VALE ROSS HANNAFORD, 1 December 1950 - 8 March 2016
By Ian McFarlane
Ross Hannaford was one of the unsung giants of the Australian music industry, a unique talent and extraordinarily gifted guitarist. His ability to combine R&B, soul, funk, reggae and rock into a homogeneous whole was both versatile and exciting.
Yet how do you appraise his guitar playing skills and technique? Trying to explain the component parts and how they worked could end up akin to saying that birds can fly pretty well and dolphins can swim okay... it’s instinctual, it’s inherent, it’s natural, it’s just what he did. When all the accolades have been forgotten his guitar playing will still shine. The genuinely media shy Hanna was rarely in the solo spotlight but when he stood onstage, with any number of bands, he left an indelible stamp on proceedings.
Hanna got his start as a 14-year old school boy in The Pink Finks, alongside his pal Ross Wilson. From there (often with Ross) he progressed through The Party Machine, Quinn, Sons of the Vegetal Mother, Daddy Cool, Mighty Kong and Billy T. Of course, Hanna played on Daddy Cool’s #1 hit ‘Eagle Rock’. Ross Wilson wrote the song and came up with the signature country-blues guitar lick, yet Hanna sealed the deal with his simple, galvanising guitar solos laid over the top. His bass baritone vocal parts were also integral to DC’s mix of doo wop and vintage rock’n’roll.
During the mid-1970s he became a devotee of Satguru Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission. In 1977 he travelled to the USA to attend various religious festivals. While in the US he formed One Foundation with Joe Creighton (bass; from Billy T) to play at Mission conventions. On his return to Australia in 1978, Hannaford formed reggae bands Bambu and Lucky Dog. As the perennial gun-for-hire throughout the 1980s, he played with everyone from the Mark Gillespie Band, Gary Young and the Rocking Emus, Ross Wilson’s Rockhouse, the Ian Moss Band and the Steve Hoy Band to Goanna, The Black Sorrows and Yu-En. He even played sessions for the likes of John Farnham and Tina Arena.
For many years he led various line-ups of his Ross Hannaford Trio and roots rockers Dianna Kiss, building up a grassroots following on the inner-city Melbourne scene with a glorious mix of rock, soul, New Orleans funk and reggae. As well as being part of revival band Ol’ Skydaddys, Hanna took part in various Daddy Cool reformations over the years. His colourful stage attire was as much a part of his persona as his guitar playing.
He continued to play solo and, for many years, could be found busking at South Melbourne market with Bart Willoughby on percussion and didgeridoo. In July 2015, it was announced that Hanna was suffering from serious health issues, so the Melbourne music community rallied and staged two benefit concerts – Concert for Ross Hannaford Dance if You Want To – to help cover his escalating medical bills. In November 2015 he issued his rootsy, low-key but exceptionally gratifying solo album Hanna.
Ross Hannaford lost his battle with cancer on 8 March 2016.