Mark Shelton, founding member and leader of the band Manilla Road, died on July 26 at age 60 while on tour with the band in Europe.
The group began issuing its own LPs in the early 1980s with a lineup that featured Shelton on guitar and vocals, bass from Scott Park and drums from Randy Fisher. A series of adventurous but consistent recordings followed, though by the end of the decade Fisher was replaced by Randy Foxe. Shelton eventually mothballed the group but experienced a renaissance in the early 2001s during which time he released albums such as Gates Of Fire. For over a decade he continued recording and releasing records that showed Manilla Road's best days still lie ahead, including 2017's To Kill A King.
Manilla Road's final lineup consisted of Shelton, longtime friend and vocalist Bryan Patrick, bassist Phil Ross and drummer Andreas Neuderth.
Fletcher Powell: I think maybe certain people have heard the names Mark Shelton and Manilla Road but they're not household names. What was significant about Mark Shelton and his group?
Jedd Beaudoin: Manilla Road comes out of Wichita in the late 1970s and they're playing this specific brand of heavy rock that has more in common with some British progressive rock. The compositions are longer. There's some melodic twists and turns that you aren't expecting from a four-on-the-floor rock ‘n' roll song. That's happening simultaneously in England with bands like Iron Maiden. Mark's doing that here in isolation. He's taking this influence from European guitar players such as Michael Schenker who was in the band Scorpions with his brother Rudolf early on. Michael has this ear for American blues but melds it with these European classical elements.
When he leaves that band to join a band called UFO he's replaced by Uli Jon Roth. But he takes on the same sensibilities. It's an unusual melodic quality. Mark was able to adapt that into his own style.
At what point did Manilla Road leave Wichita?
The band never really left. That's one of the charms or this and one of the more remarkable things about Mark's character. In the ‘80s there was this California label mogul named Mike Varney who was starting up a record label called Shrapnel. He always wanted to recruit the fastest, most cutting-edge guitarists possible.
He asked Mark to contribute to this compilation called U.S. Metal Vol. III.. He wanted this blazing guitar style. Mark wrote this piece called "Flaming Metal Systems." It's a little bit uncharacteristic of his playing and when Varney was interested in signing him to the label, he said, "Well, I don't really play like that." He just had that determination to stay true to what he saw. I think a big part of that was also staying here in Wichita.
The band had been together for 40 years. I'm guessing that they didn't sell a lot of records. How did they manage to stay together for so long?
Mark kept the flag flying. There was a period of time when he retired the band. The initial lineup had come to an end. There was a period of time when Mark had a regular job, played golf. A lot of people don't actually know this. He was a tremendous golfer. Slowly, the muse started calling again and he put together a new version of Manilla Road. There were several at the time, including the version that he was on the road in Europe with when he died.
Talk a little bit about their popularity in Europe.
Greece turned out to be a very strong market for the band. I think some of that was that Mark's lyrics touched on elements of mythology, fantasy. Those things are embedded in that culture. Germany is another example. There was something very epic and operatic about Manilla Road's music.
From everything that you say it sounds like Mark Shelton really had a vision for what he wanted Manilla Road to be and he really stuck to that and wanted to do things on his own terms. Talk about the connection that he had with his fans. What was significant about him to his fans?
I've seen a lot of musicians play and I've seen a lot of "name" musicians who are packing enormodomes. You don't always get this charisma that Mark had. He this magnetic element to his personality. When he died, the band's vocalist Bryan Patrick said, "Mark loved each and every one of you," meaning the fans. That can sound really trite but in Mark's case I believe it was true. I believe whatever we gave him as fans, whenever we said, "Nice show" or whatever, he wanted to give that back tenfold, through writing new songs, through putting on a good show. Through continuing the tradition.
Mark Shelton passed away just a few weeks ago. Certainly, we've all heard about the musician who continues to play up until the day he dies. For a lot of musicians, it's because they genuinely love what they're doing. This is in fact what happened to Mark Shelton.
Yeah. I woke up and happened to look at my phone, whatever time of day it was. I had a notification that something had happened to Mark while they were overseas. It just struck me that it was incredibly appropriate that this would happen when he was in Europe, playing to these crowds, and celebrating the music of this band that he had put together 40-some years earlier, surrounded by people who really cared about him on the level I was describing earlier. I think it's appropriate that we were sad, those of us who knew him, the fans.
I think that quickly resolved to as looking at it as he didn't really suffer, he didn't have this prolonged era at the end of his life where he couldn't do what he wanted to do.