Entertainment Music Daddy Cool’s Ross Hannaford a laidback genius
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Daddy Cool’s Ross Hannaford a laidback genius

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Ross Hannaford, who died of liver cancer on Tuesday, was one of Australia’s biggest pop stars when he was barely 20 years old.

He spent the past decade or more of his career in a hi-vis jacket busking on the streets of Melbourne.

He seemed equally at home in either circumstance. ‘Hanna’, as he was known, was one of the most beloved figures around the Victorian capital for several decades.

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Ross Andrew Hannaford was born on December 1, 1960 in Newcastle but moved to Melbourne with his family at an early age.

It was there that he met Ross Wilson, an R&B fanatic and singer.

They formed the garage band the Pink Finks and had a top 20 hit with Louie Louie. Hannaford, then only 15, was driven to gigs by his mum.

The two Rosses went through experimental outfits such as the Sons of the Vegetal Mother and the Party Machine before a side project, the 1950s-inspired Daddy Cool, took off.

Within weeks of their first shows, Daddy Cool were a major sensation. The tall, lanky Hannaford wore a trademark helicopter hat and a bemused expression behind Coke-bottle glasses.

Hannaford would lope around the stage like a genial mantis while he peeled sublime licks off his guitar.

They recorded their first album Daddy Who? Daddy Cool! (1971) in two brief sessions and it became the first domestic rock album to sell 100,000 copies.

Daddy Cool at the ARIA Awards in 2006. Photo: AAP
Daddy Cool at the ARIA Awards in 2006. Photo: AAP

Some people learn the guitar, other people become extensions of the instrument.

So it was with Hannaford; you heard all the influences from the blues and swing, jazz and reggae but the music all came out somehow lanky and ‘Hannaford’.

There was a geniality to his music – a lack of aggression and an openness that was always as inviting as it was inventive. It was the epitome of laidback.

After Daddy Cool split in the early 1970s, Hannaford followed Wilson into the brief but acclaimed Mighty Kong.

He then formed Billy T, which played reggae and R&B. He became a devotee of Guru Maharaj Ji, the 14-year old perfect master, and Billy T was associated with the Divine Light Mission.

When Billy T folded after one album, Hannaford became a journeyman musician. He played with everyone and made singers shine.

To hear him accompany a singer like Renee Geyer was sublime. Hannaford had an almost Zen quality in his guitar playing that reflected his humble personality.

As Stephen Cummings said: “He never knew how good he was.”

A longstanding pub band, Dianna Kiss, playing mostly around St Kilda, helped keep the wolf from the door and he recorded sporadically.

Hannaford in a 2008 photoshoot. Photo: AAP
Hannaford in a 2008 photoshoot. Photo: AAP

There were reggae records in there and a Django-styled swing album. His Tom Waits-ish Monkey On My Back was a career highpoint.

A few years ago he began busking in Melbourne.

“I discovered I really loved it,” he told the ABC. “Because let’s face it, you’re a beggar, you’re in the gutter, you’re not up on some stage or pedestal.”

After the cancer diagnosis about a year ago, Hannaford worked on one last album, Hanna.

The cream of Melbourne’s music scene recently staged two sold-out benefits for Hanna – there was music with him until the end.

Perhaps Hannaford’s greatest legacy was not recording but his example to future generations.

Dan Luscombe of the Drones wrote: “In St Kilda in the mid 90s, I would watch Dianna Kiss’ Monday night residency shows.

“His playing was sublime. The sound he got out of his guitar and his fingers (with minimal effects) was magical.

“He was a genius on the instrument, and a huge influence on me.”

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