Burke Shelley, frontman for San Antonio-beloved metal pioneers Budgie, has died at age 71

click to enlarge Burke Shelley (right) was the only constant member of pioneering hard rock band Budgie. - Courtesy Photo / MCA Records
Courtesy Photo / MCA Records
Burke Shelley (right) was the only constant member of pioneering hard rock band Budgie.

Vocalist-bassist Burke Shelley of the groundbreaking Welsh hard rock band Budgie has died at age 71, according to a Facebook post from his daughter Ela.

While largely regarded as a cult phenomenon elsewhere in the U.S., the trio received regular radio airplay in San Antonio and was even lured out of retirement after years of inactivity to play a 1995 gig at the city's now-defunct La Semana Alegre festival.

"It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my father, John Burke Shelley," Ela Shelley posted on Monday. "He passed away this evening in his sleep at Heath Hospital in Cardiff, his birth town."

Shelley, the only consistent member of Budgie since its late-'60s formation, suffered from health issues including a swollen aorta and Stickler Syndrome, a disorder that can affect a person's vision, hearing and joints, music site Blabbermouth reports.

Budgie's proto-metal sound featured Shelley's distinctively nasal vocals over riffs heavy enough to send Black Sabbath fans fist pumping. Although they band never achieved Sabbath's level of notoriety, later metal acts including Metallica and Iron Maiden cited the band as a key influence and covered its songs.

San Antonio remained Budgie's key bastion of U.S. fandom thanks to the support of maverick rock disk jockeys Joe Anthony and Lou Roney of KMAC-AM/KISS-FM radio, who kept songs such as "Melt the Ice Away" and "Breadfan" in frequent rotation starting in the '70s.

After reuniting, Budgie released a scorching 2002 live album, Life in San Antonio, recorded at Sunken Garden Theater. The group retired from touring around 2010, around the time Shelley's health problems manifested.

Watch a music video for Budgie's 1973 song "Breadfan" below.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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