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ROSS HANNAFORD

ROSS HANNAFORD
September 10, 2008 | Author: Greg Phillips

Ross HannafordWhen word got out that we were producing an edition acknowledging our most respected artists, I lost count of the times people told me we had to include ‘Hannaford’.  Most will know Ross Hannaford as the eccentric propeller-capped guitarist from iconic Australian band Daddy Cool. Within our local musician community however, Ross is known as being our greatest living ‘feel’ guitarist, possessing a tone that sings with incredible expression and clarity. I was honoured to be invited into Hanna’s home to chat about the local legend’s music career. Photo by Ros O’Gorman.

The refitted old suburban factory which Ross  Hannaford calls home is as unique as the character himself. In the context of its surroundings, the nature strip garden borders on bizarre. His two lanky, amiable greyhound dogs do nothing to dispel the stereotype that pets resemble their owners. Inside, the open plan space is full of artwork and amazing curios accrued from a life well lived.

Originally we had tried to involve Ross in the front cover shoot for this edition, but he’d only just returned from Arnhem land the day before and I got the feeling his headspace was still there. Hanna, along with fellow musicians Michael Hohnen and Tony Floyd,  had been invited by artistic director Tom E. Lewis to play the Walking With Spirits Festival, 107 kms South-East of Katherine. They’d already helped out on a recording, ‘Muyngarnbi: Songs From Walking With Spirits’ and had returned to play live at the festival. The album, which centres around indigenous tales passed down from Koori elders, features vocals by  songmen from the area, with Hannaford and co laying down some beautifully ambient and soulful backing tracks, recorded live and totally improvised.
But that’s Hannaford now. I wanted to go back, way back to where it all began and I asked him about his earliest musical influences.

“The Rolling Stones then,” he recalls.”It was really fortunate that I ran into Ross Wilson when I was about twelve. Ross’ folks were music freaks. His mum sang in choir and Ron, his dad was an amateur trumpet player who played jazz. So Wilson had a great grounding in music. He played me a lot of John Lee Hooker… just good blues really, but the Stones got me into it first. Ross played me the guys that the Stones got it from. So I was lucky I had a grounding in good groove stuff when I was young.”
“My passion though, has been reggae for thirty years. The first time I was blown away on the radio was hearing Johnny Nash, ‘Hold Me Tight’ and ‘Isrealites’ (Desmond Dekker). It freaked me out that the guitar had things to do. Up to then it was a guy playing rhythm and a guy playing lead. I was never a flashy lead player. When I heard reggae and people playing parts, and all these parts coming together… You can have two guitars playing the rhythm, one playing the ‘chank’ on the 2 and 4 of the bar and another one might be playing a single note line, doubling it with the bass or a part between the bass. That’s what got me into it. I became rhythm orientated. There was a reason now. Back then when I was young, the lead was all about playing fast, so I thought I wasn’t any good because I couldn’t play fast. But also that fast type of playing seemed a pointless exercise too. I was just blown away that the guitar had a job to do as part of a rhythm section.”

Speaking of rhythm parts, how did you work out those great parts in Daddy Cool’s songs? Did they come out of jams?

When Ross wrote those songs they were very complete and they were based on a riff. I’m almost playing the same part in ‘Eagle Rock’ and ‘Come Back Again’. (picks up a guitar and plays parts). ‘Hi Honey Ho’ was more like brass parts. I did it in unison with Jerry on sax.

And nothing was ever written down?

No I can’t write. I can read really slowly. I can’t even read a chord chart when playing. I just close my eyes and listen and work it out.

Do you remember your first guitar?

Ross HannafordIt was a Pacific guitar made by Merv Cargill, although I didn’t know that at the time. I actually saw a Silvertone the other day and it was exactly the same. I was eight when I started playing. I wanted one from the age of four, but could hold one at eight and started lessons. It was the ABC Academy with Mrs McKay! We’d sit in big circle and get a chart of the pop song of the day, with chords and words printed and that’s how we learnt. ‘How much is the doggy in the window’ was one we did. When they started teaching me theory, it was all too hard … so I was self taught from the age of ten.”

What was your main guitar in the Daddy Cool days?

A Guild Thunderbird mainly. A funny looking thing … the only other guy I knew who had one was the guy from Lovin’ Spoonful.  I played that through a 100 watt Marshall stack, bass amp. I can’t bare to play loud. What I’ve got now, I should have done way back. I have two Vox AC15s. AC30s are the best amps in the world. I just didn’t want to be that loud so with the two AC15s … I like to play with two amps and sit in the middle of it, preferably try to have them at the ends of the band. You can play softer and it mixes in with band

Are both amps set the same?

Sometimes I have one clean and the other one with a line out through my effects. It’s better that way, especially if I’m using a wah wah. The bass end of a wah wah can get lost, but if you have two amps going and one is clean, you don’t notice that, you think it is all wah wah. The clean one just gives it presence. In Daddy Cool I had the Marshall bass amp stack and a Vase amp that Ross took over. Wayne (Duncan) had that as well. We’d split up the boxes, one box each so we’d have two guitars and bass on each side. That worked well, it was good. I don’t know how any of this stuff came about though.

You play a Chandler guitar, you’ve got a great custom painted one. How did you get into those?

This guy was bringing them into country and he gave me two about twelve years ago. It was great because it was the first time in my life I had a few guitars to play with. My main guitar tunes so accurately and is so noiseless, really reliable. I also got a beautiful Telecaster in New York in ’76, down that street where all the guitar shops are. I went to about twelve guitar shops, got the best price and chose it out of six guitars. Straight from the factory they were. Three hundred bucks and they give it to you in a big brown paper bag, you took it on the plane in that and you didn’t pay duty.

Getting back to Daddy Cool, the song ‘Eagle Rock’ used to send people nuts from the opening bar, did you ever tire of playing it?

No. We were only together solidly for two years then reformed for a year. In those days we never tired of it. You could always get into it. We played a lot of other funny stuff, by the time you got to Eagle Rock, it was time for that sort of thing.

What did the Americans make of you when you went there?

We were a bit of a novelty over there. We were only small time. When we first went there we did a long weekend, three days in a row at the Whisky A Go Go, a good showcase type place. We were after a record deal. The first set we were shithouse,  but after that we were fine. It was because we had such a build up. We had this guy Kim Fowley, he liked the band and got really pissed and announced that we were bigger than the Beatles and had this big trumpet fanfare. We kind of felt stupid and de-humanised. We were pretty nervous that set. Then we’d go upstairs and there’d be Trevor Smith, a DJ from 3XY the Melbourne radio station, shoving a microphone at us saying ‘How was that?’
I remember John Mayall was there too. After that, the second set we were fine. But yes, that first set we just wanted to die, didn’t want to be there.  We went back for a month and another time for two months on a mid western college tour. I remember one night we had Earth, Wind and Fire on first with their incredible ten piece band … so powerful. We were like a lead balloon.

Just before Daddy Cool, you and Ross had the band Sons of the Vegetal Mother, who were very experimental. I believe you were both into Frank Zappa at the time?

It was such a new, fresh thing and he was singing about unusual things. He had this funny thing of playing Chinese fifths. (plays piano) Sounded kind of juvenile, kind of corny but at same time great. So we did everything in fifths. Zappa mentioned this guy Edgard Varese a lot. Wilson took a Varese theme and we’d play that. ‘Make Your Stash’ was a song we did like that. I gotta say its all Ross’ work and I was  lucky to be around. It was Ross who discovered Zappa. I thought I was going to be a painter, an artist. I went to art school and I was doing my 4th year diploma at RMIT. I was a print maker when Daddy Cool took off. I was only going to take a month off. But in those days I didn’t really appreciate it all. Every town we played, I’d just go off to the art gallery. I still do that. After a while drugs and rock and roll … I never finished the diploma. Reggae came along and I got stuck in music.

What is it about reggae that grabs you?

I mean there is a lot of bad reggae out there but I really liked seventies reggae, bands like Mighty Diamonds and Heptones and The Wailers … they were singing about deep shit. It was a spiritual thing. I like that mystical, spiritual thing in music. Not that I am religious but I like that feeling. I started this meditation too in about ’74 and these songs seemed about that and worked together.

I formed a band around ’79, the Lucky Dogs … first good reggae band in Melbourne. We played the Greyhound Hotel in Richmond and we had our own fans and most of them were meditators. There’s that feeling that I still love. I’ve never taken much notice of what’s happening in the mainstream.

Do you think there is an Australian reggae sound as there seems to be with blues?
Yeah. They play too loud! (laughs) They play the ‘chank’ too loud like they play rock and roll too loud. I mean .. dear Billy (Thorpe) … nice guy but you’d just want to kill him. I only recently understood what they were trying to do. Lobby (Loyde) was explaining what he was trying to do. He was trying to move people in the same way I was, but he thought volume was the way to do it.  He was saying with volume, you’ve got them, you can’t escape. You have to surrender. It was interesting, but I just hated all that loud thing where it hurts.

The way the music scene is today, and playing the type of music you do …  If you want to play gigs with your trio, is that a difficult thing for you to organise?
I’ve just formed a new band. I was playing solidly up to about 4 years ago with Renee Geyer and I didn’t want to just jump back into it. In the last few years I have been trying really hard to get some bands together. But the guys weren’t understanding what I was trying to do. Then I just met some young guys, so I now have a great little unit. I’m working on these new songs and I am asking these guys to sing a  lot of parts. It’s  a lot of work but they are into giving it a go. You don’t need a great voice for backing. You just need your heart into it, keep time and in tune. You don’t have to agree with the sentiment. But also I’ve been thinking, where is it going to get played? Where are we going to play, how are we going to make money?

Ross HannafordAre you going to record anything?
I have started a couple of tunes. There are some things that are good. I’m not a prolific writer. To save hassles I want to have written everything on it myself. Just so it’s clean, it’s mine. I suppose I am still looking for songwriting partners that
I can share that stuff with. Ultimately I’d love to find the right team to play this stuff with, but  I think those days are over. It’s very hard to survive. I’m just going to plug away writing these songs. There’s one song where I think I have something incredible going. I will slave away at the computer and do it as much as I can. There was a second off a record, just this second that gave me inspiration where this guy yells something out. So this is a 42 bar construction that goes through a whole lot of stuff. Usually reggae gets stuffed up when you put too many chords in but this one is working well. I just get the feeling nobody else will get what I am trying to do. I’ve just got to slave away. I’m still refining it. There’s a New Zealand band doing something a bit like what I want to do, Fat Freddy’s Drop. The tunes go for a long time, long grooves. Maybe I’ll even do one song on one record. I’m in heaven slaving over like a bass part over a tape recorder. I just love it.  But I remember when Stevie Wonder’s new music came out in the early 70s, when he started playing everything himself. There was a coldness about  it because there was no interaction, and now I am doing the same thing. You have to bring in other people and get the team thing going.

Your van containing your gear was recently stolen and later returned.  Were you surprised by how much attention that got?
That made my cry it was so beautiful, so caring. It was a beautiful thing to happen. People were putting up websites … and because they did, it led to me getting it all back. I didn’t know how much affection there was out there.

Muyngarnbi: Songs From Walking With Spirits is available through Skinny Fish Music.     Ross Hannaford Trio self titled album available at: www.daddycool.com.au/store.    For more information on Ross, visit www.myspace.com/rosshannafordtrio

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