27, grew up in Burlington, Ont., the son of Al and Julie, the youngest of three kids. His football talents caught the attention of the Mustangs and landed him a spot on the 2013–14 team. 

But in 2016, he injured his ankle in a game and needed surgery. It had happened once before in high school.

“That’s when I started to think, ‘How many times can I go through this?’” 

Ross, BA’17, had always been a writer, but in private, jotting down life experiences and stories in notebooks he kept hidden away. Now, with more time on his hands, he turned his writing chops to song lyrics, and got serious about the guitar. Influenced by his parents, who loved rock that ran the gamut from Springsteen to U2 to Metallica, he found himself taking some new steps.

He paired with former Mustangs quarterback Will Finch, BA’16. They got gigs at The Spoke on campus. Ross leaned to country music, with Steve Earle as his idol. He entered an emerging artists showcase, began learning how to build a band, and played Boots and Hearts, Canada’s largest country music festival. He met Canadian singer Aaron Goodvin, who’d moved to Nashville and encouraged Ross to do the same. 

A visit in 2017 hooked him. He graduated from Western and got a job in construction through a family friend. But he was back and forth to Nashville. Frustrated with his frequent absences, his boss did him a tough-love favour. 

“I told him I wanted to go to Nashville again. He said, ‘As a friend, I think you should go, but as your boss, you’re fired.’ So I went, came back to no job, and that’s what forced me to say, ‘I need to move there.’”

In 2019, he did. 

He realized he was old to be entering the music business and, this being Nashville, could see there was a ton of competition. So he got to work, learning from the pros he was meeting. 

If you believe this is what you’re meant to do, you’re going to figure it out.

Now, he’s having magical moments—like joining Nickelback on stage to perform Earle’s “Copperhead Road,” the song that grabbed Ross as a kid. And he loves connecting with his fans. “When you get messages from people, even if it’s not the most popular song, but it touches somebody in such a special way, that’s what makes it all worth it.”

His advice for others who are looking to make a big turn in their careers? 

“If you believe this is what you’re meant to do, you’re going to figure it out. I was in Nashville from 2019 until post-Covid and didn’t have much going on. It was a lot of years that were very tough. But if you want it bad enough, you figure it out. You probably won’t even realize you’re doing that, but you are.”