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Flashback: The Quaker Cannons

Basement practice circa ’95

Harmony and Melody are the first words to come to mind when you are talking about the Quaker Cannons. There were two singers but there were three distinctive voices in the band. When Heather and Michael harmonized, their voices melted into one becoming an entirely new voice which was captivating to listen to. The Quaker Cannons were a four-piece band from Lowell, MA formed during the early 90s by Michael F Dailey Jr. and Heather Roy Noecker, both on guitar and vocals. They were joined by Scott Zemetres on bass and Jim Morrissey on drums. It was a time when the grunge sound was king with every band playing loud and distorted but they ignored all that and created their own sound. They choose to go clean with open chords, little flash and almost no leads. 

The band came together in a strange house on Hampstead Street in Methuen. It’s hard to remember who lived there and who just crashed there. The house was known for wild acid parties, crazy visitors, and other madness. Despite these distractions, Michael and Heather began to work on songs together in the enclosed back porch of the place. 

Basement practice circa ’95

Jim remembers the house and he recalls how he found himself drawn to those strange pop songs being played on that back porch. “Mike was living at the Hampstead place. I used to go over there a lot. He had these hanging plants that were all dried out, so I used to set them on fire. Heather and Mike were practicing their songs on the porch. I liked them; they sounded like Pebbles and Bam Bam, so I told them I would play drums for them.”

Scott Zemetres remembers when this became a band. “It was Columbus Day in 93 when the band first got together. Mike and I had jammed once before, but nothing really came of it.  Later, he called me and asked if I would be interested in playing with him and Heather. Apparently they had been doing the coffee house thing as a duo. I said sure, and so we did. I was really blown away with their songs from the get go. It was poppy but raw and a little unfinished. I loved their harmonies, arrangements and weird chord fingerings. We played together for a few hours then caught Wide Iris at a club on Drum Hill that is now an Indian restaurant.  I’m sorry to say I don’t remember much of their set that night; I was pretty excited about starting a new band.  I had played bass with a few other bands to that point but hadn’t really been doing much of anything for a couple of years. So it felt really good to be doing something again. I’m not exactly sure when Jim came in on drums. Maybe our second practice, but he was the perfect fit. I was a hanger on in the Lowell music scene at the time. My girlfriend (now wife) and I were regulars at The Last Safe and Deposit.  We went to more shows than I can count. I was really inspired by those guys.  I mean check out the Poor House Sessions Vol. 1.  I loved everyone on it.  So I definitely wanted to be part of it. But the Safe closed by the time we got going.  Luckily, The Sugar Shack had opened over on University Ave and provided a great venue for new acts.  We played every open mic we could.”

Alyssa Winslow was the owner of the Sugar Shack at the time and she remembers them well.  “In 1994, The Sugar Shack started an 18+ open mic night. The Quaker Cannons were regulars. Being a witness to the blossoming of these young musicians is a highlight of my life.” 

The Sugar Shack open mics exposed them to other local artist, and this led to being invited to do other shows. One of those artists was Donny McHale. McHale is currently one of the driving forces behind The Only Things but at the time he was in the band DAM. Donny remembers hearing them and the gig that he booked them for. “The Safe had closed the previous summer and the Poorhouse crew were mainly playing at the Dubliner. Don Juan was a place I used to eat and hang. I used to shoot the shit with the owner Mario Espinosa and his girlfriend. The place was empty most nights so I proposed doing shows there, I think this was the fourth. I don’t remember where I first saw the Quaker Cannons play but had known Scott Z from The Safe. They had a song that was like one of mine or I had one like theirs so there was a bit of blushing. My favorite was their version of ‘Sunshine Superman’. I thought they played well though all our equipment, especially the pa, were completely crap. I was happy that they got a good platform and environment they responded and rocked, it was one of the few nights that Mario didn’t have a freak out.”

Don Juan show flyer circa ’94/’95

The Quaker Cannons quickly began to get noticed throughout the Lowell scene. This would lead to many opportunities including an invite to be recorded by Carl Ayotte. Carl remembers when he first heard them play. “They were my favorite band to come out of the “Sugar Shack” open mic. night (I think that’s where I saw them). I was in the back of the room with Kevin Stevenson and we both loved their quirky pop sound. I knew I wanted to record them. Michael and Heather’s voices sounded great in unison, like one voice.”. Kevin Stevenson who was playing with The Shods and The Invaders at the time also remembers hearing them at the Shack. “I liked them I even wrote a song for them. Then they broke up. Never to be played or heard.”

That recording with Carl became the 9 track release Spanish Bingo. Although this is the only release by The Quaker Cannons, it is a perfect example of their amazing song writing. Everyone of the songs brings its own unique brilliance to the release. The song “Acre” was a perfect infectious pop tune that you found yourself singing along to even when you were not sure what the words were. This song is also the perfect one to highlight that amazing strange harmony singing style that made the band a local favorite. “Fuckitup” was another fan favorite and was often used as a show closer with the band allowing the song to fall apart at the end just as the words warned of the fear of failing. This song was my favorite because on one hand it seemed more punk than punk but on the other hand it had a beauty that lifted you up. Even though the words were about uncertainty and fear, they came together in away that made the listener rejoice at knowing they were not alone in their self-doubt. The song was strummed with power, but then broke into melody which was as poppy and addictive as all their other songs. 

For a short but wonderful time The Quaker Cannons filled Lowell with their unique raw pop sound. Eventually life had caught up with Jim Morrissey and he had to leave the band to go to rehab. They continued for awhile playing six or seven other shows with Steve Herdegen on drums replacing Jim. 

Scott recalls some of their more memorable gigs. “Mike and Heather knew other bands and we would play with them. Some of them kind of weird, like an all ages hardcore show at an Am-Vets Hall in Haverhill, others pretty normal like the outdoor show at UNH. But wherever the gig was, something always seemed to go wrong. Gear was always missing, stolen, or broken, somebody was always late and I was always forgetting how the songs went.  It didn’t help that I was a lot more uptight in those days.” 

Mike adds “Yes, Scott in the early days could be pretty drunk, but when he was on, I really loved how he played”.

Reunion show @The Last Safe 11/29/15

Eventually Heather moved to Maine and that pretty much ended the band. Jim would end up in Maine eventually as well and there was a brief attempted return of sorts. Jim explains. “A year after I went to rehab, I moved to Portland Mike n Heather were there. We did a QC thing but called it something else and played a show.”

Mike remembered a bit more about this time. “Oh yeah that was a project called The Prairie Dogs …we did some Quaker Cannons stuff mixed with other things Heather and I were both working on…that group eventually added this guy Matt Landry. Then there were a few different reunion things there was a show I did at the Blue Shamrock/Club Fuel whatever the fuck you wanna call it where it was Jim on drums and Andrew Noecker on bass. And then there was the 20-year Sugarshack reunion show that was Scott on bass and Stephen Herdegen on drums.”

There was a notable short-lived band called Big Fat Family with Michael F. Dailey Jr. on guitar and vocals. Jim Morrissey on Bass and Stephen Herdegen on drums somewhere in all this. Michael has been an important part of the Lowell scene ever since in one way or another. He was one of the driving forces behind the Don’t Try This @ Home cable show. He has performed with various Lowell acts including but not limited to Bird Organ and PNDB. Michael is best known to Lowell as one of the founders of the UnchARTed gallery. Stephen Herdegen still turns up in the Lowell music scene from time to time most recently playing drums for Eddy Dyer. Jim Morrissey has become a big part of the Portland music scene playing in such bands as Nuclear Bootz, The Pissed Mystics, Jimmy Jacked and his own recording project Mynustheckat. Jim recently celebrated his 25th year sober. Alyssa Winslow is still supporting live music in Lowell now at Warp and Weft in Downtown. Rumor has it, Kevin Stevenson is soon to be releasing a new album. Donny McHale still rocks Lowell as a member of The Only Things.

For their brief time together, the Quaker Cannons certainly left their mark on the Lowell scene.  Scott stated, “Despite any off-stage chaos and drama, I think we worked pretty well as a band. Mike and Heather’s songs really worked and I think they really hold up. When we got together 2014 for a couple shows I think we played better than we did 20 years previous, though truth be told I still had a hard time remembering my parts.”

– Jim Phelps

You can listen to The Quaker Cannons on their Bandcamp or watch their 2015 reunion show below:

 

Pictures provided by Donny McHale & Julia Zemetres