Mike McKenna (musician)
April 15, 1946 |
|Genres||rock / blues|
|Years active||1960's – present|
|Associated acts||Luke & The Apostles, McKenna Mendelson Mainline, Slidewinder, Downchild, DiamondBack, McKenna-Gibson band|
Known largely for his slide guitar playing, McKenna began playing professionally in the early 1960s in Yorkville where he formed the group Luke & The Apostles. McKenna was one of the first Toronto rock guitar players to play a hollow body while most rock musicians were still playing solid bodies (for example Stratocasters and Telecasters). McKenna got a particularly rich sound by playing through 200 watt Marshall Plexi stacks and using banjo strings on the high end to make note bending easier (a trick he learned through Robbie Robertson - then playing with The Hawks and backing Ronnie Hawkins).
Luke and the Apostles were asked to open for Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead by Bill Graham (of Fillmore East / Filmore West fame) for a week long stint at Toronto's O'Keefe Centre in 1967. Jerry Garcia apparently liked the sound of McKenna's Les Paul so much he bought it (reportedly it's the black Les Paul Garcia once posed with when he was being photographed for Rolling Stone magazine). An invitation to visit New York to open with the Dead followed and the Apostles recorded a single for Elektra Records (produced by The Doors' Paul Rothchild).
Unfortunately inconclusive contract negotiations and conflicting priorities saw the band returning to Canada and eventually disbanding. (Paul Rothchild reportedly said the Luke and The Apostles material was the "greatest album he never made").
Back in Canada and a couple of years later, a newspaper ad put Mike in touch with Joe Mendelson, leading to the formation of the McKenna Mendelson Mainline (later known simply as Mainline), recording the album McKenna Mendelson Blues - a demo recorded in Canada but unreleased till after the band had gone to England (at John Lee Hooker's suggestion) and had great success with the landmark (and seminal McKenna mendelson Mainline) album Stink (recorded in 1969 in the UK). "Stink" garnered considerable success in England and throughout Europe and the band returned to Canada to critical and popular acclaim. However for various reasons MMM disbanded in the early 70s . There were a couple of posthumous reunions as "Mainline", including two very successful tours of Australia, and the notorious "Bump and Grind Review" which yielded a live album "The Mainline Bump and Grind Review Live at the Victory" (recorded at Toronto's famous Victory Burlesque Theatre) in 1972. A final album with Joe Mendelson entitled "No Substitutes" was released in 1973, after which McKenna and Mendelson never played together again.
McKenna has been with a number of notable groups throughout the years since Mainline called it quits, including tenure with Downchild Blues Band (one of actor Dan Aykroyd's favourite bands), the legendary Diamondback band, and The Guess Who (replacing Domenic Troiano on guitar). After a hiatus of some years, he formed Slidewinder with saxophonist Ronnie Jacobs ( a Mainline alumnus and a founding member of the Downchild Blues Band) in the early - mid 90's and released a self-titled CD "Mike McKenna and Slidewinder" in 1997.
When Toronto's internationally known El Mocambo Tavern closed down in November 2001, McKenna and the alumni Mainline members(but without Joe Mendelson)were invited to perform and McKenna along with Tony Nolasco (drums, vocals, Ted Purdy (acoustic guitar, vocals) Mike Harrison (bass) and Bob Adams (harp) entered Toronto's rock history as the last band to grace the El Mo's famous upstairs stage. Ironically, neither McKenna Mendelson Mainline or Mainline ever performed at the El Mo while they were together, although McKenna did perform there with his band Diamondback in the mid-late 70s.
In later years, McKenna reformed with Luke Gibson (of Luke and the Apostles) as lead guitarist for The Luke Gibson Band - the house band for the Blues on Belair Club in Toronto in the late 1990s. He also played briefly with the original Mainline members (sans Mendelson) at the same venue. Some excellent live recordings exist but have never been released.
McKenna is currently rehearsing and recording with the original members of Diamondback. There are plans to release the Diamondback album originally recorded in 1974 (but never released) as a re-recorded and re-mastered CD in the fall of 2008. Mike also continues to play regularly headlining The Mike McKenna Band, and appearing as "the special guest artist" with many local bands and musicians on the central / southern Ontario club circuit. He is also working on material for a new CD (reportedly an all-acoustic mix of original material and blues standards).
On April 25, 2009 McKenna celebrated both his birthday and his 45 years on the Toronto music scene by hosting an all day event at the Black Swan Tavern in Toronto. The sold-out event featured a whos-who of Toronto's rock and roll / blues / Yorkville Sound scene including the original members of Mainlne - Tony Nolasco, Mike Harrison, Ted Purdy (who replaced Mendelson) and Bob Adams (sitting in on harmonica); Luke Gibson (of Luke and the Apostles), Dave Bingham (of the Ugly Ducklings), Kensington Market, various members of DiamondBack, Scott "Professor Piano" Cushnie among others.
In the fall of 2009, McKenna began rehearsing once again with Luke Gibson (of Luke & the Apostles). With David Martin / drums, percussion; William (Bill) Miller / bass; and Michael Keys/ keyboards, Mckenna (on lead guitar, slide guitar, vocals) and Gibson (doing the honours on lead vocals and guitar) showcased the McKenna Gibson Band to a full-house at the Black Swan Tavern in Toronto on December 12, 2009.
with LUKE & THE APOSTLES
- 1967 Been Burnt c/w Don’t Know Why (Bounty 45105)
- 1967 Been Burnt c/w Don’t Know Why (Elektra 45105)
- 1970 You Make Me High c/w Not Far Off (TN 101)
- 1970 You Make Me High c/w You Make Me High (TN 102)
as MCKENNA MENDELSON MAINLINE
Better Watch Out/ She's Alright (Liberty/United Artists - UK)
- 1969 Don't Give Me No Goose For Christmas/Beltmaker (Liberty/United Artists - UK)
- 1971 Get Down To/Pedalictus Rag (GRT)
as MCKENNA MENDELSON MAINLINE
1969 Stink (Liberty/United Artists)
- 1969 McKenna Mendelson Mainline Blues (Paragon/Allied)
- 1996 McKenna Mendelson Mainline Blues [CD re-issue] (Pacemaker)
- 1971 Canada Our Home & Native Land (GRT)
- 1972 The Mainline Bump 'n' Grind Revue
- 1973 No Substitute
- 1994 Stink (Capitol-EMI / re-issue)
- 2002 Last Show @ The Elmo (Bullseye)
as MIKE McKENNA
Original cd (recorded 1974) for upcoming release (Pacemaker Records)
with DOWNCHILD BLUES BAND
- 1987 It's Been So Long (Stony Plain)
with VARIOUS ARTISTS (COMPILATIONS)
- 1998 North Of Watford Volume 3: 24 RARE POP &
- SOUL CLASSICS 1966 - 1992 (KRL) - track - "She's Alright"
- 197-? Steps ... From Anywhere (LIBERTY) - track - "Better Watch Out"
- Discogs. "Mike McKenna Biography". www.discogs.com. Retrieved 21 January 2011.
- Library and Archives Canada. "AMICUS No. 17045141". www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/lac-bac/search/all. canada.gc.ca/main_e.html. Retrieved 21 January 2011.
- Billboard (magazine). "Mike McKenna & Slidewinder Album Info". www.billboard.com. Retrieved 21 January 2011.