Thanks to her eerily accurate Pantera covers and ability to channel the spirit of Dimebag Darrell’s playing style, Kayla Kent has fast become a household name among the heavy metal electric guitar community.
Not only has she showcased her Dimebag-style chops by covering the likes of Walk and Cowboys From Hell, Kent has also taken it one step further by recording Megadeth’s Symphony of Destruction solo in the style of her late guitar hero.
In 2023, few (if any) are harnessing Dimebag’s ultra-nuanced playing approach as successfully as Kent has managed to do across her YouTube channel, and in recognition of her fretboard feats, the Pantera superfan was recently invited backstage at one of the band’s shows by Dimebag’s guitar tech, Grady Champion.
Pantera reformed last year with Zakk Wylde as their new guitarist for a mammoth world tour – though prior to the Black Label Society axeman’s appointment, the band reportedly considered numerous names for the gig.
In a video documenting her gig experience, the Kramer-wielding YouTuber recalled how she bumped into the band’s frontman Phil Anselmo, who told her a piece of news that she “will never forget”.
“He knew who I was, and he came up and hugged me, and had super-flattering things to say about my guitar playing and he wanted a picture,” Kent recalled. “We got chatting and then he told me something I will never forget: he told me that I was on the list of potential Pantera guitar players. I just could not believe it.”
Naturally, Kent was so floored by the revelation that she thought Anselmo was joking – but, of course, he wasn’t: “He was like, 'I’m 100% serious, I don’t bullshit, we actually considered you.'”
Just for further confirmation, Kent then shared the news with Champion, who corroborated Anselmo’s comments: “They were like, ‘He's not known to bullshit people in private.’”
It’s a remarkable full-circle moment for Kent, who only had 12 videos to her name when Guitar World first spoke with her about her penchant for Pantera.
Elsewhere in the video, Champion – who shares guitar tech duties with Wylde’s usual guitar tech, Stephen Murillo – gave Kent an in-depth rundown of his backline duties.
From the looks of things, “backline duties” somewhat undersells Champion’s role in the Pantera tour, with Kent even going as far as to call him “the fifth member of the band”.
Indeed, Champion’s tech duties go beyond the role’s conventional job description. As was the case while he worked with Dimebag, Champion was in charge of controlling Wylde’s Whammy pedal and a handful of other units, including the all-important MXR Flanger/Doubler.
“The guitar sounds in the Flanger/Doubler were basically key to Dime’s sound live, and those were more or less Grady’s instruments,” Kent explained. “He’s constantly on those things the entire show. Every squeal, divebomb, slide, pinch harmonic… he’s constantly cranking that little knob for the mix on the flanger doubler, and it’s insane.
“Every little thing that Zakk does, he is sitting there listening to all that. Like, on A New Level [at the guitar break] – he’s sitting there pressing in on the actual fucking guitar silencer. It doesn’t matter how small. That was so impressive. Grady is just phenomenal.”
Champion had previously spoken to Guitar World about his hands-on role on the Pantera tour, explaining, “As well as the Whammy pedal, I’ve got a flanger, a chorus and two gates running back there. Whenever Zakk divebombs, I stick the [MXR] EVH Flanger on it, which adds a really cool growl.”
He continued, “I'll hit the pedal’s EVH button [the one that duplicates Van Halen’s Unchained setting] whenever we’re doing bombs, but sometimes I’ll manually adjust the Rate and Width knobs to where it does a trill effect for a song like I’m Broken, or a faster police-siren-type sound.”
That’s not to say Wylde doesn’t do some pedalboard tap dancing himself, though. As his fulltime tech Murillo recently told Guitar World, “Zakk controls all the pedals on his ’board. The MXR EVH Flanger sits on the rig, and Grady likes to use that during flourishes and divebombs. It’s an amazing sound when you hit it just right; it sounds like a growling tiger.”
Head over to Kayla Kent’s YouTube channel to check out her latest Pantera covers.