"Dimebag" Darrell Abbott
n Wednesday evening, December 8 in Columbus Ohio, 24 years to the very night that John Lennon was gunned down in New York City by an obsessed fan, heavy metal legend "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott was shot and killed while performing the first song of the night with his newest band Damageplan. As of this writing, the gunman was yet to be identified.
While it seems that the majority of the media did not respect Dimebag enough to even put his name in the headlines regarding the shooting, (CNN: "Gunman Kills 4 at Ohio Nightclub," NBC: "5 Dead, 2 Wounded in Nightclub Shooting") there should be no mistaking how influential and important Darrell was to heavy metal music.
By the late 1990's, heavy music was more popular than it ever was in the past. Marilyn Manson, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine and others were selling millions of records. In the early 90's however, the two biggest players in heavy metal - The Beatles and The Stones of the scene if you will - were without a doubt Pantera and Metallica. While Metallica were the more popular by far, metal purists were very vocal about the fact that the band had changed both their sound and their image in order to sell more records. Metallica were in the eyes of the metal community, just a bunch of sellouts with designer suits and fancy haircuts. Pantera on the other hand was uncompromising in their ferocity and attitude. As a result, most industry types assumed that the band was unmarketable. In April of 1994, Pantera's "Far Beyond Driven" album shocked just about everyone in the music world when it debuted at #1 on Billboard's albums chart with little or no MTV or radio support.
Over the next several years, Pantera played everywhere they could from small clubs to football stadiums, and convinced their rapidly growing fan base that no matter what the case was in the 1980's, Pantera were now the kings of Metal. Their influence on the scene they now dominated was immeasurable. None of the bands I mentioned above would have gotten the amount of promotion they did, and in turn would never have been so successful if Pantera hadn't kicked the door open for them. Even Metallica has now returned to making heavy music since it is now commercially acceptable.
In early 2003, after five studio albums and a live effort, Pantera decided to take a year off. A major factor in that decision was the rapidly escalating drug problems of singer Philip Anselmo. In what is now the stuff of rock legend, Phil had overdosed on heroin in 1996 and was technically dead for a short while before being revived by paramedics. Although future problems were not as public, it's understood that Anselmo's drug use did not decrease after he overdosed. Phil was publicly unapologetic about his drug use, saying essentially that if he wanted to kill himself with heroin, that was his business.
It was during the planned hiatus that brothers and Pantera band mates Vinnie Paul (drums) and Dimebag Darrell (guitar) learned that Phil had taken his side project, Superjoint Ritual, which featured the fourth member of Pantera, Rex (bass), on the road and was bashing Pantera nightly from the stage. In November of 2003, in an interview with Rock Sound magazine, Darrell made it official that Pantera was no more. He blamed the breakup entirely on Phil, and said that he and Vinnie would be forming a new band called Damageplan.
The Damageplan debut, "New Found Power" was released earlier this year. It featured guest spots from Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Ozzy's lead guitarist, Zakk Wylde. "New Found Power" was well received by the metal community though it more or less came in under the mainstream music press' radar. The band was touring in support of the album when the shooting occurred.
As I write this, no one is really sure on the details of the shooting. Pantera.com is reporting that Vinnie was also shot by the gunman and is one of the "two unidentified wounded" that most of the news reports mention. Other reports, including one from NBC news, indicate that at least one other member of the band is dead. It is known for sure that the gunman was killed by a police officer responding to the incident. While his motives will probably remain unknown, some witnesses recount that he screamed something about the breakup of Pantera before opening fire on Dimebag, whom he shot four times before turning his attack towards others.
Personally, I saw Dimebag play on four separate occasions. I saw him play to a crowd of less than 2000, and I saw him play to close to 50,000. No matter what the situation, Darrell always gave 110%. Dime was a giant within the metal scene, and will be greatly missed. My thoughts go out to Vinnie, the rest of Darrell's family and everyone else affected by this tragedy.
Mike D'Ariano 12/9/2004