Gordon Ranney, 1962-2016
A remembrance of the Gomers member and pillar of the Madison music community.
Editor's note: The High Noon Saloon will host a Tuesday, April 12 show paying musical tribute to Gordon Ranney and raising money to help Ranney's family with his medical costs.
I don't recall ever being introduced to Gordon Ranney. He's always been a part of my Madison world and music community. Gordon had friends who were closer to him than me, especially his longtime friends and bandmates The Gomers. Even so, Gordon was my friend. What a wonderful thing to have had.
Thoughts of Gordon during these past few weeks have often been accompanied by tears. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in March of 2014. In the past two years, he underwent treatment, yet still played almost all his scheduled gigs with The Gomers, Prog, and Steely Dane. Gordon died on February 28. His wife Jeanette and several of his dearest friends and family members saw him out of this life.
Though many of us understood Gordon wouldn't recover from his disease, his death is a heartbreaking blow. For the first time, I wonder what the stage and our community will be like without him. I wonder how my friends' lives will go forth without him. I'm steeped in memories of him easily weaving in and out of my life.
I heard him play with The Gomers more than with any other band. My first band, The Quickies, opened for The Gomers’ second “last ever” show at the Crystal Corner Bar in the 1990s. I even got our guitarist Blain Kennedy to wear a dress for that gig because, you know, it was a Gomers show. I sang with The Gomers at their Mamapalooza show, a celebration of Mothers Day, in 2003 while in my eighth month of pregnancy with my daughter. The wig Gordon wore at that show was particularly hideous and hilarious. The band played my wedding party at the High Noon Saloon and I sang “We Are The Champions” with them. These are just a few of so many memories with them. Gordon was always there at the side of the stage, easily laying down rock-solid basslines. He was a vastly superior bassist to me, and I'd watch in awe as his fingers flowed perfectly over those fat strings. Gordon was always steady and even, always with a calm expression, even in a skirt, in a feather boa, in clown makeup, or in a KISS costume.
And there was Gordon offstage. Above all, I recall when, some years ago, I lost my purse during an early show at the High Noon Saloon. Gordon saw my distress and inquired. Within minutes of telling him, he found my purse and returned it to me. As I melted with relief, he said sincerely, “That must have been an awful feeling.” I hugged him then for the first time.
Overall, his regular response to anything I asked of him or suggested to him, no matter how nuts, was, “Yes, anytime. Anything for you.” He was so generous and compassionate. I never felt judged, only trusted and respected. Case in point: When I asked to borrow his glorious, valuable Rickenbacker bass for a goofy gig, he not only agreed, but also offered to deliver it to me.
Shortly after Gordon's death, I met with Tom Hanson, Gordon's friend and musical co-conspirator in music for the past 35 years. We talked and laughed for two hours, often with tears in our eyes. The conversation sometimes involved revelations: Gordon the Christian rocker. Gordon the uncle. Gordon the philosopher. And Gordon the singer.
Though he was readily associated with several Madison bands as a bassist, Gordon also played guitar and often sang lead vocals in a project with Hanson called the droplets. The duet spent more time in the basement studio creating song after song rather than playing onstage. The droplets songs feature Gordon's ghostly, meandering basslines holding together layers of lush, fuzzed-out guitar and dreamy vocals. Behold, Gordon the shoegazer. His vocal work in this band is unique and was deeply satisfying to him.
Hanson released the first batch of the droplets' songs on the day Gordon died. In the wake of Gordon's departure, he leaves us with a treasure trove of new music. Hanson plans to finish the current droplets songs with the help of New Zealander John White, and will release it upon completion. The Gomers' Biff Blumfumgagnge describes it as Gordon's Blackstar.
How can I end this piece? I don't want the story of Gordon to end. Now, I can only be grateful to have known love in the key of G.
Gordon Ranney’s friends and family are currently accepting donations to help his family cover medical costs.