#27: Better Watch Out by McKenna Mendelson Mainline

City: Hamilton, ON
Radio Station: CKOC
Peak Month: August 1969
Peak Position in Hamilton ~ #4
Peak position in Vancouver ~ did not chart
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube: “Better Watch Out
Lyrics: N/A

Toronto-born, Mike McKenna (1946) and Joe Mendelson (1944), grew up fans of the blues, and both emulated their idols early in life while learning to play guitar. McKenna was with Luke & The Apostles from 1963 to 1967. That band played with Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead at Nathan Philips Square on July 23, 1967. Briefly, McKenna was a member of The Ugly Ducklings. McKenna placed a newspaper ad seeking musicians to form a new band. Joe Mendelson, then a student at the University of Toronto, responded. After McKenna and Mendelson teamed up, they hired former Paupers bassist Dennis Gerrard and former drummer with The Spastics, Tony Nolasco (born 1950 in Sudbury, Ontario).

The band had their first performance in August 1968 at The Night Owl in Toronto’s Yorkville district. Shortly after, Gerrard left the band to join The Fugs. He was replaced with Grant Smith & The Power’s bass player, Mike Harrison (born in 1948 in Brampton, Ontario).

The new band travelled to England and performed on May 9, 1969, at Nag’s Head, in High Wycombe, England. They also performed in London at the Lyceum Ballroom and the Marquee Club (opening for Howlin’ Wolf). While in England, they got a record contract with Liberty Records. Their debut album was titled Stink. A debut single was released titled “You Better Watch Out”.

Better Watch Out by McKenna Mendelson Mainline

“Better Watch Out” is a song of warning. The narrator of the song warns a woman that she better watch out, because her “man is going to come” home. The lady in the song is accused of being “a backdoor woman.” This is slang for being an adulterer. Her behaviour is going to cause her main man to lose his mind. He warns that when she hears him coming, she better open up her door. Implied in the lyrics is the suggestion that she might be inclined not to open up her door because a guy she’s having an affair with could be in her bed. The song was written by Joe Mendelson.

“Better Watch Out” peaked at #4 in Hamilton (ON) and #18 in Kingston (ON).

A cover of Ramblin’ Thomas’ “One Way Ticket,” was released as a single. It cracked the Top 20 in Victoria, the Top 30 in Vancouver, and charted in Regina (SK), Halifax (NS), Hamilton (ON) and Montreal. The B-side, “Beltmaker”, also charted on CKOK in Hamilton.

Around this time Paragon Records had the rights to some demos McKenna Mendelson Mainline recorded the previous year. The label released them on an album titled McKenna Mendelson Blues.

But there was trouble in the band as they didn’t share the same vision for the type of music they’d be recording. As a result, they band split up in the fall of 1969. Mendelson left the band and was replaced by Rick James who would later have Top Ten hits “Super Freak” and “You And I”.

Mendelson and Nolasco formed the basis of Mainline, with Zeke Sheppard on bass and harmonica. Meanwhile, Mike McKenna reformed Luke & The Apostles who issued several more singles. However, this did not last and McKenna joined Mainline.

Mainline released Canada – Our Home And Native Land on GRT Records. A track from the album, “Get Down To”, subsequently became a single. It peaked at #14 in Vancouver, #15 in Lethbridge, #17 in Toronto and #19 in Ottawa.

As they continued to perform on the local circuit of clubs and other music venues, a live album was released in 1972 titled Mainline’s Bump N Grind Revue.

At this time, they performed in and around Detroit. They also opened shows on a tour with King Biscuit Boy, which included concerts in Winnipeg.

In the fall of 1972, the band released s final album titled No Substitutes. However, the album didn’t catch on and The band dissolved.
Mike McKenna became a member of Diamondback. From there he was with a post-Burton Cummings version of The Guess Who that recorded the 1981 album Now and Not Then. In the late 80s, Mike McKenna was a member of the Downchild Blues Band. Then he formed Sidewinder, a group that released an album in 1997. In the late 90s, Mike McKenna became part of The Luke Gibson Band, the house band for Toronto’s Blues on Belair Club. Luke Gibson had been “Luke” of Luke and The Apostles. McKenna and Gibson were at last reunited.

In the meantime, Mike Mendelson had renamed himself Mendelson Joe. Under this name he released a series of studio albums between 1979 and 2014. He also released two albums as Joe Mendelson between 1972 and 1975. As well, he became a session player. Mendelson also became a painter. In 1988, Mendelson was a guest in a TV episode of Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Elephant Show titled “Sunday in the Park”. A music video for a novelty song he recorded, “Dance with Joe,” was regularly featured on MuchMusic that year.

Tony Nolasco did work as a session musician, including for the self-titled album, Mary Jane Girls, in 1983. Later on, he was in the studio for two albums by Southern Rock band Zed Head in 2006 and 2011. In 2024, Mike Harrison was a recording engineer for country/gospel recording artist Brad Stuart’s album  33 Turns & A Needle. 

Mike McKenna, Tony Nolasco, Ted Purdy (a regular musician on Mendelson Joe’s solo albums), and Mike Harrison re-united in 1998. They performed at The Warehouse Club in Toronto. This was their first time playing together since 1973. With them was Bob Adams on harmonica. From this reunion, Mainline played from time to time in the years that followed. They were the last band to play upstairs at The El Mocambo in Toronto in November 2001. That live show was recorded. Bullseye Records released the live performance credited to Mainline in 2002 as Last Show @ The Elmo.

July 5, 2024
Ray McGinnis

Mike Harrison, Tony Nolesco and Nick Warburton, “McKenna Mendelson Mainline,” The Strange Brew, 2011.
McKenna Mendelson Mainline,” canadianbands.com. April 11, 2022.
Nick Warburton, “Luke and The Apostles,” canadianbands.com, April 11, 2022.
Mainline, The Last Show @ The ElmoBullseye Records, 2002.

Better Watch Out by McKenna Mendelson Mainline

CKOC 1150-AM Hamilton (ON) Top Ten | August 27, 1969

Leave a Reply

Sign Up For Our Newsletter