POWER POP WITH A TWIST AND A SHOUT By Sandra Castillo
September 5th, 1962 was a day that held much meritorious significance, starting with the legendary performance of the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England. The second reference to that date is one that is also honorably regarded: the birth of music historian and singer/songwriter Bart Mendoza took place right here on that same day in San Diego, California. Although both events followed their own, distinctive journeys, eventually, the latter found some common ground with the Fab Four, the band that had a profound impact on Mendoza’s professional life. In this wonderful labyrinth heralding one’s choices and destiny, a certain individual who had worked closely with the Beatles, earlier in his career, would eventually cross paths with the young man whose passion and fervor for music helped mold and shape his own reputation as one of the most dedicated people working in the San Diego music scene today.
The shared human thread between the Beatles and Bart Mendoza turned out to be British singer Tony Sheridan, who had a hit with “My Bonnie,” a song that he recorded with the lads from Liverpool. Co-incidentally, the first album Mendoza received was a re-issue copy of that first Sheridan album, years after Sheridan had released the chart-topping song. Mendoza would go on to meet the famed artist and collaborate in the recording studio with Dave Humphries, another British-born singer, and Sheridan for Humphries’ 2008 album, And So It Goes…, which, bringing everything full circle, was released on Mendoza’s Blindspot Records label.
Music remains a vital, continuous life force in the man who found his way around a chord and a clever hook as soon as he jumped on the Rock and Roll bandwagon while still a student at La Jolla High. Mendoza’s participation in music goes way back to the heady days of his youth, commencing with Starjammer and the Pedestrians. A few years later, he immersed himself in the revival of the Mod scene in Southern California and became an integral part of Manual Scan, one of that genre’s pre-eminent Mod/Power Pop bands. Along with guitarist Kevin Ring, bassist David Fleminger and drummer Paul Kaufman, who would later be replaced by Paul Brewin, Mendoza witnessed the ascent of Manual Scan’s burgeoning, explosive popularity. Influenced by the likes of the Who, The Zombies and The Jam, the band “straight outta La Jolla” went on to tour extensively throughout the U.S., England and Spain. Manual Scan’s own musical influences and career trajectory have garnered them a loyal following, even in the 21st-century.
Nearly a decade after signing up with Manual Scan, Mendoza joined the Shambles. Lead singer and principle songwriter for the band, the music of the Shambles has earned him and his comrades a place in the hierarchy of esteemed music artists, here and abroad. Such is their repute and capability to respond favorable to the discerning tastes of Power Pop aficionados everywhere, the Shambles scored a major triumph with the release of Forty One Sixty: The Songs Of The Shambles, which features a coterie of musicians from around the world that have covered songs all composed by Mendoza. When it was time for the Shambles to make the trek across the Atlantic in the ‘90s, they performed at The Marquee in London, much to the delight of their British fans.
When one is as prolific a songwriter as Mendoza, who claims he has authored some 700 original compositions, it’s truly no surprise there are those fellow musicians willing to commit to the idea of executing their own spins on such gems as “Where You Are,” “Of Heart and Soul,” “Innocence Becomes You,” “Jungle Beat” and the rapid-fire, sensational “I Can’t Don’t Want To Faster.” This grand gesture of paying homage to Mendoza’s voluminous anthology of songs indubitably reveals the depth and profundity of his talents as a songwriter, as well as his far-reaching leverage on a core group of musical constituents who venerate his music enough to have covered it.
Besides his love for all things music, Mendoza’s foray into journalism, by way of his innate ability to capture the most intricate of details about his subjects, has endeared him to thousands of readers throughout the world. He has written for various publications over the course of his career, including the San Diego Union, The Reader, San Diego City Beat and Axcess Magazine. He has also penned liner notes for the albums of many renowned musicians and bands around the globe, as well as applied his vast wealth of knowledge of mainstream pop culture to coveted fanzines, including the seminal “Sound Affects,” that he founded in 1984. His massive tome of articles and music reviews showcases his brilliance as a writer and purveyor of the bigger arena around him, where his curiosity sometimes gets the best of him, once he has made up his mind to delve deeper into the subject-at-hand.
Mendoza has worked with a litany of artists, including The Riot Act, the Rarities, Dave Humphries, The Spring Collection, Anna Troy, Gregory Page and Rachael Gordon. He composed and sings “The Loudspeaker Theme,” along with Manual Scan, for Tim Pyles’ radio show, Loudspeaker, which can be heard every Sunday evening on 91X. The high-velocity rocker, replete with Who-inspired guitar chords and thundering drum thrashes, is one of the greatest, musical homages ever paid to the band that graced this universe with the epic Quadrophenia.
Mendoza founded Blindspot Records in the early 1990s, where the label is home for many local and national recording artists. He is also the producer/overseer of the long-running “Staring At The Sun” compilation series, which gives musicians a platform to showcase their songs. He has worked tirelessly with the San Diego Music Awards, an annual event that honors the best of San Diego’s musical talent. Of note, past winners of this prestigious award include Jewel, Switchfoot, Blink-182 and Jason Mraz.
When Mendoza scored the cover of the San Diego Reader for its “Big In Spain” article, it was apparent that his moment in the spotlight was not about to wane anytime soon. He was also honored with an inclusion on a giant banner that hung along El Cajon Boulevard in 2014, commemorating his contributions as one of San Diego’s most important people in the Arts and Music community.
Although Mendoza continues to record and perform occasionally with Manual Scan and the Shambles, he is currently working the frontlines, as the lead singer, for True Stories. Along with Mendoza, guitarist David Fleminger and drummer Danny Cress, who oftentimes shares drumming duties with Greg Smith, complete the entourage of True Stories. When the occasion calls for it, special musical guests Normandie Wilson, Martin Martinareana and Sppike Mike Muellenberg will join the band onstage.
When asked what he considers his crowning achievement of his long, illustrious career as a songwriter and musician, Mendoza said-
“There are a couple of things that really stand out-going away from the jamming with, meeting people kinds of things. Playing the Marquee in London with the Shambles in 1991 was pretty exciting for me and Manual Scan’s show in Leon, Spain, in 2015, was epic; but, if I have to pick just one, I’d say it was the Manual Scan 40th Anniversary Show at the 2016 Adams Avenue Street Fair. Getting the press and radio exposure for that milestone in the career of the band was nice, but it was more interesting for me, at the time, to look back on everything that has happened over those years. Sitting in that La Jolla garage, four decades ago, writing-literally-garage rock songs…I could never have imagined a more special event than that show.”