A Note to Family and Friends from Tony
Dear Family and friends - My Dad, Carlos, passed away last Sunday evening. Anyone who knows me understands what a huge influence my Dad was on me in my personal and professional life. Much of what I have chosen to focus on professionally throughout my life was influenced heavily by Dad. I've created this blog to share some memories. Our strongest bond was, of course, music. Some of my greatest memories of Dad are the times we played together either in the recording studio or live. How many kids can say they played the First Avenue Main Stage and The Fine Line with their Dad? We had an absolute blast performing together. And if you'd like to scroll through the pictures above, I've shared some of those moments.
Dad was a great musician. He recorded two singles ("It Was I" and "Cherry Pie") that charted on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1959, the early years of rock and roll. He also recorded two instrumental singles on Warner Brothers with a band that performed under the name "Johnny Zorro." Like many Latino artists at the time (e.g. Richard Valenzuela (Ritchie Valens)), the music industry didn’t like my Dad’s Latino last name. And so they made him change it to “Chuck Mendell" which is how it appeared in Billboard magazine.
For a man who took deep pride in his last name, Dad was soured by his experience in the music industry. He enlisted in the Marine Corp and off to Vietnam he went. Dad would tell me often that his experience in the Marines was the first time he felt treated like everyone else.
But once a musician, always a musician, and Dad continued to perform throughout most of the rest of his life, aboard aircraft carriers with other musician Marines he befriended (see the clipping in the photo gallery above), and after he moved to Minnesota, he was a regular performer in the Twin Cities night club scene.
As a kid, some of my favorite memories were the nights my Mom took me out to watch and hear Dad perform. Needless to say, I wanted to do that! And so I followed his footsteps, learning how to play saxophone. I also taught myself bass guitar and by high school I had my own band and was touring around the Midwest. Dad never told me not to become a professional musician, but it was clear it was not the career he wanted for me. And who could blame him? Dad came from a family that greatly valued education. And he strongly encouraged me to get a college education. I didn't listen to him at first. I played professionally for several years. But the music industry was not very good to me either, and thanks to Dad's counseling, I decided to go to college.
Like Dad, music never left my blood and I've continued to perform, write, and perform throughout my life. When Dad and I had the opportunity to perform and play together, it was magical. I remember the first time we played together on stage. I was still living in North Dakota performing in a band called "White Lies" and Dad was in town from the Twin Cities to visit. I told him I had a gig and asked him to bring his saxophones along. We covered the song "Land of Thousand Dances" and Dad came up to play. The guitar player in the band at the time kind of rolled his eyes and wondered aloud what he was in for. But when Dad started playing, the guitar player's eyes widened, his mouth fell open, and, suffice it to say, Dad finished the night with us on stage.
We didn't get a chance to perform again until after I had graduated law school and formed the band Frank Brownstone. I asked Dad to record solos and be part of the horn section on several songs on our second album, "Better Days," and of course he nailed all of them. I think my favorite recorded performance of his on "Better Days" is his solo on "Another Song," which was a doo-wop style song written by my friend Garth Morrisette that fit my Dad's style perfectly. And in support of that album, we performed a lot with my Dad, including those amazingly fun performances at First Avenue and The Fine Line.
The early negative experiences my Dad and I had in the music industry caused me to want to do something to help musicians. Deciding to be a professional musician should not have to be a decision to live a life of poverty. As an entertainment attorney, I've come to learn how complicated the music business is and how predatory it can be on musicians, like my Dad and I, who didn't know any better. And so in 2010, I co-founded a nonprofit organization called the Minnesota Music Coalition, whose mission is to connect and support independent musicians. And I'm happy to say that 12 years later, the organization is thriving and serving musicians with gigs, educational workshops, mentoring, and many other great programs. The inspiration to co-found and develop the MMC into a sustainable arts service organization comes from my Dad. Last year when I stepped down from the MMC Board, my friend and MMC co-founder, Beth Burns, along with my fellow Board members, created the Mendoza Open Door (MOD) Fund. Dad's obituary is below and at the end there is a link to donate to the MOD fund if you'd like to leave a memorial in the name of Carlos Acosta Mendoza. It will be put to good use.
A beautiful thing about music is that it connects your soul back to people, places, and times. My family had a great record collection because Dad would constantly buy music to learn. It's the music I grew up listening to, and listening to it now evokes a range of emotions and strong memories of Dad. I remember Dad writing out the sax part for me to "Pick Up The Pieces" by Average White Band. We both loved the epic sax solos in songs like Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues" or Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are." We loved going out to see live music together as well. To help celebrate Dad's life and our shared love of music, I've put together a Spotify play list in his honor. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have loved putting it together. I'll keep adding to it as songs and memories continue to crash my memory.
Below are links to all of Carlos's professionally released recordings:
Carlos Acosta Mendoza was born on August 21st, 1938, in Mesa, AZ, to Carlos G. and Hilda (Acosta) Mendoza. The oldest of three siblings and named after his father, he was known as “Junior” to his Arizona relatives. Following his father’s return home from military service, the family moved to Eloy, AZ. Carlos was a good student, boy scout, and athlete and became adept at playing the saxophone. In 1955, he was named to the All-State football team as an offensive lineman. Carlos graduated from Santa Cruz Valley Union High School on May 23, 1956. He attended the University of Arizona and played in the U of A band. Music became a passion and in 1959 Carlos became a member of the pop duo “Skip and Flip,” recording several singles for Brent Records, including “It Was I” and “Cherry Pie” both of which peaked at #11 on Billboard’s Hot 100. As part of Skip and Flip, Carlos was on the world-famous Dick Clark Tour.
In October 1960, Carlos enlisted in the Marine Corps and served two tours of duty. The first started in September 1961 aboard the U.S.S. General W.A. Mann through the Asian Pacific, including stops in Okinawa, Japan, cold weather training at Mt. Fuji, and the Philippines. Carlos put his music skills to use while aboard ship, entertaining fellow troops with other Marines in a band they called “The Volunteers.” Carlos’s second tour, this time to Vietnam, began in 1962 aboard the USS Valley Forge, an aircraft carrier and amphibious assault ship. Carlos was honorably discharged in January 1964, moved to Minnesota, and met up with his boyhood friend, Raul Salazar, who had recently moved to Minnesota. Carlos married Sonja Larson, and within a few years settled in the Rosemount/Apple Valley area. Carlos and Sonja had three children, Tony, Laura, and Valerie. During this time, Carlos became a barber and in February 1973 established “The Barber Nook” in Bloomington. Over the next 30+ Carlos developed many lasting relationships with customers and families, many spanning generations.
In 1982, Carlos married the love of his life, Tina Mendoza, who worked at a beauty salon two doors down from The Barber Nook. After a courtship lasting two years, they married.
Throughout his barbering career, Carlos continued performing music and in the 1970s joined the Frank Wagamon Sextet, playing nightclubs in the Twin Cities. The Frank Wagamon Sextet was inducted into the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2005, Carlos took the stage with his son Tony’s band, Frank Brownstone, as the band’s sax player, recording several songs on the band’s second album.
Carlos is preceded in death by his father, Carlos Sr., his mother Hilda, his infant brother Ray, and grandson Julian (Kewley). Carlos is survived by his wife Tina of Bloomington; brother Roy of Casa Grande, AZ (and wife Jan); sister Sylvia (Platt) (and husband John) of Chandler, AZ; children, Tony and wife Dawn (Zugay) of St. Paul; Laura (Erickson) (and husband Todd) of Williston, ND; Valerie of Farmington; Scott (Kewley) (and wife Jessica) of New Prague; and grandchildren Grace (Erickson), Lauren (Mendoza), Claire (Erickson), Ana (Mendoza), Cahlin (Kewley), Jayden (Kewley), Brecken (Kewley), and Vivian (Kewley).
A funeral service will be held at The Cremation Society of Minnesota (CSM), 7110 France Ave. S., Edina, MN 55435 Sunday, February 27, 2022 beginning at 1:00pm with visitation at 12:30pm. A short reception will follow. Carlos will be interred with military honors at Fort Snelling National Cemetery on Monday, February 28, 2022 at 10:00am. Floral arrangements can be sent to CSM, or in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Mendoza Open Door (MOD) Fund (https://donorbox.org/mmc-mod-fund-for-access-and-equity) which supports local musicians, or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (https://www.stjude.org/).