Dimebag Darrell in 2004 (photo: Scott Gries/Getty Images)
Nearly every metal fan over the age of 30 can remember exactly where he or she was when Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed onstage at the Alrosa Villa nightclub in Columbus, Ohio. It’s one of those horror stories that gets etched irreparably into the memory as vividly as a political assassination or a tragedy like the recent suicide of Robin Williams.
It’s hard to believe that on Dec. 8, a full decade will have passed since Dimebag (real name: Darrell Abbott) and three other people were shot and murdered by a former Marine about 90 seconds into the first song of Damageplan’s set.
Various individuals and organizations across the globe have scheduled events in December to commemorate the life of Dime, one of the most charismatic and virtuosic performers in the history of metal. Magazines including Guitar World in the U.S. and Metal Hammer in the U.K. have put together special issues to honor the guitar legend. One person who won’t be publicly commemorating the legacy of Dimebag Darrell, however, is his former Pantera bandmate, vocalist Phil Anselmo, whose current group Down will be playing the Fillmore in San Francisco that night.
"There is no f—-ing way on this planet Earth that I am going to celebrate the death of one of my best friends and my guitar player in Pantera," Anselmo tells Yahoo. "I won’t do any Pantera songs or anything like that. Like every night, I’ll send out a song to Dimebag. I always send out the song ‘Lifer’ because if there was ever a lifer in heavy metal music — someone who lived it and breathed it and forged it every single day — it was him. He is the epitome of a lifer whether he is in the tomb or not."
For Anselmo, there’s no specific significance to the 10th anniversary of Darrell’s death. It’s just a reminder that the man he played with partied with and lived with between 1986 and 2003 is still gone. And when he thinks about it, he remembers the ugly way the band broke up and how the situation might have been different.
"Every year gets harder," Anselmo says in a grave tone. "I look at what’s out there in heavy metal and I think about what could have been. Really, it gets tougher every single f—-ing year. This is an evil time of year for me. It’s rough, man. When you think of the madcap f—-ing way he was taken from us, I don’t think any of us in the band can really come to f—-ing terms with it. The murder made no sense, the reasoning made no sense, and because it was done by a sick f—-ing person that had nothing to do with us except help seal the fate of the story and create this gigantic gulf of so many questions, it’s just confounding and miserable."
It’s no secret that Dimebag Darrell’s partying lifestyle was as heavy as the riffs he wrote. He even concocted and named a beverage that many rock clubs serve by name, the Black Tooth Grin, a shot of Crown Royal with a splash of Coke.
"I often wonder where his alcoholism would have led him and where his health would be if he hadn’t been taken from us," Anselmo says. "I think if his health was at stake to the extent that it would have taken his guitar playing away from him, that motherf—-er would have gone bone sober tomorrow. Everyone knows him as that crazy, whiskey-drinking guitar player from Pantera, but I think that guitar came first for him. He did not start playing guitar to get to whiskey, just like I didn’t start playing heavy metal music to get to drugs."
When it comes to Pantera, the big question is one that may never be answered, regardless of events that lead speculation in one direction or another: Will there ever be a Pantera reunion? The band’s drummer and Dimebag’s brother, Vinnie Paul, hasn’t spoken to Anselmo in more than a decade and more recently has cut off communication with Pantera bassist Rex Brown (Kill Devil Hill, ex-Down). Meanwhile, Anselmo and Brown have performed Pantera songs with Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde on several occasions. In addition, Wylde has said in interviews that he’d be proud to stand in for Dimebag in a Pantera reunion, should Paul have a change of heart. Anselmo, too, would love to do full sets of Pantera songs again, but remains somewhat ambivalent about calling it a “reunion.”
"I have very mixed feelings about a Pantera reunion," he says. "First and foremost, there’s been no cooperation from Vince to interact with myself or Rex. That’s his decision and something we have to live with, and that’s fine. But I know that there is a whole new audience that has been turned on to Pantera by their parents, older brothers, big sisters, and older friends. Those people never got a chance to see Pantera and would love to have that chance. Rex and I are the type that love to give the people what they want."
Even if Vinnie Paul were to extend an olive branch to his former bandmates and agree to tour with them, Anselmo says he doesn’t know if he’d be comfortable calling the group Pantera. “Is it really a Pantera reunion without Dimebag?” he says. “That’s something that confounds the whole process, aside from Vince. So right now, for me, just getting up there and doing those songs is really something I enjoy for the moment, and something I enjoy in front of an audience. Everyone’s singing along and jamming the songs — those songs we wrote — all the anthems. That’s the public’s stuff. Those are their songs as well as our songs. So, to get up and jam them is always a pleasure, but anyone who might be clamoring for a Pantera might be engaging in wishful thinking.”
Anselmo, Brown, and Wylde last performed Pantera songs with the supergroup cover band Metal Allegiance during the Motörhead Motorboat Cruise Sept. 23. They had previously taken the stage at a Black Label Society show May 23 to perform Pantera’s “I’m Broken.”
"There are no plans right now to do any more jams with Rex and Zakk, but if it happens it all boils down to circumstance," Anselmo says. "The thing is, I don’t know where I would be where everybody else would be in the same place in order to get this done. So I’m just gonna roll with the punches, and if it comes along I have no qualms about jamming the songs with my brothers. If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t."