Dimebag Darrell: High Times With a Cowboy from Hell
Michael Christopher reminisces on his time hangin' with Dimebag Darrell back in 1993.
It was March 1993, the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, right outside of Philadelphia. My first time backstage at a show ever, and the way I made it there didn't exactly give me a strong sense of comfort about it lasting very long. A friend, Bruno, called out sick from work and spent the entire day getting the Pantera road crew high in exchange for a ticket and one backstage pass. We did the palm and pass when security checked our credentials before letting us in the hallowed area. Venue security was preoccupied, as this was the infamous night when, after the concert had been held back by three days because of a blizzard that paralyzed the city, throngs of sweaty youth with pent up aggression descended on the stage, ripping out a dozen rows of bolted down seats and leaving more room to mosh and a safer area to stage dive to.
Those seats wouldn't be replaced until almost a decade later.
Once backstage, Bruno disappeared, and I shifted uneasily while a local DJ babbled on mercilessly about seeing Emerson, Lake and Palmer in the late seventies -- "now that was some rock and roll." I turned my back on him, waiting for something to happen, and hoping it did before there was another inspection of the passes -- the only one of which Bruno was in possession of. The road crew brought out cases upon cases of beer for everyone to drink, but nervousness and the fact that the choices were cans of Piel's and Coors Light had me borderline nauseous.
"Aren't you gonna have a beer man?" said what I assumed was a dinosaur DJ behind me.
"Nah," I answered, "Piss and piss light -- I'm not really a big fan of shitty beer."
"Hell man -- then why don't you have one of these suckers!"
I turned around, and there was Diamond Darrell holding out his own bottle of Heineken.
That was Darrell. If you weren't having a good time, he was going to make damn sure you would be - even giving you his own stash of the good stuff.
While the tragic events at the Damageplan show are still mired in murk, one detail remains clear: One of the greatest guitarists of the modern era was taken from the music world, with a style so influential he was considered the nineties version of Eddie Van Halen. Raised on a steady diet of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Metallica, Darrell Lance Abbott raised the bar for every aspiring metal axe-slinger out there.
After a few years of going with the glam-metal flow in the late '90s, the band he formed with his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, picked up singer Phil Anselmo, giving them the confidence to find a unique voice in a tired scene. Cowboys From Hell, Pantera's major-label debut (and unofficial nickname from then on out), is not without growing pains -- the awful, Halford-esque "Shattered" a prime example -- but there were crushing flashes out of nowhere courtesy of Darrell. During a typically fluid and effortless solo on the track "Domination," Dime drops one of the most brutal yet simple riffs ever laid down before going right back into the solo.
The follow-up, Vulgar Display of Power, remains one of the best front-to-back metal recordings, filling the void suddenly left by a radio- and MTV-friendly Metallica. Pantera toured relentlessly, documenting their treks across the States, to Japan and Russia on a simple camcorder, which they parlayed into the legendary Vulgar Video, 90 minutes of backstage antics and hilarity unfortunately responsible for every rock act today feeling the need to release a DVD 10 months after their record drops. Dime was responsible for directing the non-stop filming, and his sense of humor, both bathroom and borderline disgusting, and ability to capture it on tape is unrivaled to present day.
A little over a year after the seats were ripped out, Pantera returned to the Tower Theater to open up the tour for their third release, Far Beyond Driven. In that time, I had decided rock and roll journalism was where it was at, and the night before the show, I went down to the venue to see if I could catch sound check and maybe even land an interview. I was still a teenager and figured this guerilla type of journalism was how it was done. That week, I dropped $75 on a microcassette recorder, and I planned on using it.
Outside, at the back of the theater, there was an old loading-dock door that hadn't been used in years. There was a mail slot that opened to a direct view of the stage, where the band was going through some of the new songs. Anselmo was absent, leaving the Darrell, now Dimebag, on vocals. Their sound had reached an apex, evident on the first track of the new release, "Strength Beyond Strength", which frenetically sped along, slowing down only long enough to demand listeners to "Hail the new kings", before blazing right back into the finely honed Pantera power groove.
My friend Jack, who had been literally left out in the cold the year before, was going to do whatever it took to get backstage this time around, and he accompanied me on the interview quest. After a toast to a successful tour with a shot of Blacktooth Grin, the band called it a night and made for the exit.
That apparently wasn't Dimebag's first Blacktooth, and he was feeling better than good when the band finally came out of the Tower Theater. Jack and I were the only ones on the street, as it was now deep into the night. When Darrell came out, I shoved the recorder in his face while Jack started peppering him with questions.
"Why are you opening the tour in Philly? What do you think about the Tower leaving the floor without seats since last time you were here? Where's Phil?"
Dimebag plucked the recorder from my hand and started speaking into it. Half of it was unintelligible, guttural growling and the other a mish-mash of words we would later learn was classic Dimespeak.
"I can't do this!" Dime announced, and made like he was going to throw the recorder against the wall. "It's gonna go!" He yelled with a mile-wide grin.
I balked. "No! I just bought that!"
For what seemed like forever, he teased throwing it against the Tower or the brick wall across the street before finally getting serious.
"Seriously dude," he said. "I gotta break this -- and I want it on film, and I'm gonna put it in the next home video, and I'll give you whatever you want for it."
"It was $75 dollars," I said.
"Grady," he said to his guitar tech, "Give the man $75."
"And backstage passes for tomorrow night," I added.
"And tickets!" piped in Jack (though we had our own for weeks now).
"Done and double done," answered Dimebag after Grady gave me the money. "Now can we smash this thing?"
Darrell threw the tape recorder against the wall, and I have to hand it to RadioShack, the thing was barely scratched. At that point, Dime decided that he was going to place it under the front wheel of the tour bus. He set up the shot, had the driver back up the bus and slowly creep over and smash the recorder. Dimebag jumped about gleefully, shouting "Now that's what I'm talkin' about!" as the police showed up and ordered the band out of the street or they'd all be arrested. Darrell picked up a scrap of cardboard, literally out of the gutter, scribbled my name and what he was supposed to leave at the will-call window the following night, gave us a firm handshake, and got on the bus.
Jack and I looked at each other as the bus pulled away. Dime had written that on a scrap of cardboard from the street. We were not going backstage. He was wasted!
But there were tickets and passes at will-call, and it was another unforgettable party with Pantera, as they wheeled the Marshall stacks backstage after the show and blasted Master of Puppets through them. It was time to celebrate not only the opening date of the tour, but the news that the new album debuted at number one on the Billboard chart, which had blown Pantera away. The two fat guys from opening act Crowbar, desperate for attention, yanked their penises out and started waving them around before Dimebag jumped in between them, mooned everyone, and let out one of the loudest farts I'd ever heard. He let out a loud yell, pulled up his pants, and announced it was time for shots of Black Tooth.
That part didn't make the next home video. My micro-cassette recorder getting crushed did. But it's the memories of Dimebag that will live on forever.