The heavy metal world was in mourning this weekend due to the passing of drummer Vinnie Paul, who died in his sleep Friday night (June 22) from a massive heart attack. As a long time fan of the band, I’ve found myself unable to write just a few passing thoughts to pay tribute to Vinnie Paul. To me, this is a death that concludes one of heavy metal’s most wonderful and tragic stories. It is the end of a ride that many feel went irreparably off course fourteen years ago when we lost Dimebag Darrell, but in a way it is an ending that is not without a solemn resolution. Thousands of thoughts have filled my head over the last two days. To me this wasn’t just the end of Vinnie Paul’s life, but it was the somber end to the story of two brothers.
On the surface, Vinnie may not have seemed like the coolest guy in the band. Let me rephrase that; he wasn’t the kind of guy who appealed to every one in the metal community, especially after the bipolarization of Pantera fans in the 2000s. One could fairly assume Vinnie wasn’t hip to the most extreme forms of heavy metal like Phil Anselmo, he didn’t have the mystique of bass player Rex Brown, and all things considered nobody was as animated as Darrell was back in the day. However, Vinnie Paul was at the nucleus for Pantera from beginning to end, and perhaps what we can give to him is the acknowledgement that the man was a whole hell of a lot more than just a cowboy hat, drum sticks, and a can of beer.
It starts with Metal Magic, an album name that may be forgotten in the annals of time as a tacky, if not completely juvenile and simple, reflection of where this band began. 1983 was a ground breaking year for heavy metal. It was the year that Metallica released Kill ‘Em All. Bands like Anthrax, Metal Church, and Exodus were circulating demos and starting off the next phase of heavy metal takeover in the tightly knit underground scene. One band from Arlington, Texas was just going out to play and have fun with no reservations. Vinnie Abbott and younger brother Darrell were born with the luxury of a father who knew the music business quite well. Jerry Abbott had success as a country music singer, songwriter, and producer. His children picked up on the family talent and took off with it in their own direction as knock offs of their favorite 70s rock groups. After shuffling through the normal line up changes that come with any origin story, the Abbott brothers settled with co-founder Terry Glaze as vocalist and Rex Brown (then known as Rex Rocker) as their bass player. They called themselves Pantera, named after the Spanish word for panther, a slick name that rolled off of the tongue and stuck in the mind of anyone who would have heard it.
Pantera’s music in 1983 was a far cry from anything that would be heard by the band much later on. Let’s be candid, you probably know the story: Pantera played glam metal, and nothing was more repulsive in the ears of thrash metal’s elite than the ‘g word.’ However, despite their glam upbringings, Pantera manifested a sound that was nothing if not genuine. The Abbott brothers created the axis which would drive Pantera forward for two decades. Their desire to play music that was tight and powered by a never ending groove were the fires that forged Pantera’s legacy and took them to the Moon, even when it seemed like the Moon wasn’t a place that heavy metal bands could go to anymore during the 90s. Despite the fact that they were just kids writing campy pop ballads, they were performing at the top of their game, and the band found some legitimate success under their very own Metal Magic Records label. There are solos on those albums that are nothing you would expect to come out of an 18 year old kid, such as on this banger from Projects In The Jungle. Darrell was doing things that one would hear on a Dokken album despite being half George Lynch’s age. You know that these kids were musicians by nature and not just party animals trying to get laid with guitars and amps — although they were definitely all about that, too.
Vinnie Paul was as formidable behind the kit as his brother was with the axe. Vinnie exploited every part of his cherished drum set. His signature double kick and precise timing kept people hanging on to every beat. Many will tell you that there are few people in the industry who can play as hard as Vinnie did. Sure, there are people who played faster and maybe even far surpassed his technical bravado, but in regards to the amount of intensity delivered behind those drum sticks — Vinnie Abbott was the talk of the town. Pantera played clean and they stayed clean throughout their career. There was never a single weak link in that band, because of the band’s true brains, the man who learned from his father to plan every aspect of the group like a businessman with his eyes on the prize, Vinnie Paul. His father Jerry’s sacred knowledge of the inner workings in music helped to polish Vinnie’s own natural genius. Sure, people will say things about him that are less than agreeable, but I say you’re disingenuous if you don’t think this man was sharper than a Bowie knife and as keen as a west Texas hawk. Vinnie meticulously oversaw every aspect of Pantera from recording to production and management. He was involved in songwriting, wrote many lyrics, and had a say in everything in between. No one played in Pantera if they failed to meet his standards. Everyone had to keep up. When Pantera lifted their wings and became bigger than anything that could be managed under Jerry Abbott’s roof, Vinnie stayed at the helm as the band’s wisdom. You can still hear some of that simple Texas sage-like philosophy in some of his interviews if you find the time to go back and study them.
There are a lot of people in the metal scene who are adverse to change. Change can be a scary word and it may even provoke some of the scariest words in the metal community like trendy or poser. You might even think it is a cardinal sin to borrow ideas. It’s easy to find an excuse to hate a band like Pantera. They destroyed expectations and grew to heights that were larger than just about anyone outside of Metallica. The pop rock attitude that they were going for on Metal Magic and Projects In The Jungle began to change in 1985 with the release of their third album I Am The Night. Everyone knows that the band began to look edgier a few years later, but this was where you can hear it taking shape in the sound and technique of songs like “Down Below” and the title track “I Am The Night.” Darrell Abbott crossed paths with Metallica front man James Hetfield, and the story goes that the two desecrated an old wall of glam posters that Darrell had in his family home. It became clear that Diamond Darrell was no longer content to play soft cheesy shit, but the band wasn’t completely on board, so I Am The Night was released with only portions of what would become the evolutionary leap in Pantera’s next phase.
Creative differences unraveled in the band after I Am The Night, and Terry Glaze was promptly singled out as the man who needed to go. Whether it was a legitimate desire to grow up beyond the sugar coated gimmick, a smart business decision to follow the writing on the wal,l or a combination of the two, Vinnie Paul and Rex Rocker agreed with Darrell that the next Pantera album had to be different. Several vocalists failed and fell through the cracks after Terry’s departure. Diamond Darrell even gave the mic a crack during the band’s brief attempt as a three piece. Once you listen to “P.S.T. ‘88,” you’ll easily see why that didn’t work out. Pantera needed someone who walked through life like he felt invincible, someone who knew music as well as they did, and, more importantly, someone who could sound like Rob Halford. Enter vocalist for the New Orleans heavy metal sleaze outfit Razor White, Phil Anselmo, a man whose pipes could go places that few would believe if they heard him now. Anselmo was perfectly adequate to meet the standards of Pantera. His intensity and passion helped to cultivate a cult of personality which still follows him today, even after decades of controversy. On stage that energy was explosive and unrivaled in tangibility. Pantera clicked and Power Metal was released as the band’s first serious attempt to upstage themselves. A PR from Atco records stumbled into a Pantera show and the rest was history. However, despite the brutal riffs, face shredding guitar solos, and the monster of grooves that brought fans along for the ride, Pantera were able to sense that they were still carrying baggage that would not fly into the next decade. Wherever they discovered the true formula to success, whether it was on a tour with Exhorder (Exhorder’s very own Kyle Thomas has a rebuttal to this theory and remains close friends with Anselmo to this day) or, as Phil Anselmo tells it, from some advice taken from Kerry King, Pantera lifted out of the maelstrom of heavy metal fashion’s decay.
Pantera’s golden years can be experienced on any one of their memorable home video releases. The decade of their success between 1990 when Cowboys From Hell came out on Atco Records to March 21, 2000 when the band would release their unexpected swansong Reinventing The Steel is a story that is simply too large for anyone to have missed. No one in heavy metal, not even Metallica, had released a chart topping Billboard #1 album as Pantera did in 1994 with the brutally heavy Far Beyond Driven. The Arlington band that operated under dad’s roof in the 80s went on to sell out arenas from Lowell, Massachusetts to Tokyo, Japan. The Abbott brothers lived a life that was almost as large as heavy metal itself.
I find it difficult to presume that somehow there isn’t a glimmer of silver lining that can be read in Vinnie Paul’s loss. However a person continues when the body dies, whether its as a spirit in the halls of some mythical realm or merely as an imprint on our memories and thoughts, the storied lives of the Abbott brothers has now concluded in this world. Vinnie is now reunited with Darrell. The Abbott brothers cruised through their flesh vessels as undisputed masters of party rock, and gave it their all in everything that they did to explode into the monolithic heavy metal success story that Pantera became. Vinnie died the death that his brother should have, and a death that we would all hope to one day have the benefit of. Doctors agree with the common consensus that dying in your sleep is pretty much the way to go. So that’s how Vinnie left us – in his dreams, which may not be too far from the way he lived.
Vincent Paul Abbott
3/11/1964 – 6/22/2018
Darrell Lance Abbott
8/20/1966 – 12/8/2004