Mark Slaughter wants you to know that he’s a guitar player.
To be sure, the man whose golden throat helped propel Slaughter classics like “Up All Night” and “Fly to the Angels” to the top of the charts in the early Nineties has been playing rhythm onstage with his namesake band for years. But on his new release, Halfway There, he’s returning to his roots as an axman by serving up speedy licks and crunchy riffs alongside his distinctive, soaring vocals.
To hear Slaughter tell it, his transformation from teenage guitar obsessive to glam-rock frontman wasn’t part of his master plan. “When I was about seventeen,” Slaughter explains from his Nashville home, “I sent an album that I played guitar and sang on to Mike Varney.”
While the Shrapnel Records honcho liked Slaughter’s riffing, he loved his vocals, and recommended him as a lead singer to former Kiss guitarist Vinnie Vincent. Slaughter says that this big break did, in fact, alter his musical identity. “Right then I was teaching 279 guitar lessons every month at a little Las Vegas music store. Even so, I basically took my guitar, put it in a stand, and didn’t play it in a band for several years,” he says with a tinge of regret.
Regardless, Slaughter says he never lost his affection for the instrument. “I’m a guitar enthusiast. I love talking gear. I’ve got guitars hanging all over my walls. I build them in my barn here at home.”
Slaughter’s passion for guitar is reflected in the wide-ranging tonal palette he utilizes across Halfway There’s 10 tracks. On the funky “Supernatural,” for instance, Slaughter pairs glassy Tele comping with hot-rodded chords and leads, with the latter courtesy of a very special instrument: late Slaughter guitarist Tim Kelly’s Robin “Grape Jelly” Strat.
Meanwhile on the lumbering “Reckless,” Slaughter evokes a dark vibe with an Iommi-meets-Wylde riff that drips with sludgy tonality. “That song practically wrote itself after I picked up my aluminum-neck Kramer for the first time in a year. The batteries in its EMGs were almost out of juice, which gave it this nastysound.”
While Slaughter loves to shred, he underscores that the composition itself is always his first musical priority. “It was nice to be able to think as a lead player, rather than just as a songwriter,” he says. “But as a guitarist I tried to do what the song asked for, as opposed to what I can do as a player. To me, the melodic structure of the song is always its most important part.”