“We just like to play fuckin’ powerful, hard-edged music”: Dimebag Darrell on Pantera’s aggressive style

From the archives, an interview with one of the most explosive heavy metal guitarists to have ever walked the earth.

Dimebag Darrell

Image: Martyn Goodacre / Getty Images

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This interview was originally published in 2000.

Lurking somewhere underneath Pantera’s grizzled, gnarly exterior and behind its rampaging brand of rock ’n’ roll is a dogged work ethic. It’s what fuels the relentless touring, charges the brutally intense music, and gives the Texas quartet its unabashedly boasting bite. And the pay-off has been huge: four platinum albums, a gold live album, routinely sold-out shows, two Grammy nominations and the rabid loyalty of its fans.

In the four years since Pantera released The Great Southern Trendkill, the fearsome foursome pillaged its way through its own series of tours, a season of Ozz-Fests in 1997, a Black Sabbath reunion, the South American leg of the Kiss reunion and dates with Metallica in South America. Frontman Phil Anselmo has contributed vocals to the upcoming Tony Iommi album while guitarist Dimebag Darrell is gearing up to take part in a forthcoming Randy Rhoads tribute album. And somewhere in the mix, Anselmo, Dimebag, his brother drummer Vinnie Paul and bassist Rex managed to write and record Reinventing the Steel, yet another smoldering, menacing and precise slab of metal, Pantera-style.

Sometimes it’s hard to catch, but behind all of Dimebag’s Yosemite Sam-style bluster is a driven player, and he preaches the gospel of his band and his instrument with equal fervour.

How does your new record differ from The Great Southern Trendkill?

“Listen to the title. Re-inventing the Steel.”

What kind of re-invention are we talking about?

“You’ll have to use your ears and check it out. Get some Ben-Gay along your neck and shit, and watch that motherfucker burn.”

Was it an easy record to make?

“Yeah, I’d have to say it was an easy record to make cause when we get together and we start drinkin’ and start doin’ our thing and the fire is lit, we go! We don’t spend a whole bunch of time writing songs. We’ve got ideas and shit when we crank up, but they just come together quick, and we do our deal and the song is written. Once we’ve got a riff, we can pretty much put it together right there on the spot. We learned a long time ago that when you get tangled up on a part trying to make it fit, obviously something’s wrong because all the best songs we’ve ever written came together pretty damn quick.”

So once the idea is out, it’s a song?

“Pretty much. But then we do spend some time goin’ back and doing the extra tracks and the sound stuff. I’d say the toughest shit is making it come across like you really want it to sound, and I think this is the most dominant sounding record we’ve ever done. It’s got a little bit that hell-raising youth from Cowboys From Hell. It’s got the classic vibe of Vulgar Display Of Power, It’s got the hard edge from Far Beyond Driven. It’s got the depth of Great Southern Trend Kill. And then on top of it all there’s a lot of new stuff that’s gonna make people go, ‘Hey man, how do they keep putting out over-the-top records?'”

How do you keep putting out over the top records?

“We just do it. We feel it, man. Most bands don’t make it past two records. Here we are at number five, with a live record on top of it. Stronger than a motherfucker Re-inventing The Steel, man.”

Pantera’s music is so aggressive – do you ever worry that one day you’ll wake feeling well-adjusted and lose your inspiration? Or does all that energy come from somewhere else?

“It’s the power of it, man. We’ve got a song on our record called Goddamn Electric and that is the fuckin’ feeling we get when we’re on stage, boozed up, got a full house, everybody slammin’ to the grooves. It’s fuckin’ goddamn electrifying. It’s the same feelin’ I get when I’m driving in my fuckin’ car with my stereo on ten, rippin’ Slayer or something that kills, you know? It’s not about how mad I am at the world. I’m a happy motherfucker! Shit’s good, you know? We just like to play fuckin’ powerful, hard-edged music. It is a rush, man.”

You have a broader perspective of playing that a lot of people might expect. Like learning to play everything – leads, riffs, solos etc. – and knowing about the recording process.

“It’s something I’m fuckin’ intrigued by, man. I think the studio aspect came from watching my dad turn the knobs and dude, truthfully, if you know how to turn knobs in the studio, then your guitar is going to come out like you want it to sound. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of whoever’s running the damn thing cause they can do whatever the fuck they want to it. Make it sound good to their ears. It pays to be on top of your game, man, and know the in’s and out’s of all that shit and how it works.

“My brother [drummer Vinnie Paul] is real educated about sound stuff, and me and him did the whole [new] record down in my studio right behind my house. The disadvantage of not knowin’ your shit is havin’ to get in your car and drive an hour or fly someplace and stay in a hotel and go to some studio that costs you thousands of dollars a day. You’re under the gun. It’s not as comfortable as bein’ up in your house, playing pool, shootin’ whiskey, laughin’ and then goin’ “Okay, it’s time to go to work” – walkin’ ten steps out your back door, gettin’ into your own box and goin’ to work. That’s how it works for us.”

Dimebag Darrell
Image: Mick Hutson / Redferns

Is there music you’d like to explore that you don’t feel is appropriate for Pantera?

“I’ve had a four-track since 1984, and I probably have like 5,000 pieces of music I’ve written on four-tracks and eight-tracks throughout my life. I carry it on the road with me and no, it’s not always ball-bustin’, edgy and fuckin’ face-rippin’ Pantera riff stuff, although that is the majority of the stuff that comes outta me. That’s what I’m really driven by, but say I’m gonna go to sleep, man.

“I put on some fuckin’ Kings X or Jellyfish or somethin’ that’ll chill me out. Say I just want to get drunk and hell-bent – I put on some fuckin’ David Allan Coe or Merle Haggard. So it’s not all just one thing for me. For shit that happens to me in every day life there’s always a four-track. I have a rule around my friends. They’ll start fuckin’ with me about somethin’ or somethin’ll get fucked up and I’ll look at em’ and I’ll go, “Ya’ll dont make me get the four-track out!” You never know – I may release [that stuff some day]. I’ll call it Dimebag: King of the Four-Track, and it will be a mind boggler.”

Does your dad still play? He’s a guitarist right?

“Yeah. He plays everything, basically. He’s done bands his whole life and then he got into doin’ recording and doin’ sessions and he plays on people’s stuff all the time. He actually got a Grammy for playin’ piano on this country tune [Same Old Train from the album Tribute To Tradition] in the last year, and he’s moved to Nashville. That’s his love – country and western – and he’s got his own studio called Abtrax there in Nashville, Tennessee, and he’s just kickin’ ass, man.”

In the past few years there’s been a revolution in percussive rhythm guitar playing. Any opinion on this new approach to guitar playing?

“Little cheap easy-ass shit to play. They play fuckin’ seven-string guitars and they can’t even play four fuckin’ strings on the thang. Dude, I come from the old-school and I don’t care who it pisses off because I’m into playin’ every motherfuckin string on the thing, grabbin’ the whammy bar, bendin’ high notes, grabbin’ squeals, – usin’ the motherfucker, dude.

“It’s not about wearin’ baggy fuckin’ pants and jumpin’ around with a seven-string guitar when you can’t use nothin but your first finger and you’re tuned to an open chord. Hey man, all the power and all the fuckin’ pats on the back for all the success that anybody’s had with it, but let me tell you, brother, I don’t know how it’s gonna last. There’s a lot more to it than that, man. I’m into full meal deal guitar playin’ and we’re the men to step up to the plate and give it to ya 100 percent pure.”

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