Daily ‘Bang: Ten Years Later, R.I.P. Dimebag Darrell

(Photo via Guitar World / Ross Halfin)

It wouldn’t feel right to describe this post as an edition of Monday Merriment. I couldn’t not set a post aside and acknowledge the tenth anniversary of Dimebag Darrell’s tragic, untimely death, but “merry” is about the farthest thing from an appropriate adjective to describe the horrible events at the Alrosa Villa nightclub in Columbus that day. I know there are others out there who’ll be more eloquent in paying their respects, and who’ll do so with a wealth of more metal knowledge than I possess. But even for a relative noob like me, Dime’s passing was one of those “where were you when?” moments, when everything about the moment you heard the news remains crystal clear in your head. As such, I had to write something. So here goes:

*     *     *

Ten years ago, I hadn’t even begun to come into my own as a metal fan. I was still relatively new to the genre, still barely scratching the surface of all it had to offer. (To give you an idea, my most anticipated album of the year was probably Megadeth’s comeback effort The System Has Failed — a good album, to be fair, but hardly a deep dive into the heavy stuff.) But of course I knew Pantera, thanks to both the mainstream success they’d achieved with Vulgar Display of Power and Far Beyond Driven — the latter of which had done well enough to get singles “I’m Broken” and “5 Minutes Alone” played on even my stupid local alternative radio station — and, well…simply to the fact that I was learning guitar, and you could rarely come across an issue of Guitar World or Guitar One without a column, lesson, or riff guide related to Dimebag Darrell.

Of course, that’s where any discussion of Dime should begin, because holy hell, could the guy rip the guitar to shreds. He was completely mesmerizing to a young player like me — from his devastatingly heavy, yet simultaneously groove-oriented riff writing, to his use of unorthodox (sometimes completely self-invented) scale patterns in his solos, and good lord, those harmonic squeals. I remember practicing some of his lead tricks for hours on end, never once coming close to duplicating them. I think the best I ever did was a passable imitation of the solo from “Walk,” albeit with a few goofs thrown in — and that was a struggle. Dime did it all, and he made it all look…not only so easy, but also like so much fun. I mean, let’s poll the audience here: has anyone ever seen a photo of Dime — whether a live shot, a promo image, or just a candid with friends or fellow musicians — where the dude wasn’t smiling and having an absolute blast? I don’t know that I have. Does one even exist?

And that’s just it: by all accounts that I’ve come across, Dime was one of the nicest, most fun-loving dudes in the world. Everyone in metal loved him, but even people outside the genre have spoken to his kindness. Take this Rolling Stone Q&A from just a few weeks back, where Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl described his experience meeting Dime at Ozzfest:

“We played, and I looked to the side. The guys from Pantera are watching us and singing the lyrics to our songs. Afterwards we made friends…that backstage hospitality we try to have — it all came from Pantera. Dimebag Darrell was the nicest fucking guy in the world. He could walk in and do a shot of Crown Royal with Justin Bieber, with Rick Nielsen, with James Brown — he was everybody’s best friend.”

I won’t try and say anything profound here, because I know if I do, it’ll end up sounding like a giant cliché. All I’ll say is that death sucks. It sucks even more when someone goes before their time. And it sucked even more than that when an all-around good dude like this went before his.

*     *     *

Thursday, December 9, 2004, was a rainy day in Annapolis, Maryland. I was a high school sophomore, and I remember having stayed late after school that afternoon to get some studying done in the library. My dad arrived to pick me up, and as I was fumbling to get my umbrella open before we walked back to the car, he asked me if I’d heard about “the heavy metal musician that got killed.” This being a time before Twitter, Facebook and other means of being constantly and involuntarily made aware of news happenings — and a day in which I hadn’t had time to browse the Rolling Stone or SPIN websites — I hadn’t.

“I’ve got a print-out of the news story in the car. It was some guy named Darrell Abbott?” My dad was nowhere near hip enough to have used a guy’s stage name.

We got into the car, and I read the story on the drive home. I read about how Damageplan had taken the stage at the Alrosa Villa, only to be charged less than five minutes later by a gunman whose name I won’t distinguish by repeating here. (You’re on the internet; you can look it up if you feel so inclined.) About how that gunman had shot and killed not only Dime, but also a member of the band’s security team, a club employee and an audience member. About how a Columbus police officer had then entered the club through the rear and taken down the gunman, who still had 35 rounds of ammunition left in his gun and could easily have done worse.

When we got home, I got through dinner without much of a word, then went upstairs, plugged in my guitar and played for a couple of hours. Not Pantera stuff…in fact, I don’t think I did anything other than made-up, improvised stuff on the spot. Heavy stuff, though — distortion cranked to 11, scooped mid-range EQs…getting as down and dirty with my mediocre PRS “student edition” guitar as I possibly could. It felt like the only thing to do at the time.

*     *     *

I was sort of dreading writing this post, because while I knew a bit about Dime at the time, so much of what I’ve come to appreciate about the guy happened after the fact. Would it really be appropriate for me to weigh in at length? I guess that’s up to you to decide.

All I know is this: I wasn’t around for Hendrix or Lennon, and wasn’t old enough to understand the significance of Freddie Mercury at the time of his passing; Dime’s was the first premature rock star death to really shake me in that moment. Since then, I’ve seen musical tastes come and go, metal tastes broaden, and my own personal dedication to the guitar rise and then fall quite dramatically (hey, it’s hard to set aside a couple of hours a day to practice when you’re 25 and music isn’t your full-time job), yet here I am, ten years later, and this thing still stings.

I think of this terrific (albeit completely fake) piece Vanity Fair did four years ago — catching up with a 70-year-old John Lennon from an alternate universe in which he’d survived his fatal gunshot wounds and carried on living and making music — and wonder what a similar alternate timeline would have been like with Dime. Would the oft-maligned Damageplan have eventually been able to win people over? Would Dime and Vinnie have buried the hatchet with Phil Anselmo and gotten Pantera back together? How would Dime at almost-50 view the metal landscape today?

So, how to wrap up this tribute? For me, the only fitting way is to look back at Dime doing what he loved, and what we loved him for: playing the hell out of his guitar. So here’s a video from 1984 of him doing just that:

Rest in peace, Dime.

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