Music News & Reviews

Legendary Wichita rocker dies suddenly while on European tour

Mark Shelton performs with Manilla Road in this undated photo. Shelton died Thursday while on a European tour.
Mark Shelton performs with Manilla Road in this undated photo. Shelton died Thursday while on a European tour. Courtesy

Mark Shelton, guitarist for the Wichita-based hard rock band Manilla Road, died Thursday evening while on tour in Europe.

Manilla Road had played a show at the Headbangers Open Air festival in Germany earlier in the day. Online reports have speculated that heart issues may have been the cause, but no official cause has been released.

He was 60 years old.

Shelton formed the band in Wichita in 1977, back when the town was known for its hard rock scene. Over the band’s 40-year history, Manilla Road has produced 24 albums, the most recent of which was released in 2017.

The band found the majority of its popularity and success overseas, in European heavy metal scenes — particularly in Greece and Germany. The first time the band got radio play was on Radio Warsaw, in Poland, in the early ‘80s.

“The European music scene’s a little different than here,” said Richard Cathey, the band’s longtime manager. “We tended to go where we were invited to go, and usually those requests came from Europe. There are festivals going on every weekend there in different countries.”

Manilla Road plays what’s called “epic metal,” a genre that dabbles in notions of mysticism and fantasy — and does so in rather long tracks.

Shelton (also known as “The Shark”) developed a reputation as one of Wichita’s finest guitarists, a musician that would always take time to help aspiring guitarists.

Greg Manuel remembers meeting Shelton in Wichita as a 23-year-old.

“I was intimidated by him because of his success,” he said. “I remember telling Mark about that years later and he laughed and gave me words of encouragement. I’ve always had respect for Mark and Manilla Road.”

Despite the international success of Manilla Road, Shelton enjoyed playing in his hometown whenever possible, Cathey said.

Shelton told The Eagle in 1985 he wanted his music to buck the stereotypes of heavy metal.

“We want to say more than just ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” Shelton said then. “That’s been said enough times by enough bands, anyway. How many ways can you say that? Too many performers want to influence people to do bad things.”

Friday afternoon, tributes to Shelton were pouring in from around the world — all in different languages, posted on his Facebook wall.

Cathey said Friday that Shelton was “the finest human being I’ve ever met.”

In an interview with the Portland Mercury three years ago, Shelton said he was looking forward to writing new music with Manilla Road.

“I never felt like I was too old to metal,” he told the paper (with a laugh, it adds). “I’ll be doing this ‘til I die.”

A GoFundMe has been set up to help pay for funeral expenses, as well as costs to send his body back to Wichita family members. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/mark-shelton-rip.

The Foo Fighters perform for several thousand fans at Wichita's Intrust Bank Arena on Monday night, Nov. 13, 2017. (Video courtesy of KSN)

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