In memory of Tom Quinnin, a staple of the Ashland musical community
Perhaps it didn't come as a shock to many players in the valley when the news of Tom Quinnin passing away circulated at the end of August. His reputation as an Irish two-fisted drinker preceded him. Bandmate Harpo DeRoma, who hails from Boston, commented that back home they call the obits the Irish sports page.
Not everyone had the chance to gig with TQ in his prime, but at one point there wasn't a Fender amp in the valley that hadn't seen his repair skills. He did electronic bench work for years with Tom Garson at Aural Technology where he worked with all types of electronic gear. A treasured personal memento is a TQ rebuilt Shure SM57 microphone with a Q etched into it.
At places like Jazmin’s or Ashland Hills Lounge, it was a kick to observe people the first time they heard TQ play guitar upon their realization of his unique left hand. Years before, he lost the top two segments of all four fingers in an accident while pulling a stump from the ground.
Left with stubs and only one knuckle, he tried to play his guitar reversed, but his brain was firmly wired so he simply learned to roll his fingers, performing articulate and imaginative solos.
TQ was also the owner of a deep, rich voice. Garson would often say, "TQ can out-sing a lot of people that fancy themselves as vocalists."
My first chance to work with Quinnin was in Jimmy & Kris Gault's Nighshift, always a sturdy band with Jimmy's bass, Mike Fitch on drums, great harmonies with Jimmy and Kris, and me on the keyboards. It only got better with TQ on board. After I left that combo, TQ continued on in a similar group with the addition of Karl Mansfield and Bill Hayhe called Uncle Chester.
At some point I convinced TQ to form his own band, first with John Foster on drums and eventually adding Jimmy and Fitch — with the understanding that TQ was the front man of the outfit. Great little four-piece. We fumbled around for a good name until he came up with The Napoleons.
This was his inside joke-poke at the people doing the booking at the various venues in the area. He would say, "They’re all a bunch of little Napoleons." Evidently, Tom Scales of The Marc Anthony didn't get the memo. One night we arrived to play, there was a fantastic poster with the name pasted artistically against a great multi-colored background design. Scales insisted we pay the artist $110, even though we had not commissioned the work. $110! This was pretty much our combined share of the gig but we went ahead and purchased the poster and used it subsequently at a number of places. It finally wound up hanging in TQ’s living room.
Speaking of his living room, when Victoria & I got married in 1990 (with John Weisinger presiding), our reception was at the home of TQ and Kare on Oak Street in Ashland. All the wedding photos are taken in the living and dining areas of their big old house. They were the warmest of hosts.
Last time I saw him was at a joint called The Brick while playing with Rogue Rage when we still had Eric Heuschele on guitar. After introducing them to one another, TQ told Eric, "I like your vocabulary." He looked old beyond his years, having recently been hospitalized, but perked up when Eric engaged him in a conversation only real lead guitarists understand.
TQ's determination is a lesson to us all about perceived barriers in our lives. Let us hope he continues to dazzle other good players at that great nightclub in the sky where there are no longer band leaders telling you to back his girlfriend who thinks she can sing.
Thomas Vern Quinnin: April 2, 1954, to Aug. 26, 2014. R.I.P. TQ.
William Eckart is a self-described frustrated Ashland pianist. Email your Community Contributor column of 500 words to email@example.com.