Dimebag Darrell: The Rough Rider
“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?
DIMEBAG DARRELL 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.
GW Do you have any memories of those early visits?
DARRELL 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.
GW Did your dad encourage you to play guitar?
DARRELL 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]
GW So when did you decide to sell your soul?
DARRELL 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! Distrortion! Dude, that was all she wrote.
GW Did you ever get to work in your father’s studio?
DARRELL Yeah, he’d pay me 20 bucks here and there to do piano overdubs or punch-ins while he was trying to do his vocals. So I learned quite a bit at an early age about how a studio works.
However, my brother Vinnie is really the guy that followed in my old man’s footsteps. He’s a complete gadget hound and really knows his way around a studio. Vinnie, in fact, is partly responsible for my sound.
On our early demos, I was really frustrated with my recorded sound. I’d tell my dad, “Dude, I want more ‘cut’ on my guitar—I want more treble.” And he’d say, “Now, son, you don’t want that. It’ll hurt your ears.” But my dad just didn’t understand. Then Vinnie started getting behind the boards. That’s when things started to sound the way I wanted them to sound.
GW Could you use the studio any time you wanted to?
DARRELL Nope! No fuckin’ way. And we never abused the privilege. The local dudes who knew that my dad owned a studio would say, “Ahh, dude is spoiled,” and this and that. But we didn’t abuse it at all. I’d always ask if we could use the studio first, and if our dad didn’t want us there he would tell us, and that was that. But I definitely tried to get down there as often as I could. [laughs]
GW Did your dad have any good advice regarding the music business?
DARRELL Yeah: “Write your own music.”
GW What’s the worst advice he gave you?
DARRELL To play by the rules. To turn down the treble knob because it will hurt someone’s ears. 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. 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.”
GW You mentioned that your father taught you your first barre chords. Did he show you anything else?
DARRELL I would go over to his house on weekends, bring a record of a tune that I wanted to learn, and he would show me how to play it. I think I took “Cocaine” over there the first time; not the drug, of course—the Eric Clapton tune. First he showed me a basic barre chord version, then he showed me other ways to approach it with different chord inversions. So I would get little bits of information from him like that.
I also learned how to pick things off of records from him. That was back when people still listened to records. [laughs] I’d watch how he tuned to records, and he’d say something like, “Son, these guys tune way down.” And I’d ask him, “You mean there’s a standard tuning?” I was completely clueless. He’d just help me put together the pieces. I watched how he did it and started doing it on my own at home.
GW So you never had any formal lessons?
DARRELL Naw. I tried one time. I was in a rut and I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I thought I’d just go up the street and get a guitar lesson off this cat. He wrote down some weird scale and tried to explain how it worked. After we finished he said, “Now go on home, practice that scale, and show me how well you can play it next week.” So I took it home, played around with it for a few minutes and said, “Fuck this, I just want to jam.”
I respect people that can read tablature and all that shit, but I just don’t even have the patience to read the newspaper. I’ll read three or four lines and that’s it. I’m a spazzer, you know?