'Simply extraordinary' Daddy Cool guitarist Ross Hannaford plays last gig

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Ross Hannaford, Flash in my Head, 1975 (Image via YouTube)

Ross Hannaford, widely regarded as one of Australia's finest rock guitarists, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 65.

Hannaford, affectionately known as "Hanna", is best known for his long collaboration with singer-songwriter Ross Wilson, with whom he founded the seminal Australian rock band Daddy Cool in the 1970s.

Wilson and Hannaford met as teenagers in Melbourne, where Hannaford moved a year after he was born in Newcastle, NSW, on 1 December 1950. The pair formed an R&B outfit called The Pink Finks in 1965, achieving moderate local success. This was followed by a bolder and more progressive band called The Party Machine, which attracted the interest of the Victorian vice squad for "obscene and seditious" material.

The Party Machine disbanded in 1969 and Hannaford spent a brief time in London before reuniting with Wilson and forming a Frank Zappa-inspired avant garde band called Sons of the Vegetal Mother, which eventually morphed into the highly successful Daddy Cool.

Daddy Cool achieved a monster hit in 1971 with 'Eagle Rock', which became the best-selling single of that year and remained at the top of the charts for a record 11 weeks. Groovers of that time can recall going to parties with highly paid live DJs with extensive record collections who – that notwithstanding – played  'Eagle Rock', and nothing else, for the entire night.

The Aussie rock anthem was named for a popular 1920s dance performed with the arms outstretched and the body rocking from side to side. "Doing the eagle rock" is also a metaphor for sexual intercourse.

Daddy Cool's danceable sound, and Hannaford's distinctive guitar work, resulted in a second 1971 hit called "Come Back Again". The catchy tune, coupled with Hannaford's stage antics and distinctive helicopter cap, made the guitarist a firm favourite with fans when Daddy Cool toured.

In 1972, Daddy Cool released two further singles that left little to the imagination. They were "Baby Let Me Bang Your Box" and "Hi Honey Ho".

Daddy Cool split at the end of 1972 to allow Hannaford and Wilson to explore other creative projects. They reformed in 1974 and continued to tour until 1976.

For many years after that, Hannaford worked as a session musician, lending his expertise to the Black Sorrows, Paul Madigan and The Humans, Ian Moss, Steve Hoy, Mark Gillespie, Billy T, Ram Band and Goanna. Hannaford, who became known as "the musician's musician" in Melbourne, also played with Renee Geyer, John Farnham, Kate Ceberano, Tim Finn, the Cruel Sea, Vika and Linda Bull at various times.

During the 1990s, Hannaford and his then-band Dianna Kiss were popular musicians-in-residence at the iconic Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne's St Kilda.

In 2005, the original members of Daddy Cool reunited for a one-off performance at a Melbourne benefit concert in aid of the Asian tsunami disaster. They also toured Melbourne, the Hunter Valley, Adelaide, Perth, Wollongong and Sydney in 2007 with the Beach Boys and Christopher Cross. In 2006, Daddy Cool was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

In later years, Hannaford was a familiar figure around Melbourne in general, and the Camberwell Markets in particular, where he regularly busked.

In July 2015, fellow musicians gathered around when it was revealed that Hannaford was suffering serious health issues and held two sold-out benefit concerts to raise money for his ongoing care. The concerts became a celebration of "Hanna" and all he contributed to the Australian rock music scene.

Despite deteriorating health, Hannaford released a final album called "Hanna" in 2015, on which he played all the instruments and wrote all the songs.

After hearing about the guitarist's death, former bandmates were quick to pay tribute to Hannaford.

Wilson said:

"He was like my little brother. We grew up together in life and in music. He was truly one of a kind."

Bassist Wayne Duncan said he was "gutted" at the news of Hannaford's passing:

"We've lost a great friend today. He took me on many a journey."

Drummer Gary Young added:

"We've lost one of the world's most unique guitarists."

Other musicians also paid tribute to the much-loved musician.

Drones guitarist Dan Luscombe described Hannaford as

"... a genius on the instrument, and a huge influence on me."

Luscombe continued:

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

Renee Geyer described Hannaford as "simply extraordinary".

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