John Hannah
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Although John Hannah was the youngest of the Brass Union members, he was already a ‘seasoned’ musician when he joined the band, playing first with ‘Pale Orchid’ in 1966, then ‘Ten Gallon Fat’.  The band recruited him from another excellent local band, ‘Major Hoople’s Boarding House Band’, when Dave Balan left the Brass Union in 1969.  With John came not only excellent drumming skills – his mesmerizing drum solo in ‘Ina Gadda Da Vida’ is still remembered by many today –  but he was also an excellent singer.  The song that you are listening to, by Led Zeppelin – one of John’s favourite groups – was one of his signature vocal songs with the band.  When the band broke up in 1972, John stayed with music, moving first to the local band, ‘Bully’, then to another excellent local band 'Privilege' in 1973.  John stayed playing in bands throughout his career – moving to ‘the Terry Crawford Band’, ‘Crackers’, ‘the Bugs’, ‘Who’s on First’ by the mid-80’s and finally, a local band (where he lived at the time, in Desboro, Ontario) called ‘Four by Four’.  John was a stage performer at heart with all the talents to do so, and although he did take the occasional ‘day job’, like being a courier for a few years in downtown Toronto, he never stopped playing in bands. John Hannah and I were very close during the Brass Union years.  He would often be at the commune-type home where I lived in downtown Hamilton to sit, work on tunes, or generally just enjoy growing up and playing in a band together.  I remember one night we were in town during one of our breaks between our Detroit bar gigs of 1971 and conversation flowed around to the future – what we wanted to achieve in our lives.  It’s odd, how even with the passing of 40 years, nights like these still remain crystal clear.  I remember John telling me about the ‘hobby farm’ he wanted to buy someday, something up around the Owen Sound area, with some land so he could do a little light farming, some water, a nice house and, of course, a barn to practice in.  Not only can I remember what he told me very well, but it also had a lot to do with the direction I would take myself after the band broke up, when I packed up and moved to the country.  John was that type of person, even back then – charismatic, very positive, with a sense of ‘drive’ to live his life as he saw fit.  Afterall, it was he who first quit school and showed up at practice with his High School Correspondence courses under his arm. By the mid-80’s, John had met and married his long-time girlfriend Debi, and together, they bought a hobby farm in Desboro, Ontario – 100 acres in the beautiful rolling hills of Bruce County, Ontario, complete with a pond, an old Mennonite farmhouse and, of course, a barn.  I talked with John’s sister, Helen, recently:  “John and Debi originally bought a house in Georgetown and sold it, both at peak times in the housing market, so that when they bought their farm, they bought it outright.  It was owned by a Toronto doctor who used it as a summer home for his family.  It came with everything included – furniture, window dressings, right down to the quilts on the bed – everything all made by the Mennonites.”  She went on:  “Once they moved in, they mortgaged the house so they could buy a woodworking business [one of John’s hobbies].  Someone nearby was retiring, selling his business and John bought it.”  So by the late 1980’s, John was married, had bought his hobby farm, had his own local woodworking business and was continuing to sing and play in local bands.  There wasn’t too much about his life then, that I’d not heard him describe to me that evening, twenty years before.
John Hannah Drums
By the spring of 1989, the last members of the Brass Union were spread all over the country.  Len Blum was writing movies – Beethoven’s 2nd, at the time.  Bruce Ley was just finishing up his music work in Toronto and preparing to move to the country.  Darrell Nameth was in Brockville rising through the management ranks of Proctor & Gamble.  And Bruce Wilson was doing the same at Union Gas.  Cliff Hunt was booking bands all over the world.  Terry Bramhall was making his transition to New Country music and John Willett, Brad Stone and myself were building a fan base for the newest 8-piece horn band to come out of the Hamilton/Burlington area.  Rick Moses was just leaving music and setting up his own construction business and Peter Hume (Humble) had just moved to New York State with his new wife and was settling into the teaching profession down there.  Then, on May 9th, 1989, came the phonecall.  It was Brad Stone, and he wanted everyone to know that, while John Hannah was driving home with a friend from a party near his farm the night before, the car they were in was broadsided at a country intersection and John had not survived the impact.  The news hit everyone extremely hard.
By NICK KREWEN The Spectator  LOCAL MUSICIANS are in shock after a two-car accident that has claimed the life of a popular veteran drummer.    John Hannah, 39, was fatally injured Sunday night in a two-car collision just outside of Chesley, southwest of Owen Sound.    Hannah was a member of Major Hoople's Boarding House, the Terry Crawford Band, Crackers, Who's On First and Privilege -- a band that also contained future Journey singer, Steve Perry.    But the former Burlington resident will probably be best remembered as the timekeeper for popular Hamilton band Brass Union almost two decades ago.    "Everybody's taking it very hare," said Kerry Knickle, who recruited Hannah as drummer for Who's On First, until he moved with his wife last year to Desboro, near Owen Sound.  He worked there as a courier.    Hannah is survived by his wife Debra, mother Helen, one brother and four sisters.  Funeral services were held earlier today in Chesley.    "I was devastated," said Knickle.  "It's hard to believe that he's not here."    Hannah, who attended Aldershot High School as a teenager, was described as a fun-loving individual who was used to taking a lot of risks.    "He was a wonderful guy who constantly lived on the edge," Knickle recalled.    Brad Stone, the former sound and lighting man for Brass Union, cited Hannah's professionalism.    "Professionally, he was like a clock," said Stone, "You could always count on him to be on time.  It was like a computer was built into him."   "He's been in a few car accidents, and once he played the bass drum with a broken ankle.  Only members of the band knew -- I didn't know about it until we had to carry him off stage."    He also described him as a friend and "animated -- a really good guy."    "We kept in touch over the years and partied together," said Stone.    Cliff Hunt, a former member of Brass Union and now manager of Refugee, Louisa Florio, Henry Small and Red Alert, called the tragedy "a great loss".   "He was a nice person to be around," said Hunt.  "We spent some of the most enjoyable years of my life together."    Hunt and the rest of the former band members will pay homage to Hannah, according to Stone.    "I've been in contact with all the members of The Brass Union," said Stone, "And they're all going to be at the funeral ... We'd been thinking about having a reunion of the The Brass Union, and it's going to be great seeing all the guys again.  It's just a shame we had to be reunited under these circumstances.
Information about this period has been very difficult to acquire.  Most people remember the event, but few details.  I suppose that this is the way of deep personal tragedy.  I talked to Brad Stone recently:  “I was at home in Hamilton when I got the call from John Willett.  He said I have some real bad news – John Hannah’s been killed.”  With a noticeable hesitation in his voice, Brad continued:  “I think I just said thanks for the call and hung up.  And then I just sat there for about an hour, stunned.  I’d had grandparents die, but John was the first of my contemporaries that I had lost.  I then got on the phone and tried to track down everyone to tell them what happened.  We hadn’t seen each other in twenty years, but I called one person, and they knew where someone else was, and eventually I was able to get hold of all the last eleven guys.”  And on Wednesday morning, May 10th, we all met at the funeral home in Chesley to say good-bye to our friend.
John Hannah's farm in Desboro, Ontario in the spring and below, the farmhouse in the winter months
It’s odd.  I was there as well, but I only have a few lasting images from that day.  As John’s sister, Helen, mentioned to me recently:  “We were all in such a stupor on that funeral day - I didn't even really know who was there.”  And this seems to be the thoughts that I’ve received from everyone.  I don’t remember the service at all, but I do remember Chesley Cemetary and where they laid John, way down in the back left-hand corner, in the sun.  I remember seeing John Willett finally break down over by where we had parked the cars.  And I remember that we all went back to John’s farm afterwards.  But other than that, and one other thing at the farm, I really don't remember much more about the day. "It was great seeing all the guys again – I hadn't seen them in years," said Brad Stone, "But we were all walking around slightly stunned, with the 'deer in the headlights' kind of look.  It was one of those 'I don't believe it' kind of things.  I mean, after all the things we did and all the stuff we survived.  And here was John in the wrong place at the wrong time, out in the middle of Nowhere, Ontario, and that was it.  We were always in the wrong place at the wrong time and we came out of it totally unscathed.  I mean ... how unfair was that ??" When I got to the farm, I remember that there were a lot of people there – John always had so many friends.  I recall wandering rather aimlessly around the property for a while.  It was very surreal for me, as here I was in a place that John had told me all about 20 years before, and to see that he had found his farm and realize that he wasn’t there that day was rather difficult.  I met Debi, his wife, and I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember that she seemed to sense that I wanted her to show me the barn.  We walked over to the side door, and when I went inside, there were John’s drums set up with the songlist for next weekend’s gig on the floor tom.  Well, that was it for me.  I thanked Debi and expressed my condolences to her in whatever blubbering fashion that I could find, said good- bye to whatever band members I met on the way down the driveway to my car, got in it, and drove home.  I felt bad about leaving unannounced as I did, but I knew I was on the verge of ‘losing it’, and that was something that I wanted to do in private.
“As you can imagine, it was all a bit of a blur that day,”  John’s sister, Helen, told me recently.  “There’s still people coming up to me saying ‘I was there’ and I have to say I’m sorry, but I don’t remember.”  Most of the Brass Union members stayed at the farm for about an hour or so, meeting John’s family and friends and reconnecting with each other.  After all, most of the guys had not seen each other for a number of years.  By mid afternoon, it was time to go, and one of the band members said ‘Let’s go have a drink somewhere on John’.  They headed out together and got as far as the first available ‘watering hole’ in Chesley and went in to have a toast to their friend and continue their reunion for just a little while longer.
THE WAKE  Hard to believe itís been 20 years since The Brass Union last gathered together.  Who would have guessed that it would have been at the funeral of one of our 'brothers', especially the funeral of John 'Bonar' Hannah.  I remember him as young, innocent, full of energy, enthusiasm, and rock and roll, and when he joined the band in í69, it was like we were hit by a bolt of lightning.  He upped our energy level by 30% and our chick quotient by 100% overnight!  He had genuine star quality, fresh-faced, long blond hair, tall, slim and fit, and when he did his drum solo in ďIn A Gadda Da VidaĒ, with his shirt off was all over, the rest of us just waited for his left-overs.  He introduced us to new ideas and new music as well.  He loved Zeppelin, and we learned 'Babe, Iím Gonna Leave You' which he sang with incredible passion and conviction.  When news of his sudden and untimely death came, I was shocked, as were the rest of the guys who knew and loved him.  As a band, we were closer than brothers; we travelled together, lived together, rehearsed together, played together, and lived through each otherís personal trials and tribulations.  I was in my office when the Hamilton Spectator called asking me to comment on the news of his death, and I really didnít know what to say.  I know whatever I did say, certainly did not adequately convey what I was feeling.  His funeral was an event that I will never forget.  No one planned what happened, it just happened.  It was like a magnet drew us together one last time to say goodbye to our youngest.  It was a beautiful spring day and we began arriving at the quaint little home on a hill in the country.  Cruiser, Wilgrove, Lenny, Rubby, Groper, Woody, Pound, Humble, Elmo, Diamond Don, and Floydo.  Many of us had not seen each other in almost 17 years, but it just felt right.  Now, what Iím about to describe is going to sound very strange to many of you, but you have to trust me when I say it was exactly as it should have been.  After the gathering at Johnís home with his wife and family, the remaining members of the band decided to go for a drink.  We were in a small town called Chesley, near Owen Sound, and we ended up in the local watering hole.  As it turned out, the entertainment at this fine establishment happened to be what must have been, the townís only 'exotic dancer'.  After a couple of beers, it seemed only appropriate that she should join with us to mourn and celebrate the life and loss of our ďbrotherĒ Bonar.  We set up an empty chair in honour of our missing member, and she danced for him, and it was a very special and moving moment.  We laughed and cried simultaneously, we cheered, and whooped and hollered ... it was surreal, and special, and it is a moment in time that I will never forget.  It was truly a beautiful thing, and you had to be there.  When she finished, the music stopped, that was it, it was over.  We hugged, shook hands, and went our separate ways.  THAT WAS 20 YEARS AGO.   Cliff Hunt  06/09
And that's the story of the Hamilton/Burlington band, the Brass Union.  The band was in existence for 5 1/2 years, from Christmas 1966 until April 1972 and totalled twenty-six musicians, road crew and managers throughout its history.  They played everywhere from Detroit, MIchigan to Thunder Bay, Ontario to Quebec City, P.Q. to generally packed and very appreciative audiences.  Many have commented that the band was 'ahead of its time' with their full horn section, attention to professionalism, staging, effects, wardrobe and their own rock opera, 'the Fairytale'.  That may be true, but one thing is for sure – now, nearly forty years after the band's last show, researching this story has shown that they still remain very fondly remembered by band members, friends and fans alike. THE END                                                                                  July 30, 2013