From the ashes of Pantera rise Damageplan to usher in a new golden age of power- groovin’ metal. In an exclusive interview, legendary guitarist Dimebag Darrell tells the whole truth and nothin’ but the truth, so help him God.
“C’mon! Getcha pull,” Dimebag Darrell roars as he showers a delighted fan with a fistful of freshly minted guitar picks that bear the name of his new group, Damageplan. The recipient, who has waited hours in the bitter cold to meet his hero, cocks back his head and catches several picks in his mouth. “Goddamn, son!” Dime exclaims as he and the watching throng whoop with raucous approval. “I’m hooking you up with one of my signature Dunlop wah pedals for that move!” As the guitarist hands over a freshly signed Dimebag Crybaby from Hell, the overwhelmed fan drops to his knees in classic “I am not worthy” fashion. Laughing heartily, Dime rewards him with what he calls a Black Tooth Grin—a slug of Seagram’s 7 with a splash of Coke—then gets suitably animated with the man for a couple of photos before sending him off in a euphoric daze.
Such scenes of comic mayhem are commonplace at Dime’s Dunlop-sponsored in-store appearance at the Sam Ash store in Carle Place, New York, on this December day. Despite subzero conditions, hundreds of fans happily stand outside for hours without complaint for a moment of face time with the former Pantera guitarist. The goateed one obliges by signing everything thrown in front of him—CDs, guitars, posters, pedals— for more than five hours straight, refusing to stop until the last person in line was satisfied.
Throughout the signing, cuts from New Found Power, the upcoming debut album from Damageplan—Dime’s post-Pantera project—blare through the speakers. The fans waste no time in voicing their approval of the new music, a ferocious mix of hard metal and melodic hooks that features Dime’s brother and former Pantera bandmate Vinnie Paul on drums, Bob Zilla on bass, and onetime Rob Halford guitarist Patrick Lachman on vocals. While the music pumps, fans pepper Dime with questions: “When does the record come out?” “When will you guys start touring?” A few, however, simply want to know what everyone wants to know: What happened to Pantera? How did the little band from Texas that grew to become one of metal’s most respected and revered outfits just suddenly fall apart?
As most metal fans know, Pantera have been strangely silent since the release of their 2000 album, Reinventing the Steel. Shortly after the record’s release and tour, frontman Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown took time off to work on the second album from their side project, Down. What might have been a temporary hiatus for Pantera dragged on as Anselmo then formed numerous additional projects, including Superjoint Ritual, with whom he released albums in 2002 and 2003.
Throughout the break, Dime and Vinnie remained optimistic that Anselmo and Brown would return to the fold to begin work on a new Pantera project, but as 2003 dawned, the brothers accepted the obvious. In the March 2003 issue of Guitar World, Dime announced to Pantera’s fans that Pantera were history, and that he and Vinnie were forming Damageplan.
Guitar World proudly turns the mic over to Dimebag Darrell to tell the full story of Pantera’s untimely demise and how Damageplan rose from its ashes.
GUITAR WORLD Phil has been quite vocal about what happened to end Pantera, but you’ve been fairly tight-lipped on the subject. What’s the story from your side?
It’s a totally fucked-up situation— that’s the story. In fact, it’s a goddamned novel. I first started to deal with this subject in Guitar World when I released my statement about what was going on [see below], and I want to end it here too. I don’t intend on this spiraling into some cheapassed, smack-talking, Jerry Springer–type bullshit either.
To be honest with you, I don’t like to have to go into this at all, but I’m gonna step up to the plate and tell the truth because I firmly believe that the Pantera fans deserve an honest answer as to what went down and broke this thing apart. They’ve been awesome to us and I want to let them know first and foremost that me and my brother never let them down. I mean, fuck, we would never start an army that would kill for us and then up and betray them—never. We’re embarrassed about what happened but we had no control over it. We tried every goddamned angle we could to make things right but couldn’t. It crushed the shit out of us and took two prime years out of our careers, but at this point it’s totally out of our hands so we’ve accepted it and moved on.
GW How come it took you and Vinnie so long to throw in the towel and say “Pantera’s over”? Were you hoping the band would get back together?
DIMEBAG Yeah, I guess. Even when it looked like it was beyond repair and Phil was talking trash about Pantera and us, we kept hoping that something cool would happen and things would somehow get back under control. Even though we had a bunch of really fucking great times with that dude, he was always doing something to rock the boat. That’s a big reason why it took us so long to figure out what was really up. We just hoped and prayed that the hell we were going through was another bump in the road, even though Phil wouldn’t take our phone calls and blew off everything else that we did to try and put the group back together. Hell, we even arranged a meeting in New York with the president of Elektra to see what it would take, but once again, Philip turned it down.
The main reason Vinnie and me waited around for so long and tried so hard to make it work was because we wanted to do Pantera forever. We were the heart and soul of that band, and it meant everything to us. Like I’ve said in Guitar World before, we honestly thought we were going to be the Rolling Stones of heavy metal, but I guess the two other dudes in the band didn’t see the same value in what we’d built together and chose a different road. And as you can see from how things have panned out, the path they took was a pretty destructive one.
If I had to say just one thing about what went down and how it got dragged out for so long, it’d be this: It would’ve been so much cooler if, when Philip and Rex started recording the second Down album, they would’ve just said, “Dime and Vinnie, our brothers of 15 years, we’ve made five crushing records and we’ve had a lot of great times, but we’re done with y’all.” I would’ve been shocked, bummed out and wouldn’t have understood why. But at least we would’ve gotten the heads-up and known it was time to move on. But no, it didn’t go down that way. Instead us and our fans got jacked-off for two fucking years!
GW Were you against Philip’s numerous side projects because you were afraid that a conflict of interest might result?
DIMEBAG Hell no. In fact, we helped get Philip the green light for the Down and Superjoint Ritual records. He wasn’t getting the okay from our record label to put those records out, so he started threatening to quit the band if he couldn’t do them. I said, “Look man, I’m your brother. I’ll help you with anything. You don’t have to threaten us.” I’ve always gone to bat for him, and so has Vinnie. And that’s what we did. We played a big role in getting him cleared so he could do his thing and get it off his chest, so we could get back to rocking with Pantera and everything would be cool.
GW In a recent interview in another magazine, Philip said you’ve changed and that you have a problem with him that he doesn’t even understand.
DIMEBAG If you look at the [Pantera] home videos you can see that I’m the same dude in 3 Watch It Go [the group’s last home video, released in 1998] that I was in the first video shot some eight years earlier. And I still am today. I still have the same love for life in my heart, and my drive is still there for the same reason—the love of music, the love of playing guitar and the love of jamming for people and interacting with the fans. And my brother’s the same way.
Anyone who’s heard Philip’s recent radio interview, which is all over the internet, or seen him hosting on MTV speaking three octaves down, hardly able to talk or keep his eyes opens, knows that his real problem is with drugs. For some time now he’s obviously been around people that accept that, as opposed to being around me and Vinnie, who have a different standard level. I tried to get through to him and help, because I truly love the dude, but it’s impossible to connect with someone that heavily medicated, and that’s when I became the enemy in his mind.
GW You’ve always struck me as a positive person. Have you managed to see that anything good has come out of this lengthy nightmare?
DIMEBAG Yeah, two things. One was that I got the time to sit back, look at the band, reflect on it and go, “Damn, look what it’s headed for!” Sometimes, when you’re driving at 150 miles an hour, you don’t have time to see the wall you’re about to smash into. I don’t dig the way the breakup went down or the reasoning behind it, but I’m glad it gave me the chance to watch the replay, recognize the warning signs, see all the mistakes that went down, learn from them and make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
The other good thing that came out of all this is Damageplan. The way I look at it, the misery of the last two years was a test—a big fuckin’ test—to see if I’d got the guts, the balls and the willpower to pick myself up, face what happened and overcome it, instead of running or cowering from it. All of us hit a point in life where we need resurrecting, and it’s up to you to make it happen, straighten things out and let go of the things that are fucked-up. Where I sit, man, I’ll never quit—I love music and I love the fans too much. So I put on my bad-ass shoes and started kicking ass with this band. It’s been a lot of hard work to crawl out of the hole and it hasn’t been easy, but at this point I’ve got my family, my brotherhood, my music and a crushing new band. I’ve got everything back that was taken from me, and I’m in a good fucking place. What was once a miserable nightmare has bloomed into a very sweet, comfortable place. Amen!
GW You seem very comfortable playing in this band with Vinnie, Pat and Bob.
DIMEBAG Yeah, it feels like home again. I’m in a band where all four dudes have the same goals and are very driven. We all live a beer-can’s throw away from each other, and when we’re not jamming we’re hanging out. There’s no drug dependencies, no excess baggage and no dead weight. It’s fun again, man, and it feels great. Everyone’s inspired and on the same page. We all have the same plan… the damage plan!