Guitarist Ron Palangio is from North Bay, Ontario. But Hamilton’s got him now! Like many others, our feature musician was drawn to the Hamilton area as a music student. Ron arrived in Hamilton in 1978 to study music at Mohawk College. He is a great example of musical persistence, performance, community involvement and leadership. Stories like Ron’s are not uncommon in our town.
Ron received his first guitar from his dad who, finding it unclaimed after being left under a seat on one of the company buses, handed it over to his twelve year old son. It was a junky ¾ sized guitar. But Ron played it. Hard. He wanted to learn all the Beatles songs he could.
“I [finally] took a paper route to buy my first electric guitar, a Silvertone from the Sears catalog for $69.95, and a Sears 20 watt amp. It was actually a pretty good guitar. I got rid of that guitar because a guy I started jamming with used to make fun of it…” Ron eventually ended up buying a Les Paul copy.
After missing his high school graduation due to a local gig, Ron traveled around northern Ontario doing mostly country gigs. No stranger to the reality of the road, he shares, “One cold January weekend while playing a 3 nighter in Northern Quebec our van died and the bass player and other guitarist got into an argument and the band broke up. We had to find our way back home and when I got home my parents gave me the ultimatum – either you go to school, get a real job or work in the family business.”
Mohawk College was then recruiting for its second cohort of students. The newly minted program was making a buzz, and Ron made it in. There were only two other guitar majors at the time. Nice.
Ron mentions Gary Santucci, Kieran Overs, Peter Leitch, Mark McCarron, and Froc Filipetti as key instructors throughout his college career. He owns a custom jazz guitar designed by Froc and partner George Furlanetto, makers of the famous F basses.
After graduating Mohawk in 1981 Ron performed professionally as a freelance guitarist around the Toronto-Hamilton area. His versatility along with his skills in sight reading and improvisation made Ron an in-demand guitarist around the area performing for professional theatre productions, big bands, dance, pop, rock and country groups.
Ron returned to Mohawk as a part-time guitar teacher, while maintaining a busy private guitar teaching schedule throughout the 1980s. Playing regularly with Jude Johnson, Ron eventually married her best friend, which cemented his decision to stay in Hamilton. Ron has played with such artists as the late Bobby Washington, big band leader Harry Waller and singers Al Martino and Clint Holmes.
When criticized by Toronto musicians for his decision to stay in Hamilton, Ron just had to tell them how much work he was getting and they’d shut up pretty quick.
A few more years of academics at York, Mac, and U of T made it possible for Ron to land his “real” job as a school music teacher. Since 1987 Ron has taught secondary music with the Hamilton Wentworth C.D.S.B. He is presently Head of Arts at Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School and is the regional coordinator of The Golden Horseshoe Musicfest. While the Festival’s taxing workload is never fun, Ron finds it motivating that his work with Musicfest helps him stay in touch with so many music directors from area schools. And, coming full circle in one sense, this year’s Festival is taking place at McIntyre Theatre at Mohawk College where Ron kicked off his music career.
When asked if his teaching drags down his playing, Ron says, “I play everyday while at work; when teaching guitar classes I have to stay up on all the latest guitar trends that kids are into. I have to always think back to what it was like when I first started playing. Administration is something all teachers, especially department heads have to deal with. And it does nothing for your playing, except make you want to get back to music.”
Ron continues to perform regularly in jazz clubs and private engagements in and around the Hamilton area. His latest project puts his name “out there” in the market with the Ron Palangio Group – aka RPG – a classic rock, R & B cover band. Now named the house band at the Innkeeper’s Pub in the Innsville Hotel in Winona, the Ron Palangio Group will be entertaining this New Year’s Eve as well.
Ron and his wife Joanne are the proud parents of three talented children who have a keen interest in music and the arts.