Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, See you in the sky, big guy.
Guitarist, singer and visual artist
1 December 1950 – 8 March 2016
To Daddy Cool bass player Wayne Duncan, Ross “Hanna” Hannaford was far more than just his eccentric DC band-mate since 1970. “He was the Salvador Dali of Australian rock”, said Duncan. “Everything he did, he did his way. Every guitar he had, he would adapt and change – he’d paint over it and make it a Ross Hannaford, an art object.”
For instance most guitarists have standardised sound effects pedal boards to stomp on. Hanna’s, however, another regular collaborator, Shane Howard, of Goanna, confirmed, were “like fantastic landscape paintings with artificial turf.” Howard recalled the lanky player rocking up for a session, his guitar painted in “reggae rainbow outbursts.” He’d be wearing “his fluoro vest, Afghani hat and some Blundstone boots painted gold – the full dude.
“Ross was a contrarian”, said Howard. “But he was very generous to me. I learnt how to write, to tailor stuff that was in his frame of reference. The way he played was always surprisingly and moving and it came from a very deep place. Ross’ sense of tone– it felt right. It was always right. There was a fearlessness to him.”
But it wasn’t always so.
Ross Andrew Hannaford was born at Mayfield Hospital in Newcastle, New South Wales. Although both his mother Winifred “Win” (neé Johnson) and father Alan “Al” Hannaford had grown up in Melbourne, Al had taken a three year posting with Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in Newcastle as an engineer. Struggling with a difficult workplace, unable to see much of his family, Al suffered a nervous breakdown. The Hannafords returned to Melbourne and a better life when Ross was one and a half, managing a motel and a caravan park.
Ross only had one sibling, Ian, older by four years. Their parents lived into their 90s; both have died now. “My brother was a very shy kid,” said Ian. “He used to love diving, but as a baby he’d suffered perforated ear drums – perhaps from ear infections – so he’d been ordered to stop.”
Compromised hearing or not, from the age of four, Hannaford regularly asked his parents for a guitar. “When I was eight, I could hold one,” he explains, in the documentary Hanna in a Nutshell (Haydn Keenan, 2015) “so I got one and some lessons.” Then came musical theory. “I can't teach him,” his ABC Academy teacher announced finally. “But he can play.” For Hannaford, the education system was “a nightmare.” At Cheltenham Primary School, a teacher terrorised him. Then he went to Brighton High, Mentone Grammar, Prahran Tech and RMIT.
At 12 Ross Hannaford was playing banjo in a kid jazz band and also guitar in his R&B band The Fauves. He was short, fat and wore bottle-thick glasses. Three years above him at school was Keith Glass, a muso who’d go on to form Missing Link Records and manage the Birthday Party. “When The Fauves played we all went along to a local church hall and watched them”, Glass recalled. “I remember being astonished at the sound and natural technique Ross [Hannaford] had with a cheap Canora acoustic guitar with an equally cheap Ibenez pickup shoved in the sound hole.”
Meanwhile Hanna saw Wilson playing blues harp with Glass's band (The Group/The Rising Sons) around the same time. “I think it was 1963,” said Wilson. “He wasn't quite 13. His parents didn't know what to do with him. He used to play practical jokes and get into trouble. He liked to hang out with older kids, driving in their utes to gigs. One time, they got hold of a store dummy and laid it down on Beach Road. Everybody was running over it, they thought it was very funny.
“By then he was also a budding artist. His work even from that time was quite accomplished”, said Wilson. They used to listen to blues records together. “Got into early John Lee Hooker. We went wow - he could just make stuff up. So that's what we did too,” said Wilson. The two boys were made for each other from the word go. “Yeah we could bounce off each other. We felt we knew what the other one was going to do next. We would naturally go to harmonies without even thinking about it,” said Wilson. They formed the garage R&B band Pink Finks; combining two kids from Wilson’s school Haileybury College and three from Hanna’s Brighton High. When they released “Louie Louie” it shot to number 15 on the 3DB charts! Ian remembers driving the Finks around in Al’s old Morris Minor. “Twenty minutes here, twenty minutes there. At Mentone Town Hall, they played with the Easybeats!”
The Pink Finks (‘64-6) led to Party Machine (’67-9), whose songbook, including Wilson’s “I Don't Believe All Your Kids Should Be Virgins", was pulped by the Victorian Vice Squad. The brass-sectioned Sons of the Vegetal Mother (’69-‘71) gave birth to Daddy Cool (’70-3, with occasional reunions); followed by the tougher Mighty Kong (’73).
It was at a Sons of the Vegetal Mothers’ gig at a Glenelg theatre that DC debuted. When the support act cancelled, Wilson, Hanna, Gary Young and Wayne Duncan raided the theatre’s dress-ups and blew themselves off stage.
With pre-Whitlam Australia conscripting for Vietnam, our youth needed Hanna boogieing, lop-sided tongue sticking out. Daddy Cool freaked out school principals playing “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box” then toured the nation’s universities. “Eagle Rock”, our first original gold rock single, topped Go-Set’s national chart for months. Meanwhile Daddy Who? Daddy Cool, recorded in two and a half days, became our biggest-selling (100,000) original rock LP. Hit second album Sex, Dope & Rock’n’Roll: Teenage Heaven (’72) featured Hanna’s own lipstick kisses on a cover he co-designed. After such events it seemed bizarre that Daddy Cool recorded The Last Drive-In Movie Show in August 1972 at the Much More Ballroom, as a final hurrah.
“We were just so confident,” said Hanna. “We were just on a roll. You couldn't do nothing wrong for two years. Then I remember playing this gig in Perth and Wilson has just produced Skyhooks and they were the flavour of the month and you know – it's gone. And then I heard reggae … The guitar becomes sort of part of the rhythm section. It's a continuous motion … I just fell in love with reggae.”
His next main venture was Billy T (’75-‘78), formed with Joe Creighton (Band of Angels). Some members, including Hannaford, were mediation devotees (rather than religious, per se, although they did play overseas for the Divine Light Mission’s Maharaj Ji). After that, Hanna played reggae with Lucky Dog, wrote songs and had stints with Renee Geyer, Ian Moss, the Black Sorrows and Paul Madigan and the Humans. His many sessions included a fine solo on ‘Razor’s Edge’, the second single from Goanna’s first album Spirit of Place (1982). He also played on that band’s Oceania (’85) as well as Goanna singer-songwriter Shane Howard’s solo albums River (’90) and Time Will Tell (’93.
Hanna’s own band Dianna Kiss had a Monday night residency at the Espy (Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda) that stretched for around 11 years. Bass player Stephen Hadley (Men at Work) took Booker T. and the MGs guitarist Steve “Blues Brothers” Cropper along there once. According to Hadley, Cropper said Ross Hannaford was the best guitar player he’d ever heard.
Another review came from Peter “Lucky” Luscombe (RocKwiz Orchestra), who in ’92 was drumming with Bob Dylan’s Melbourne support act, Chris Wilson. Befriending Dylan’s guitarists, Luscombe took them to see Hanna play. Bucky Baxter and John “J.J.” Jackson listened for a while. Then Bucky drawled to Lucky, "If Bob saw this guy, we'd be out of a job!”
In 2015 Ross Hannaford was diagnosed with spreading liver cancer and given three months to live. He tried to keep it quiet. However people felt money needed to be raised for his medical costs, and tributes made. A stellar line-up played two nights at the Memo that July, organised by Hanna’s long-term right-hand-man Ang (Angelo Andrianakis), industry stalwarts Ian Lovell and Judi Kenneally, Memo’s Peter Foley and musical director James Black.
Gary Young was watching when Hanna was introduced by Brian Nankervis. “You could've heard a pin drop,” said Young. “Hanna uses a cigarette lighter as a slide on his guitar and it took a lot of time for him to get that that out.” Touched, he soon realised Hanna had been on stage for three minutes in total silence. “But everybody was still quiet. No-one complained.”
By late 2015, with the aid of medical cannabis oil, Hanna was feeling much better. He was able to squeeze out two last, sold-out, 90 minute Ross Hannaford and the Critters shows at the Caravan Club. His final gig, December 15, was his HANNA album launch. And since Ang had organised him rosshannaford.com finally his collection of rare recordings, as well as his last, became available online.
And Hanna was up and about, lucid, enjoying working on his music and riding round in Ang’s car. Until his last day, when he took to bed. Ang put on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. “And then the trumpet starts up,” said Ang, “and Hanna’s hands come up off the bed, and he’s conducting the band and the trumpet.”
Hanna had his wife, Lorraine Austin, who kept him home and cared for him, and daughter Billi, from his first marriage to Toni, by his side in his final hours. He died painlessly and at peace, at home.
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