'Dimebag' Darrell Abbott was a fun-loving Texas goofball who made scary, aggressive music
Two desperate phone calls awoke me on the morning of Thursday, December 9. One of our own, they said, had been killed. Refusing to believe what I was hearing, I spent the entire afternoon scourging the internet for verification. It was everywhere: "Top Metal Guitarist 'Dimebag Darrell' Killed," "Guitarist, Four Others Die in Ohio Shooting," etc.
To sum it up, Damageplan - the band formed by ex-Pantera leaders "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and his brother Vinnie Paul - was barely into its opening song at a Columbus, Ohio nightclub when an ex-Marine in a hooded sweatshirt hopped onto the stage, accused Darrell of breaking up Pantera, pulled out a gun, and fired several point-blank shots at him. The ensuing mayhem left the guitarist, two fans, a club employee and the assailant dead. The phrase "club security" surely has resonated in the heads of music fans over the last week.
In a way, it was the most horrific incident in the history of rock concerts. Other tragedies, like the 1979 trampling deaths of Who fans in Cincinnati, or last year's Rhode Island fire at a Great White show, were accidental, the results of inadequate venue planning and crowd hysteria. Even Altamont, while its scale was infinitely more monumental, couldn't match the full-blown terror of the Damageplan shooting, which happened precisely 24 years after John Lennon was gunned down by a lunatic fan of his own.
Nathan Gale, the man who opened fire at the Damageplan show, appeared to have an out-of-control obsession with Pantera's music. He claimed that the band stole lyrics he'd written; he pumped himself up before his semipro football games by listening to their music; and he groused about their breakup.
Abbott, known to friends and fans simply as "Dime," embodied the well-kept secret that underneath the scruff, hair, and evil glares, metalheads are really just harmless goofs who want little more than to have some fun. The ardent fluidity and creativity that possessed Dime's demonic fingers screamed love of life and inestimable gratitude for his many blessings. His instantly-recognizable voice on his instrument mirrored his personality: wild, but with intent, insidious but endearing, and articulate despite that obnoxious Texas twang. His playfulness both as a musician and as a human maddened those who madden themselves in their quest for fulfillment. "Sure, the world sucks," he might have said, "but I enjoy life."
Long a hero to both reputed and aspiring guitarists, Dime's intimidating, self-taught technique consistently won him accolades in Dallas-area guitar wars, to the degree that by the end of his teenage years he had won every regional contest and was summarily banned from them. But he was smart enough - or maybe just too stoned - to allow his blistering chops to overshadow his distinctive style, which seamlessly merged the blues underworld (think Bugs Henderson) to hard rock a la KISS and Judas Priest.
Similarly, he never allowed his headlining tours, platinum records, Guitar World column, and Number One positions on the Billboard chart to change the fact that he was just a Texas kid who happened to get lucky. This was evident in Damageplan's recent performance at Sunset Station, a venue where security is so tight, you're lucky to bring your keys in.
While opening acts Shadows Fall and The Haunted were certainly enough to sate any demanding appetite, Vinnie and Darrell's new band (with Pat Lachman and Bob Zilla) took the lunacy over the edge. There they were, the four badasses - two of whom changed metal forever by refusing to turn the volume down while Metallica declared metal dead - terrorizing an eager and sizable San Antonio crowd. The Abbotts' new bandmates obliterated their Pantera counterparts simply by not being their Pantera counterparts, but my attention was on Dime, who handled his instrument with such loving rage that even local metal hero Ron Jarzombek - the best guitarist anywhere, any style, ever - stood stunned. At this moment, I feared Dime every bit as much as I admired him.
That changed when some friends and I partied with the bands. The psychosis with which Dime manipulated his music was gone, and in its place was a boyish sense of mischief and wry wit that instantly humanized the man. He was as kind as he was goofy - there's that headbanger paradox again - and the rock star attitude I feared might have overtaken him evidently left with Pantera's notoriously difficult Phil Anselmo.
At moments like this, it was easy to envy Dime. He loved his job, he loved his music, he loved hanging out, he loved traveling... he loved life. Why someone would want to take that from him is anybody's guess. •