Interview: Crooner Mark Shelton
Q: When did you decide to become a singer?
A: I sang in school and church choirs as a kid, and grew up through the music of the '60s and '70s. I listened to a lot of the early era of rock & roll as my dad had a massive collection of 45s from the '50s and '60s, along with LPs of show tunes and movies.
But the story about when I truly decided to be a singer starts when I was in high school working on the tech crew for the annual talent show. I was 15-years-old and the normal scene of solo sopranos, folk guitarists, violinists, beatnik poets, and classic rockers took their turns on stage between the occasional dancer and wannabe comedians. Our high school seats about 800 people and the place is always packed. I was upstairs getting something and a couple of girls from choir came up and said I should go down and sing with the final band, which was a bunch of seniors that were an established and popular group. I initially said, No"; I don't know any songs"; the guys (band) would not like it,"; no rehearsal," etc. Basically any excuse I could come up with.
The girls kept insisting, saying that they hear me in choir and they thought that I looked like Elvis Presley; I really should do it, and all that. So I said that I would do it only if it was cool with the band. One of the girls ran down the stairs while the other girls (they tend to gather) grabbed a white dress jacket and started tearing up tin foil, molding it into a type of star shape, and taping these tin foil stars on the white jacket. The other girl comes running back saying that the band was cool, and I could sing with them.
They put the jacket on me, and we started down the stairs, and another girl called me back upstairs and wet down my hair and slicked it back ala the Elvis look. At this time the band had taken the stage and played a song.
I was standing in the wings, the MC announced a special guest singer," and the crowd went completely silent. I walked out onto the stage trying to think of the easiest song I figured a band could play because, though these guys were good, and they were seniors, I did not want any of us to look like we had no clue. But these guys were also my friends and were very cool guys. I walked by the lead guitarist who was standing beside the bassist, and said Heartbreak Hotel." The lead asked for the key, which basically I had no idea, and the bassist said that he thought it was in E." As I continued walking to the microphone they quietly stroked the chord. I could not really see anything in the audience because of the spotlight. I had the key from the chord in my head and sang out, Well, since my baby left me...," and I snapped by head to the side as the band slammed the next two chords. The crowd erupted. And suddenly I heard high-pitched screaming and cheering and saw about 100 or more screaming girls come running to the front of the stage.
And as the most intense rush went through my body, I thought to myself, This is what I want to do for a living." And continued the song.
Q: Was jazz always your primary music of choice?
A: I grew up saturated in the music of the '50s and '60s, popular music and rock & roll. I have always thought that early rock & roll is the most fun music of all, along with swing, Big Band, etc. Once I entered into the genre of jazz, it was a smooth transition emotionally and vocally. I love classic rock, but it usually is in a high tenor voice. I found that though early rock & roll is so much fun, the richness of jazz, and crooning standards of the '30s and '40s seem to have the truest form of artistic vocals in a baritone range. I also love Gospel and contemporary Christian because it is literally worshipping God as you sing. No better than that.
My latest album, and my entrance into the genre of jazz and standards, came to be due to a resort - The Beacon Resort in Lincoln, New Hampshire. I was singing and asked if I could do the standards or Broadway tunes as part of the new season. I have a host of experiences doing sock hops, golden era of rock & roll, and a particular specialty of Elvis Presley music.
Going into the realm of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, and all the great crooners was an easy step because of the beauty and focus on the vocals. There is a feel, an emotional connection to the lyrics that the style of jazz and standards seems to require in order to deliver the song in a way that people themselves can feel as well. These songs have been around for enough time that people have developed a personal relationship with and if you can deliver the song back to them in a way that treats the song as a treasure to yourself as well as to them, then you and the audience have this intimate bonding or relationship due to the connection with the song.
Though all music, I think, even instrumentals can do this. I think that lyrics you can hear, understand and deliver with the emotional effect of the lyrics in conjoining with the melody, has an absolute effect on the listener. Plus I feel the song, songwriter, and original artist deserve nothing less than the best you can deliver.
Q: Growing up, what vocalists influenced you the most?
A: Elvis Presley, without a doubt. Andy Williams was one of my favorites as well. Everybody knew Johnny Cash, but he was so low bass, and Elvis was an absolute blast. Plus he sang every style and had tremendous range and emotional delivery. But I loved everybody. Vocalists like Neil Diamond and Dennis DeYoung of Styx, Steve Walsh of Kansas, Pink Floyd, even Ozzy Osbourne were vocal and musical influences. I always listened to the vocalists intently with any music I heard. I feel that you can always find something special in the delivery of a passionate singer. I love hearing people who love to sing and personify the song. Be it one-hit wonders or established artists. I listened to them all, but none more than Elvis.