Dimebag Darrell Discusses His Roots, Gear and Pantera in 1994 Guitar World Interview
Here's an interview with Dimebag Darrell Abbott from the April 1994 issue of Guitar World magazine. To see the Dimebag cover -- and all the GW covers from 1994 -- click here.
Dimebag Darrell Abbott, Pantera’s high priest of six-string destruction, is feeling ornery. His eyes narrow as he slowly picks up his metallic blue Dean guitar. Cradling it like a sawed-off shotgun, the self-proclaimed “cowboy from hell” begins to frown. It’s obvious that he has something urgent on his mind.
“I grew up a heavy metal kid and we are a heavy metal band,” he growls in a rapid-fire Texas twang. “I know it’s not fashionable, but I’m proud to say that’s what we are and that’s what we do. It kills me when I see some metal band trying to pass themselves off as an ‘alternative band.’ Well, dude, they can join the pack, but we’ll remain true to our roots while shit keeps twisting around us.”
And twist it does.
While the rest of the rock world continues to be preoccupied with the next big Lollapaloser, Pantera has been steadily reinventing and reinvigorating metal for the Nineties. By combing the rawest elements of thrash, Texas blues and hardcore, the band has created a new form of metal -- one that is rhythmically aggressive, sophisticated in construction, and, yes, even hip.
At the epicenter of Pantera’s musical mosh pit is the band’s larger-than-life guitarist, Dimebag Darrell. His trademark crimson goatee, custom guitar and colorful command of good ol’ boy slang has made him a hero among hard rock fans. But his bone-rattling rhythm work, inventive soloing and distinctive razor-sharp “Darrell tone” is what has made him a legend among a whole generation of guitarists searching for a new Edward Van Halen. And like Van Halen, the key to the Texan’s large talent is his healthy disregard for rules and regulations.
“The worst advice I ever received from my dad was to play by the book,” explains Darrell. “My old man used to flip out whenever I would try to branch out and do something different. Although he didn’t do it on purpose, he really held me back in the beginning. He owned a recording studio in our hometown of Pantego, and if something was a little too hot on tape or was distorted, he'd say, 'Don't do that Darrell --do it by the book.' My sound didn't develop until I started ignoring the recording manual.
"It's funny, because he still doesn't really understand what we do. When he heard 'Fucking Hostile ' on Vulgar Display Of Power, he absolutely freaked! He told me, "Son, people are going to think somethin' is wrong with the record and take it back."
On Pantera's latest release, Far Beyond Driven, Darrell continues to ignore his bookish dad's advice. In addition to his usual wicked rhythm and lead work, the guitarist has introduced a noisy, new industrial slant into his playing. By cleverly manipulating bursts of dissonant white-hot feedback on several tracks, he has added yet another startlingly abrasive dimension to his already distinctive approach. More surprising still is Darrell and his band' s sensitive acoustic reading of Black Sabbath's psychedelic chestnut, "Planet Caravan."
In person Darrell is, in his own words, "a spazzer." Before our interview begins, he hyperactively bounces over to a battered guitar case that is held shut by three strips of heavy-duty duct tape. ("All the latches are rusted or broken from touring," he explains.) After rifling through its contents, he produces a pick that appears to have been hacked with a rusty pocket knife.
"Check the grooves," Darrell says, shoving the scarred plectrum in my direction. "'I've also had my volume knob sliced up."
When asked why, he answers with a demented grin, 'They're sweat-proof!"
And, like their owner, a little rough around the edges.
GUITAR WORLD: I understand that when you were a kid, your father was a musician, and that he owned a recording studio, in Pantego, Texas, where you grew up. Did he have any impact on your decision to pick up the guitar?
Absolutely. My old man was a musician -- that's what he did for a living. And like most fathers , occasionally he 'd let me visit where he worked. So I started going to his recording studio and I really dug it.
Do you have any memories of those early visits?
Sure. A Pantego radio station used to sponsor local talent, and the bands would cut tracks in my dad's studio. I'd always squeeze in there and try to check their shit out. When you're a little kid, you have nerve. I'd walk right up to whoever was recording and say, "Hey, dude, what's the lick of the week?" I’d be strappin' them dudes up, and getting them to show me their shit.
Did your dad encourage you to play guitar?
Encourage me? No, I wouldn't say that. But the opportunity to become a musician was always there. For example, I can remember one birthday of mine where he said, "Son, you can either have a BMX bike or you can have this," and he pointed to a guitar. I ended up taking the bike, but he did plant a seed in my mind.
I think he might have been a little reluctant to push me into music because he had seen enough of the rock-and-roll lifestyle to know that it's probably not the best thing to pursue. It would be the same as saying, "Here, go sell your soul to the devil." It's not something you want for your son. You know that phrase, "Sold your soul to rock and roll"? It ain't full of shit, man! [laughs]
So when did you decide to sell your soul?
When I discovered Ace Frehley and Black Sabbath, dude. I went back to my old man and asked if I could trade my bike back for the guitar. [laughs] Actually, I didn't ask him that, but if I was slick, that's what I would've done! I didn't get my first guitar until my next birthday. I was about 11, and he gave me a Les Paul copy and a Pignose amp.
Initially, I just used the guitar as a prop. I'd pose with it in front of a mirror in my Kiss makeup when I was skipping school. Then I figured out how to play the main riff to Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" on just the E string. Next, my old man showed me how to play barre chords, and that's when things started getting really heavy. But I think the turning point came when I discovered an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Fuzz. Feedback! Distortion! Dude, that was all she wrote.