December 8 marks the one-year anniversary of one of the most grim and bizarre tragedies in music history — the onstage shooting death of Pantera and Damageplan guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott. In the past year, friends and fans have talked at length about Dime's influence and spirit, but the man who knew him best — his brother and bandmate Vinnie Paul — has been largely silent. Recently, however, Vinnie sat down with MTV News' Robert Mancini for his first on-camera interview since losing his brother. He recalled a different side of a true metal giant, and helped to remember the talent and the kindness that was Dime as fans mark the anniversary of his death.
MTV: Let's start out by kind of going back and talking about making music with Dimebag. Do you remember the first time you guys actually got together in a room and made music together? You're the big brother, you're playing drums, he wants to play drums but he can't, so he picks up the guitar ...
Vinnie Paul: It was kind of the old Eddie and Alex Van Halen story. My dad got us a drum set. We both started playing, and I got better than Dime and just started hogging the drum set. He couldn't play it anymore, so he went to my dad and said, "I need a guitar, man. I want to play guitar. Vinnie's got the drums down." I used to walk by his room all the time and see him standing in front of the mirror, holding it, and then I'd come by and he'd have his Ace Frehley makeup on and he'd be standing there holding it. I walked by one day and I said, "Man, are you ever gonna learn how to play that thing?" He goes, "Yeah, man, I'll be over there next week." So I'm over there rocking out with my Kiss records and all this stuff, and he comes over and he goes, "You wanna jam?" and I said, "You know how to play that thing?" and he says, "Let's jam!" We kicked in and played "Smoke on the Water" for probably three or four hours, just that one riff and just over and over and it was like, "Yeah! This is what we want to do," and that's where it all started, man.
MTV: Did he continue to surprise you every time he came over?
Paul: Oh yeah. Once he started on the guitar, his life was dedicated to it. He never went anywhere without one. I was over at his house not too long ago, and I walked into the bathroom and I came out and I go, "Dude, you've got a guitar in there. What's that for?" And he goes, "Dude, that's where most of my kick-ass riffs come from. That's why my riffs are the sh--, man." He never forgets about that thing; it's always there, you know.
MTV: You guys had this fantastic creative partnership, yet a lot of siblings can't stand being in the same family, let alone being in a band with one another. What was unique about that bond, the chemistry that you guys had, that made this work?
Paul: We had a common goal, and it was to play music. We never had to compete with each other. It wasn't a thing where mom and dad are like, "Oh, why can't you be like Suzy, or why can't you get the same grades as Johnny?" It was like, we're both playing music, we're both in this together, and the only competition we ever really had was just to get as good as we could within ourselves with each other's instrument. Then when we started writing songs, we always pushed each other to another level. A lot of times I would be stumped for an idea to play drums, and he would go, "Hey, dude, why don't you do this?" or something like that, and he was really canny on picking up on my ideas. I would hear things in my head. I came up with the drumbeat like on "Primal Concrete Sledge," and I was like, "Man, I'm hearing this guitar that goes ..." (he makes guitar sounds) and he just started in on it, man. It was a magic chemistry that we had that, you know, we could just feed off of each other and it went back and forth, and it created some pretty tremendous music that was out there.
MTV: A lot of folks, the first image that they get of Dimebag is of this really open and good-natured guy who's always up for a party, but he really took music seriously too and was very much a student of his craft, right?
Paul: He was a perfectionist. I know because I was in the studio with him every record we made, I co-produced all the records with Terry Date. He was like, "Man, I've done a thousand bands and I've never seen anybody like your brother sit there and want to get the guitar as hot as it gets, take 20 leads and decide, 'You know what? All those suck. Let's start over and go again.' " He just was a perfectionist, and he was never afraid to experiment. That's something that always blew my mind. You know a lot of people learn certain places on the neck or certain things, and he was really great at accepting other people's ideas. He never said, "Naw, this is my way. This is the way I'm gonna do it." He'd say, "Aw, OK, let me try it, let me see if I could do it the way you're talking about." And a lot of magic came from that, you know, because he just was never afraid to try other things. He was never afraid of people making fun of him, and he wasn't afraid to fail. He would go for it, and if it didn't work, he was the first person that knew.
MTV: And what was it like on the road with him? What was a typical gig day?
Paul: He was a dude that made it like not being on the road. Every day that we were on the road it was something new that he wanted to do: pull a prank on the road crew, the tour manager, the band, whatever, just whatever it took to lighten things up and just make everybody laugh. One night he went and got this little Dracula — it had these wings, and it looked like it was flying. He made our road crew run about a 400-yard cable from the stage all the way to the back of the arena, and like halfway through the set we said, "Here he comes, Dracula!" And everybody turns around and there's this little Dracula sliding down across the arena, and we're all just standing up there dying laughing and the crowd's going, "What is it?" And we're like, "It's Dime. That's what it is, man."
MTV: That's what you hear so much about him — you hear a lot about that spirit and that energy. And it's so evident in the scope of the reaction to his death and the number of people who say he impacted them.
Paul: It was heartwarming to see all the people that really respected everything he did, all the people that he touched, in particular the bands that toured with us. So many of them learned to have a good time on the road from him and from our family and everything we did on the road, and he truly touched millions and millions and millions of people and he will continue to forever.
MTV: It's also remarkable how many fans he had direct interaction with, and how many people were connected to him that way. What was it like to see that on the road, to watch him with the fans?
Paul: He never turned a fan down. He knew the minute he came off that bus everybody expected the wild and crazy Dime that they saw in the videos, that they saw onstage, that they came to see, you know? I remember the night before this horrible stuff happened we played in Buffalo, New York, and me and Dime loved gambling. Anytime there was a casino, we wanted to go gamble. And we got on the bus after we did everything with the fans and everything and I said, "Hey, man, let's go to Niagara Falls. Let's go gambling." And he's like, "Man, I'm smoked. I've gotta go to bed. I just gotta rest up, we've got these last two shows. I'll catch you tomorrow." I'm like, "OK." So we take off, we go to the casino, we're having a blast and all that. About two hours later the bus comes to pick us up, and I hop on and there's Dime in the front lounging with seven or eight fans, and they're all doing shots. And I'm like, "I thought you were smoked, man, and going to bed." He goes, "I couldn't let these people down, man. They wanted to f---ing party, so I brought them on the bus." That's how he was, man, he never came first. He was exactly what people thought he was and then some.