Dimebag Darrell: The Rough Rider
Is heavy metal dead? Not if Dimebag Darrell has anything to say about it.
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 heavy metal for the Nineties. By combining 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.