December 8th – a dark day in music history

A article by Jason S. Sullivan, 12-11-19

Fifteen years ago, we lost a local legend and music icon. Darrell Lance Abbott, better known as Dimebag Darrell, was born in Arlington, Texas, in 1966. Dimebag is best known as the guitarist for the band Pantera. Other significant projects include the bands Damageplan and Rebel Meets Rebel. The latter featured outlaw country music legend David Allan Coe on vocals. It was a genre-bending medley that worked quite well.

Pantera is one of my favorite bands, and they’re from Arlington. I was also born in Arlington, and it’s my hometown. Having one of your favorite bands from your hometown is incredible! It doesn’t matter where they’re from – Pantera would still be one of my favorite bands. But, having our hometown in common forged a deeper connection to the music.

Pantera is a metal band. I won’t get into the debate about what metal genre – heavy, thrash, speed, groove. Let’s not argue about that. Their “Official Live: 101 Proof” album cover lays it down just right – “Pure Against the Grain American Metal.” Damn straight, brother.

People outside of the metal music scene may not know of Pantera or fully grasp their influence. Pantera isn’t merely a local band. They’re (in)famous all over the world and have influenced countless others that came after them.  

I get the feeling with some bands that they’re trying too hard. Whether it’s all an act of bravado, or in it for the money, you can usually tell. With Pantera, it never felt that way. It felt genuine. Pure. Honest. Man to man, expressing primal emotions in the only way that we can. Their music is raw. Visceral. Unapologetic. Unabashed and brutal beyond compare. It’s guided me through hard times. It also helped me express pent-up anger and frustration in a healthy way that I couldn’t otherwise get rid of.

Pantera had that swagger, that attitude, which set them apart from the pack. Well, that, and the music. These were talented musicians, too.

Pantera sold over 10 million albums worldwide. Their 1994 album Far Beyond Driven debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 charts. That’s quite a score for any band, but especially a metal band of this flavor. Pantera ain’t everyone’s cup of tea, which makes it all that impressive to top the mainstream charts.

I was lucky to see Pantera in concert. It was only once, but such an unforgettable experience. I remember the pure, raw energy in the venue. The building took a beating from that concert. 

Pantera’s music still gets heavy (pun intended) rotation through my speakers. I’ve been a fan for more than 20 years.

Back to Dimebag. I remember where I was when I heard the news. I was at home listening to a CD. The CD ended and I switched over to the radio. They were playing Pantera, which was always cool to hear on the radio. They followed that with another Pantera song. A double shot of Pantera? That was unusual and didn’t feel quite right. After that song, the local DJ on 97.1 The Eagle repeated the announcement from a few minutes earlier. Dimebag was dead. 

I was in shock. I felt numb. I thought it had to be a sick joke. It wasn’t. After hearing what details were available, I had heard enough. I turned off the radio and reached for my Pantera CDs. I started my own tribute, listening to my favorite songs. I tried to make sense of what happened. 

It might have been different if Dimebag overdosed or committed suicide. While tragic, those deaths sometimes happen in rock ‘n’ roll. But that’s not how he died. Dimebag was murdered. Murdered by a deranged “fan” while performing a concert in Columbus, Ohio. He was killed while playing guitar and entertaining his fans. I shouldn’t have to write these words. No one should die like that, especially not Dimebag. I can’t imagine being at that concert and witnessing such a tragic and horrific scene. The shooting rampage took the lives of Dimebag and three other innocent people. Two others were injured. A police officer responding to the 911 call killed the gunman moments later.

I never got the chance to meet Dimebag, but my brother did. Years ago, my brother was at the Parks Mall in Arlington. He noticed a guy who looked like Dimebag, and soon realized it was him. My brother approached him, and they spoke for a few minutes. He got his autograph before they parted ways. An unforgettable experience for my brother. Just another day for Dimebag.

I’ve read many tributes and stories about Dimebag. Most of those who met him describe their encounter like my brother did. He was friendly, approachable, down-to-earth, and generous. A larger-than-life rock star, who didn’t let his celebrity status change who he was. Respected by his heroes and peers, revered by his fans, Dimebag was something special.

Today, Dimebag’s legacy lives on. He’s still worshipped as a Guitar God. Pantera’s music is still relevant and influencing new generations of metalheads. The Dallas / Fort Worth area damn sure hasn’t forgotten about him. 

It’s hard to choose my favorite Dimebag riff. So many iconic songs, and they’re filled with his handiwork. 

  • “Walk”
  • “Cowboys from Hell”
  • “I’m Broken”
  • “Floods”
  • “Drag the Waters”
  • “This Love”
  • “Hostile”
  • “Domination”

Those songs barely scratch the surface. Pick any Pantera song. Dimebag’s guitar riffs are phenomenal. He was equal parts technique, talent, ability, and attitude. Dimebag wasn’t your average guitar player. Far from it. 

I recently visited his grave to pay my respects. He’s buried at Moore Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, next to his brother, Vinnie Paul. You may know Vinnie as the drummer for Pantera. He’s one of my favorite drummers. Sadly, Vinnie died on June 22, 2018. I had never visited the grave of a famous person. Especially not the graves of two famous people, who both happened to be idols of mine. It was surreal. It took my breath away when I found their graves. I was a few feet away from my idols. I didn’t realize that gods were buried like the rest of us. 

Well, maybe not exactly like the rest of us. Fittingly, Dimebag is buried in a KISS Kasket and with one of Eddie Van Halen’s personal guitars. KISS and Van Halen were huge influences on Dimebag. As for the grave-markers, they are beautiful tributes to these brothers. 

Dimebag’s grave-marker says: “He came to rock…and rocked like no other. With the heart twice the size of Texas, our beloved brother, companion, mentor, idol, and friend…we love you, Dime…until we meet again.”

It’s not uncommon to find guitar picks, drum sticks, bottles of whiskey, flags, and other trinkets near their graves left as tributes.

Legendary and taken from us much too soon. May the music and legacy live on forever. Keep the music alive and loud. I imagine Dimebag — and Vinnie — would have wanted it that way.

December 8 is also the date that John Lennon was murdered. What a tragic coincidence. Two legends taken from us on this day; years and musical genres apart. Whether you prefer The Beatles or Pantera or lie somewhere between, it’s tough to lose one of your idols. Losing an idol is one thing, but don’t forget that our idols are someone else’s father, husband, brother, son, and best friend. Their loss is much more significant than ours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s