Steven Hanford, best known as the drummer for Portland punk icons Poison Idea, has died. His girlfiend confirmed the news in a Facebook post, writing that he suffered a heart attack this morning. He was 50 years old.
Hanford—who went by the nickname Slayer Hippy—is best known as the drummer of Poison Idea in the late 1980s and early '90s, at the height of the band's critical and commercial success. His playing on the albums War All the Time and Feel the Darkness was marked by an exceptionally powerful and sophisticated technique uncommon in DIY hardcore circles.
Born in Walla Walla, Wash., in 1969, Hanford moved with his family to Portland when he was only 2. He got his first drum kit at age 8 and honed his chops in middle-school band class.
"They had a thing where you could be bused over to Jefferson [High], which was a very big performing arts school," he told me in 2016. "And they had really shit-hot drummers there that were jazz cats that played around town all the time."
At the same time that he was blossoming as a drummer, playing along to Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Rush albums, Hanford also struggled with a host of personal demons.
"Fifteen is when I joined P.I. I was into drugs way before that," he said. "I started, like, smoking pot when I was 8 years old. I think I shot smack for the first time when I was 13, because I was a very depressed kid. And I didn't know why I was depressed. It was because I repressed a bunch of sexual abuse as a child."
Those demons continued to haunt Hanford throughout his life. Not long after Nirvana asked the band to open their historic "No on 9" benefit at Portland Meadows in 1992, Poison Idea folded, and Hanford continued to struggle with addiction. In 2008, he began a seven-year prison term after robbing a Walgreens on Southeast Belmont Street.
In prison, Hanford finally kicked drugs and managed to produce and record 13 albums with other inmates. After his release, he rekindled a romance with his high school sweetheart. "One of the things I went through in prison was to purge myself of any kind of anger I perceived someone did to me," he said. "Because I know I did things to other people. And I reached out to as many people as I could remember and apologized."
In 2016, Hanford embarked on his first tour since 1993—not in a van this time, but a bus—as a hired gun for Chicago doom band the Skull.
After seven years away, and with a felony record, finding lucrative work was difficult. The wider world had moved online, even as the local economy contracted. But Hanford still played frequently—he had recently been drumming for Seattle thrash institution the Accused A.D.
"Jaw-dropping drummer, precocious child prodigy, obnoxious trickster, party fiend, studio wizard…he was all of these things," Pierced Arrows drummer Kelly Halliburton wrote on Facebook, "and I'm happy to have been able to have called him my friend."
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help with funeral expenses.