PANTERA ON PANTERA
© Dave Ling - January 1993 -
previously published in RAW magazine
Born on 11th March, 1964, Vinnie Abbott grew up an archetypal home-loving Texas boy, though he admits that even at an early age there were certain against the grain qualities to his character. Despite his parents divorcing while he was in Seventh Grade, Vinnie is proud of coming from a supportive, loving family, something that would eventually benefit himself and younger brother Darrell (a.k.a. Pantera’s Diamond Darrell).
His father Jerry was a professional country and western musician who became involved in studio work and sometimes would take Vinnie and Darrell along to observe as local stars cut their records.
The young lads soon decided what they wanted to do in later life.
“That was a real important time for me, and many years later those experiences helped me to co-produce Pantera,” drawls Vinnie, who was co-credited with Terry Date on 1991’s explosive ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ LP. “I’m real knowledgeable in the studio,” he adds.
However proud Vinnie’s dad must have been, the air turned blue on the day that his eldest son came home from school clutching a tuba (“he said, ‘Fuck that, you’re not gonna be a tuba player, you’re gonna play the drums’ - and I’m so pleased that he did”, recalls Vinnie). Having taught himself to play the instrument that his dad had selected, and not being a particularly keen scholar, in 1981, Vinnie teamed up with his brother to form their very first band… Pantera.
“Yeah, Darrell and I have always played together,” explains the amiable sticksman with the gift of the gab, adding: “We met Rex [Brown, bassist] when we played with a jazz band at High School.”
Commencing with the ‘Metal Magic’ album in 1983 and with Terry Lee preceding current Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo at the microphone, the band named themselves after the Spanish word for ‘panther’ and cut a string of self-financed albums for their own Metal Magic label. These were appreciated by the critics, but failed to sell in large numbers. Eventually, Lee wanted to take the band in a more commercial direction so quit to form Lord Tracy (originally known as Tracy Lords, after the porn star), who cut the ‘Deaf Gods Of Babylon’ in 1989.
After a run of misfit singers, Pantera were joined by Phil Anselmo for 1988’s ‘Power Metal’ album. However, despite the usual rave reviews, the band were not destined to move into the big league till Atco snapped them up two years later for their major label debut, ‘Cowboys From Hell’.
“Although it was a frustrating time, those years were irreplaceable,” observes Vinnie now. “It wasn’t like those bands that come together in a garage and then have to go out and play before they’re ready. We knew that we had something good to offer and that if we stuck with if for long enough that it’d pay off, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Sadly, there’s little realistic chance of these independent releases being re-issued. Pantera retain the rights to them all and despite having received many offers persist in the belief that making them available again would be a backwards step. Of course, their reluctance might also have something to do with a dodgy spandex-orientated image that was typical of the era.
“The record label [Atco] have already offered to buy up the rights,” affirms Vinnie cautiously. “People that know Pantera in 1993 are not familiar with that stuff, and it’s a different Pantera to the one that’s around today. We look at those records as our demo tapes - except that they’re documented on vinyl. If you were around to support the band back then you got a collector’s item and also to see us go from point A to point Z. Everyone else is familiar with the band the way we are now, and that’s the way we’d like it to be.”
I ask Vinnie to describe the other three members of Pantera, and he chuckles: "Well, Rex is thin, mean, angry and drunk. Darrell is one helluva guitar player. He's got too much character and he's always up to something. When he's onstage, Phil appears to be a complete wild maniac, but he's pretty in control. He's a cool dude and one of the best frontmen I've ever seen. One thing that's common between us is our sense of humour - we laugh at ourselves a lot."
Vinnie is under no illusions regarding his role in Pantera. “Besides playing the drums I’m the backbone of this band,” he states decisively. “I keep an eye on the business side that the others either don’t have the time or care to keep track of. I work closely with the management and the agent who books the gigs. If you don’t look after all that stuff then someone’s gonna fuck you, and the band will end up folding. If you don’t have a business-like attitude then you might end up working at a gas station.”
“If an old lady was about to get run over, none of us would just sit there and say
‘Look at that old bitch’ and leave her to die”
Strangely, despite the fact that his band have played on stages in Russia, Japan, Europe and all over the States, the drummer says he wouldn’t describe himself as an exhibitionist.
“There’s no showing off involved with what Pantera do,” he insists. “We’ve been doing this for 10 years and it feels completely natural. There’s no ego required and nobody gets stage fright. Each one of us knows what the rest of the band is capable of, and we bust our asses to put it out as hard as we can every night.”
Outside of Pantera, sports occupy a great deal of Vinnie’s time. A fanatical follower of the Dallas Cowboys, an American football team, the drummer’s looking forward to seeing his idols “kicking the asses” of rival club the Philadelphia Eagles and progressing to this year’s Superbowl. But naturally it’s Pantera that occupies most of his waking hours, and he points out that the band’s resilience has forced them into a position of prominence.
“What we’re doing is very different to what else is out there,” believes Vinnie. “The lyrics are very important; they supply something to believe in, which is a good thing.”
We close by discussing the accuracy of Pantera’s public face. They’re perceived by many as shaven-headed, fist-waving, baby-eaters. For instance, would a hardman like Vinnie Paul be prepared to help a little old lady across the road?
“Absolutely,” he chuckles warmly. “The image and anger of our music comes from things that happen in life, but if you look closely enough at the songs then there’s a resolution in most of them. That’s the meaning of our music. We all believe in honesty and traditional values. If there was an old lady about to get run over, none of us would hesitate… just sit there and say, ‘Look at that old bitch’ and leave her to die. That’s not us at all.”
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Away from the stage, Pantera’s bellowing, seething, hairless frontman has an equally intense persona. He articulates his thoughts simply yet efficiently, speaking with a quiet authority and choosing his words well. During our conversation, the line frequently goes dead for several chilling seconds at a time as Philip Anselmo deliberates over exactly the point that he wants to make. He himself knows, but takes a little time to explain...
“I was a weirdo as a kid. I spent a lot of time alone in my room”
“I’m just trying to be successful, responsible and happy,” retorts Anselmo when asked to describe himself. “I’m very highly motivated.”
Born in New Orleans on 30th June, 1968 - the same day as boxer Mike Tyson, as he gleefully points out - Philip’s the youngest in Pantera, though you probably wouldn’t believe it. Unlike the other three, his childhood was a less than straightforward one.
“My parents were confused about me, but things are smoothed over now,” he relates, with an element of pride that he narrowly fails to disguise. “I was a weirdo as a kid. I had a lot of ideas on my head. I spent a lot of time alone in my room, I didn’t want to do family-related things.”
However, music played an enormous part in Anselmo’s development and among his earliest memories is being four years old at his parents’ house in the French quarter of New Orleans while they listened to Led Zeppelin and King Crimson.
Although Philip grew up thousands of miles away from his future band-mates, like them he ended up despising the so-called US education system (“having to ask to go to the bathroom was stupid,” he seethes. “I regret that I didn’t quit earlier”), and was duly kicked out of two different schools. He still angrily recalls allegedly being set up for selling marijuana by a school bus driver. So the 15-year-old Philip began playing in bands, starting with a Black Sabbath/Judas Priest tribute act called Samhain (no relation to the Glenn Danzig fronted band of the same name, of course).
“If a confrontation ensues then I won’t ever back down unless I’m fighting
a gang of football players. I can handle myself”
Eventually, sheer coincidence would link Anselmo to Pantera. Both he and his future colleagues hit line-up problems at about the same time. Terry Lee had wanted Pantera to go in a more David Lee Roth-style direction - he would call himself Terrence Lee Glaze whilst a member of Lord Tracy - but the others opposed the idea of becoming commercial. They wanted to go more extreme. Philip had also wanted his own band to toughen up. When the paths of both acts happened to collide on the club circuit, phone numbers were quickly exchanged.
“They flew me in from New Orleans and we played some old Priest and Kiss songs,” recollects the singer of his fateful audition. “We smoked a joint, drank some tequila and I packed everything I had, which wasn’t much, and flew to Texas to join them that same week.”
As Phil points out, he has since moved back to New Orleans. For a while, though, he went along with Pantera’s more glamorous look, hence the rather embarrassing snaps that later came back to haunt them in metal mags around the world. But quickly he had realised that the visuals were not for him.
“The biggest mistake that Pantera made when I joined them was having all those photos taken,” winces Phil. “Back then, we were still going through the motions. We were a bar band, playing three sets a night. We weren’t happy and it was destroying us. I hated all the dressing up, so we said ‘Fuck it’, and we ditched the whole ridiculous circus.”
Anselmo’s knee-jerk reaction to the preening he’d been asked to indulge in was to refrain from combing his hair - for the next four months. He also refused to take a bath for weeks on end.
“I was trippin’ on acid all the time,” he adds. “I became the dregs of the earth. My dreadlocks became as hard as rock, so I shaved the sides of my head to give me some breathing space.” However, Phil quickly realised that the mini-Mohawk he sported circa ‘Cowboys From Hell’ was as much of an ‘image’ as the look he’d had before, so he responded by shaving his head completely.
“People who meet me after the show are scared of my appearance, but I’m a reasonable dude. I’m not gonna rattle someone just because I can. I’m into smoking and drinking, making friends and fucking girls. If a confrontation ensues then I won’t ever back down unless I’m fighting a gang of football players. I can handle myself.”
I don’t doubt it for a nano-second. But if Vinnie’s claim of being Pantera’s backbone is to be believed, what personal attribute does Phil Anselmo bring?
“The element of the underground,” he replies, somewhat sternly. “I bring music beyond basic heavy metal.”
And how would the singer describe his band-mates?
“Darrell is an excessive drunk, an excessive white-boy genius and a man hell-bent to have fun at any cost. Rex just goes with the flow. We also have a mutual appreciation for good, bombed-out rock ‘n’ roll. And Vinnie? He has a love of food, a love of drink, a love of sports and a love of exactly what he does.”
According to rumour, now that Pantera play the larger venues, Phil has his own dressing room wherever possible. Why does he choose to isolate himself from the rest of the group?
“They do different things than I do,” he fires straight back. “I need my space to play my own kind of music.”
So what will Darrell, Vinnie and Rex be blasting out their dressing room, and what do you play in yours?
“In theirs, there will be early Van Halen, Kiss and Metallica,” Anselmo explains patiently. “In mine, I’ll be listening to the Righteous Pigs, Morbid Angel and Suffocation. What Pantera does is pretty much a cross between the two. And although I wouldn’t like to say that we sound like them, but perhaps we have the spirit or energy level of some hardcore bands like Agnostic Front.”
And, in conclusion, would tattooed madman Philip help our fictional old lady across the road? You bet your sweet ass he would.
“Sure,” he affirms. “I’m a firm believer in karma. What comes around goes around. If you constantly think bad things then you’ll only get deeper and deeper into your own bullshit. So if you do some good things and feel good about yourself then you’ll see some positive dividends."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Though I’ve just spent 30 minutes on the phone with him, I’m finding it difficult to dispel the belief that Diamond Darrell (born Darrell Lance Abbott on 20th August, 1966) should really have been a drummer and not a guitarist.
His dialogue is carefree, colourful and liberally punctuated with expletives. Darrell would hardly constitute ideal company for an intellectual like Magnus Magnusson or some wizened old prude like Mary Whitehouse, though Oliver Reed should look no further when in need of a drinking partner. Diamond’s universe has six strings, Marshall amplification, a laminated tour pass and an unlimited backstage beer rider.
“I do kinda live in my own world,” he chuckles. “I don’t really understand a whole lot of that political shit. Maybe enough to get me by, but I don’t really have time for it at all, man. I’m more into what’s real on the streets than those assholes that wear suits and ties. None of us - not even Philip - are into that shit.”
It’s no great surprise to learn that Diamond Darrell is usually the one behind any tomfoolery in Pantera, providing their spirit both metaphorically and literally. He says: “Whenever anything goes wrong, I’m the guy who can always find something positive from it, or at least suggest something else to look forward to - sometimes even a solution. I always smooth things over.”
His attitude to artificial stimulants is also a simple one - the more the merrier. “But it all depends upon what you’re calling drugs, man,” he points out. “I enjoy smoking weed [cannabis, of course] every now and again. I don’t smoke it as much as Philip, but then he doesn’t drink as much as me. I drink quite a bit. I like whisky and Coors Light [beer] and a little weed, but I definitely don’t do cocaine. I trip a little acid now and again but that’s as far as it goes. No needles or anything like that - I’m not hooked on anything.”
“I kinda live in my own world. I don’t really understand a whole lot of that political shit”
Like sibling Vinnie, Darrell drew enormous amounts of inspiration from his father, who also played guitar and was only too happy to tutor his enthusiastic youngest son. Mr Abbott Senior certainly encouraged his young offspring to follow in his footsteps.
“We’d go and see dad play his gigs and Vinnie and I knew straight away that was for us,” exclaims Darrell. “When I was young, I wanted to be Ace Frehley. I’d skip school, stay home and dress up like fuckin’ Ace… put on my Kiss records. My dad got me my first guitar. It was a Gibson, just like Ace’s. The old man was always right behind me. Sure, he told us some stories ‘n’ shit about the things that could go wrong in the music business, but he pretty much left me to make up my own mind.”
The fledgling Darrell was obsessed with his guitar, such trivialities as getting an education passing him by completely.
“I tried Sunday school and church once or twice, but those weren’t my kind of people,” he states. “Fuck, all I’d do was fall asleep. All people there would do was snicker at you because I’ve had long hair since I was six. I wasn’t into school either, I’d be out gigging five or six times a week and then we’d be up till four in the morning drinking. I’d just hear the bell ringing and wake up in the classroom with slobber drooling out of my mouth. The best thing I ever did in my life was quit school.”
“When I was young, I wanted to be Ace Frehley. I’d skip school, stay home and
dress up like fuckin’ Ace … put on my Kiss records”
Darrell admits that his rebellious streak sometimes got him into trouble with the police, especially in his younger days. He was arrested for throwing illegal parties and driving hotrods. Mostly, though, his income was derived from legal sources. Indeed, while Pantera’s early years were something of a trial in terms of obtaining recognition, they were surprisingly well rewarded in financial terms.
“We made pretty good money playing the clubs,” he admits. “We’d play six nights week, but pull in around $200. That was a lot more than motherfuckers I knew that worked at the Seven-Eleven. That experience kept the band improving all the while. We worked so hard for so long to pull this together, then when Philip arrived on the scene the chemistry really came together. That’s why this all succeeded.”
The axeman is temporarily stumped when I ask him to provide descriptions of his band-mates. “Jeez, you can see why I don’t write lyrics,” he guffaws. “Okay, Philip is bald, ferocious, serious - very serious - musical, emotional and extremely expressive. He’s a very intense person. Rex is my bud - he’s thin, drunk and mean. Solid as fuck. If you took him to an ice-cream parlour with 31 flavours, he’d have vanilla. He likes things straight. And Vinnie… he’s my best friend and my brother, he kills the drums.”
Finally, would Darrell agree to help our theoretical little old lady across the road?
“Well, that’d depend on when she was crossing the street,” he replies in all seriousness. “Fuck it, I’m a dude who if he sees some bum, he’ll be the first to break out a dollar. I’ll open a door for anybody, anytime. I’m not always terrorising people. So I might help that little old lady, but sometimes I might not.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Like the Abbott brothers, surname-less bass player Rex (born to the Brown family, but credited in the group’s glammed-up independent days as Rex Rocker!) lives in Arlington, Texas. Born some miles away in a town called Grahm ion 27th July, 1964, the four-stringer came from a close-knit background, although his father died when he was seven. He had a solitary sister who was 17 years older than him and had already moved out, admitting that his mum spoiled him a little.
“My mother was very loving and my sister’s family was very involved with what I did, but I was definitely a very rebellious little fuckhead,” he chortles. “That’s just a part of my character. Without a father it was sometimes a little difficult, but mostly it was cool.”
Like the others, Rex had his fair share of run-ins with the law, but he explains: “When you live down here in the redneck part of the woods, it’s not very hard to get in trouble.”
School, it seems was another trial. Stop me if you think you’ve heard this before, but Rex offers: “I wasn’t a good student at all, but I do like to think I’m fairly smart. I didn’t graduate from High School, but I really didn’t care for it - except for the jazz band - which is where I met Vince and Darrell.”
Unlike the Abbotts, however, Rex was a good Protestant boy whose family regularly attended church. He did so too till the age of 16, even going to far as to join the choir, though these days he has little time at all for religion at. However, music has been in Rex’s blood for as long as he can recall. He was given a snare drum at the age of seven and began dabbling in guitar a year later.
Now here’s an uncanny thing: each member of Pantera bought the same first album. Like the others, a 13-year-old Rex purchased ‘Alive’, 1975’s essential double-concert platter, and it changed his life. He says: “I had ‘Destroyer’ [from 1976], too. Kiss was it for me, they really made me want to be in a band.” So Rex joined a local band called Neck And The Brewheads, who quite incredibly continue to exist today.
“I’ve been playing with them again recently,” he imparts. “We actually did some gigs together while I was at home over Christmas. We just play a bunch of Stones, Cream and Zeppelin songs - it’s just for fun.
“We like the Dallas Cowboys and Philip likes the New Orleans Saints, that’s just the way it is”
A 13-year-old Darrell, who at the time was something of a wheeler-dealer, often supplied the PA for the Brewheads’ gigs. Lengthy post-gig booze sessions would often then ensue (“We all drank fairly early in life,” recollects the bassist fondly). Rex and Vinnie became good pals and would often end up jamming Rush’s ‘2112’ in the jazz band, and it’s no coincidence that Rex claims they were eventually ejected from its somewhat staid confines for playing too loudly. So Vinnie and Darrell wound up firing the bassist they’d been working with till then and Rex found himself a new band. Little did he or any of Pantera know how hard they’d have to work before any real success came their way.
“Even in the earliest days, gigs were pretty hard to come by. But I wouldn’t change a lick of it because those days gave us a lot of experience and prepared us for what we’re up against now. And I think that maybe a lot of the struggling that we did can he heard in our music,” he theorizes.
On a personal level, Rex describes himself as an optimist. This quality came in usefully during Pantera’s formative days. However, he can also be a little insecure about things.
“Basically, I’m always looking to better what I’m doing,” he qualifies. “My role in Pantera is to hold things together. You need somebody to supply the glue; that guy’s me.”
When asked to describe his three associates, Rex is at first reluctant, but then agrees. “Darrell is talented, manipulative and he’s a really caring person - he tries to hide it, bus he is,” he reveals. “Darrell and I are pretty close. We spend a lot of time together when we’re off the road.
“Vinnie is the guy I’ve known the longest of them all. He’s a smart businessman; he always takes care of business. A bad-ass drummer, too. And Phil is a one-off. He’s powerful. He can be fucking strange at times, and he’s very intelligent.”
The bassist confirms that Anselmo can be a bit of a loner while Pantera are on tour, but doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. After all, everybody needs their space, and Rex sees no problem in having Phil in one dressing room and everybody else in another.
“I think it’s kinda healthy for him,” he opines. “Phil didn’t grow up around us, and he’s also younger. We like the Dallas Cowboys and he likes the [New Orleans] Saints, that’s just the way that it is. Sure, there are sometimes problems caused by that, but it’s something that you’ll always run into when four individuals are eating, sleeping and breathing each other’s shit every day of the year. That diversity is important to this band’s sound; it’s what makes us individual. I don’t want to make comparisons to what people might have thought when Metallica’s first album came out, but our sound’s powerful and in-your-face, too.”
Hmmm… that’s interesting. Is Rex equating Pantera’s emergence in the same groundbreaking terms as Lars Ulrich and company?
“Without sounding completely egotistical?” he muses. “Well, I would hope that we could be. It’s something that we’ve worked really hard for. The last album [1992’s ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’] went gold here in the States, and I think the kids are really starting to latch onto us.”
And would Rex agree to help our now almost legendary old lady across the street if she required his help?
“Surely… and then I’d ask her to buy me a beer!”
The official Pantera website
This interview was conducted by phone almost a dozen years ago, circa Pantera’s ‘Far Beyond Driven’ album and a matter of months before Diamond Darrell metamorphosed into Dimebag. Speaking to each member of Pantera about their own personality and how they’d moulded into such a cohesive unit was pretty interesting. Sadly, they’d create just two more studio albums before an ugly dissolution in 2003. You could say that the year of 1993 was a crucial one for Pantera. As this story reveals, it saw Philip Anselmo moving away from the band’s Texas base and back to where he was most comfortable - New Orleans. Some maintain that after the singer went home the group’s brittle inter-personal relationships were never quite the same again.
After the split, Dimebag - as famous for his silly goatee beard (often dyed blood-red) as extraordinary string bending skills and those superhuman levels of alcohol consumption - then teamed up with brother Vinnie Paul to form Damageplan, while Anselmo assembled Superjoint Ritual.
As we’re all now more than aware, Dimebag was mercilessly gunned down during the opening number of a Damageplan concert in Ohio in early December 2004. In a bizarre coincidence, the shooting took place 24 years to the day after the murder of John Lennon by Mark Chapman. The guitarist’s grisly and wholly facile murder has since been called the most significant loss to hard rock since the passing of Randy Rhoads way back in 1982 - a statement it’s hard to disagree with. Some have even called it metal’s 9/11. My heart goes out to his family, band-mates and countless friends. (16th September, 2004)
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