McKenna is a GREAT guitar player. What stands out is when you hear
his electrifying style
you can say without a doubt, that's McKenna ... simply great.”
- Donnie (Mr. Downchild) Walsh
" If it weren't for Mike McKenna, there'd have been no MAINLINE and no album called STINK. Though we had little in common except the music, it was the music that created that beautiful throbbing electric energy! MAINLINE was Mike McKenna, Mike Harrison, Tony Nolasco and me. Health remains the greatest wealth."
- M. JOE, March 15, 2009 (the Ides of March)
Luke and the
Apostles. The Ugly Ducklings. McKenna Mendelson Mainline. Diamondback.
Downchild. All legendary Canadian
bands and all with one thing in common – the equally legendary
slide guitar player, Mike McKenna.
Mike McKenna has been
a fixture of the Toronto rock music scene since its dawn in the
early 1960s. He was born in Toronto in 1946 and began playing
guitar at age 11. His first name band
was Whitey and the Roulettes, which eventually evolved into The
Mandala. Mike then formed
Mike’s Trio in 1963; playing at several Yorkville clubs
during the area’s formative stage. Mike’s
Trio evolved into Luke and the Apostles after singer/guitarist
Luke Gibson and keyboardist Peter
Jermyn joined the band, and this is where Mike’s status
as a local guitar hero emerged. A
recording session in New York yielded a sole 45, but the band
impressed Electra Producer Paul
Rothchild sufficiently to prompt him to call the session the “greatest
album I never got to make.”
There was a brief stint in The Ugly Ducklings in 1967, replacing
Roger Mayne. However, it was
his next band that forever cemented his status as a legend on
the Toronto music scene.
In early 1968 Mike placed a newspaper
ad looking for like-minded musicians. The ad attracted
the attention of local folkie Joe Mendelson and drummer Tony
Nolasco, leading to the formation
of McKenna Mendelson Mainline (later shortened to simply Mainline).
The band went off to
London late 1968, where the landmark Stink LP was recorded
in one day during June 1969. They
immediately returned home and were received as conquering heroes,
headlining a July 12 show at the Rock Pile. The band also toured
internationally and released two more successful LPs – Homeand
Native Land, and Bump N Grind Revue. There was
a reunion with Mendelson in 1975 that produced Accept No
Substitute, and another in 2001, with Mainline alumni
Tony Nolasco, Mike Harrison and Ted Purdy, plus harmonica player
Bob Adams. A live show closing the El
Mocambo tavern in 2001 was released on CD.
Over the years, there
were various versions of the Mike McKenna Band that included
musicians such as singer Bobby Blake and the Apostles’ Pat
Little on drums. He was also a member of the
mythical Diamondback along with Scott Cushnie, Peter McGraw and
Richard Love. An LP was
recorded and pressed, but was never released. Luckily plans are
in place to release this in 2008 as well as a freshly recorded
CD that also includes Mike Fonfara. Mike also appears on Murray
McLaughlan’s LP “Sweeping the Spotlight Away”.
In the late 1970s Mike hooked up with Guess
Who bass player Jim Kale in a band called MBRB (McKenna, Bernardi,
Russell and Kale). They
recorded an LP entitled Now and Not Then; released in
1981, it was attributed to The Guess Who. Later, Mike accepted
an invitation from Donnie Walsh to join the Downchild
appearing on the 1987 release, It’s Been So Long.
In the late 1990s Mike formed Slidewinder with Mainline alumni Denny Gerrard and Ron “Jake” Jacobs,
releasing a self-titled CD in 1997. After taking some time off
from the music scene, Mike is now active again and playing better
than ever. The Mike McKenna Band consists of Mike on guitar and
vocals, Rocky Verwheel on
keyboards, vocals and trumpet, Gary Latimer on bass and Dan Haugh
on drums. They recently
had a very successful trip to Kitchener, Ontario for the local
blues festival, playing to a packed house.
Mike lives in the Beaches
and remains very active in Toronto’s
music scene. (Mike currently
plays a black Stratocaster with a rosewood neck thru a Marshall
50 watt amp combo).
- Mike would like to thank John
Johnston for the bio notes and ongoing support "above and
beyond the call of duty" -