Mendelson Joe

Joe (b Mendelson), Mendelson (b Birrel Josef). Singer-songwriter, guitarist, painter, b Toronto 30 Jul 1944; BA (Toronto) 1966. Self-taught in music and the visual arts, he began his career in 1964 as Joe Mendelson, singing blues in Calgary and Toronto coffeehouses.

Joe, Mendelson

Joe (b Mendelson), Mendelson (b Birrel Josef). Singer-songwriter, guitarist, painter, b Toronto 30 Jul 1944; BA (Toronto) 1966. Self-taught in music and the visual arts, he began his career in 1964 as Joe Mendelson, singing blues in Calgary and Toronto coffeehouses. In 1968, with the guitarist Mike McKenna, he formed McKenna-Mendelson Mainline (later, just Mainline), a rugged blues band completed by the drummer Tony Nolasco and a succession of bassists - in turn, Mike Harrison, Zeke Sheppard, and Ted Purdy. Mainline, which spent several months 1968-9 in England, continued until 1972 and reformed briefly in 1975. Its singles 'Better Watch Out' (1969) and 'Get Down To' (1972) were modest hits in Canada, and the group toured Australia in 1970 and 1975.

Joe has otherwise pursued a solo career, changing his professional name to Mendelson Joe in 1975 and dividing his time thereafter between music and painting. (Among his acrylics in a primitivist style is the Mendelson Musiculture series - 38 portraits of Canadian pop musicians, painted in the late 1970s.) Joe, who has performed intermittently in Toronto clubs (eg, The Groaning Board, the BamBoo) accompanied variously by Ben Mink (violin, mandolin), Colin Linden (guitar) and others, represented Canada at a song festival in Sopot, Poland, in 1973, and has made the occasional folk club appearances in the USA. His songs include 'Aliens,' and 'Dance wih Joe'.

Joe has been identified by Liam Lacey as 'a sort of village eccentric of the Canadian music scene'. His music, an idiosyncratic, self-possessed folk-blues, has inspired some of the most affectionately colorful descriptions in Canadian pop journalism - eg, 'He sings in a voice that galumphs along like a man trying to carry three bags of groceries' (Chris Dafoe, Toronto Globe and Mail, 15 Dec 1988).


Further Reading

  • Dzeguze, Kaspars. 'Mendelson: Mainline sidetracked,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 3 Jan 1970

    Jackson, Marni. 'Mendelson Joe, communicator,' Maclean's, 30 Oct 1978

    Alderman, Tom. 'A child of our time,' Today, 26 Jul 1980

    Lacey, Liam. 'Is Mr. Joe a sham, insane or the real thing?' Toronto Globe and Mail, 22 Sep 1984