Within the realm of metal, the late Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell is regarded as one of the best to have ever done it, providing meaty, chorus-drenched riffs from his demonic-looking Dean or Washburn models. One of the founding fathers of groove metal, without cuts such as ‘Cowboys from Hell’ and ‘Walk’, metal as a whole would be in a completely different environment than what it is today.
Dimebag Darrell was born Darrell Lance Abbott in Texas in 1966. He is the second son of Jerry Abbott, an esteemed country music producer who worked with the likes of Emmylou Harris and Freddy Fender, meaning that he grew up around high-quality musicians, setting a precedent for the status he would rise to in the future.
He learnt to play the guitar from the age of 12 and was greatly influenced by the likes of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Kiss. He was so captivated by the latter’s music that he regularly practised the instrument by standing in front of the mirror wearing makeup that emulated the style of the New York band.
Pantera formed in 1981 after Darrell’s older brother Vinnie joined the band on the proviso that Darrell would too. After a period of performing as a glam metal outfit – performing in makeup, hairspray, and spandex, as was customary for the era, and releasing three albums – Pantera recruited the menacing Philip Anselmo as their new frontman, which allowed them to develop a heavier, yet more refreshing sound, which first reared its head on 1988’s Power Metal.
From then on, the band would be one the main progenitors of the burgeoning groove metal genre, with their now-iconic 1990 record Cowboys from Hell, which was effectively a slowed-down dixie-thrash album, laying down many of the key foundations for the form to expand across the decade. Pantera then enjoyed what was their most fruitful and significant period, releasing the even more punishing records, 1992’s Vulgar Display of Power and 1994’s Far Beyond Driven.
The band’s flame quickly diminished as with anything that burns so bright. Band tensions reached exceptional levels, with much of this being attributed to Anselmo, whose addiction to heroin, alcohol, and painkillers led him to become isolated from the other members. By 2001, Pantera was no more, with each of them going in different artistic directions.
Notoriously, it was when he was performing in his post-Pantera group Damageplan, alongside brother Vinnie, that Dimebag was murdered in 2004. The heavy metal group were playing at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio, when Nathan Gale, a mentally ill fan, climbed onto the stage and shot Dimebag several times, killing the guitarist immediately.
While it is easy to remember Dimebag for his tragic death or that he is one of metal’s most significant axemen, we must not forget that he once made a very problematic remark.
Whilst everyone is entitled to their own opinion, with Dimebag’s political thoughts falling on the side of conservatism and the likes of George W. Bush, he also once polarised music fans when he used the N-word to describe a fan. The musician refused to sign a guitar unless this quote “N-word” fan proved he could actually play the guitar he wanted the metal legend to sign.
Seemingly, it’s a classic example of the dismissive, Antebellum type of racism that saw Black people as nothing more than subhuman. His voice is highly jarring, echoing the most famous racists from films such as Clayton Townley or Calvin Candie.
Recently, the footage of the moment has resurfaced, and it is extremely uncomfortable. Not only does it bring into question the way in which the late Dimebag is regarded, but it also seriously undermines the work of Pantera, which is already debatable given Philip Anselmo’s more than problematic history.