On a cold December night in 2004, Dimebag Darrell, well known for being the fretboard wizard of Pantera, hit the stage in Columbus, Ohio with his new band, Damageplan, for what would unknowingly be his last performance. Damageplan were starting the opening to one of their songs when suddenly, a man rushed the stage with a gun, shooting and killing Darrell. As if that wasn't tragic enough, the event was witnessed by Damageplan/Pantera drummer and older brother of Darrell, Vinnie Paul. Darrell is remembered today by friends and fans alike as a guitar legend and an all-around friendly person.
Life and career
Credit: Pinterest| Darrell Abbott (left) and Vincent Abbott (right) when they were teens
Credit: Louder Sound| Vincent Abbott (left) and Darrell Abbott (right) as adults
Dimebag Darrell was born on August 20th, 1966, under the real name of Darrell Lance Abbott to Carolyn Abbott and country music songwriter and producer Jerry Abbott. Two years prior, Darrell's older brother, Vincent "Vinnie Paul" Abbott, was brought into this world on March 11th.
Because of their father's background, music was a big part of the Abbott brothers' younger years. When he was 14, Darrell started out playing the drums alongside Vincent. However, Vincent became better at the drums and subsequently stopped letting his little brother play them. From that point on, Darrell picked up the guitar and made it his instrument of choice. Shortly after, he enrolled in a guitar contest that was held at the Agora nightclub in Dallas, Texas. Darrell managed to impress the judges at the contest, including Dean Guitars founder Dean Zelinsky, who had this to say:
“From the minute I first met him and heard him play, I just knew there was something different and special about him. I later found out from Jimmy Wallace, who worked at Arnold-Morgan Music in Dallas at the time, that Darrell won every guitar contest they had. He won a lot of other guitars, but the Dean guitars were the only ones he kept.” - Dean Zelinsky
Darrell and Vinnie went on to form Pantera in 1981 with rhythm guitarist Terry Glaze and were joined by Donny Hart on vocals and Tommy D. Bradford on bass. A year later, Hart and Bradford left, with Rex Brown replacing Bradford on bass and Glaze assuming vocal duties. In 1983, Pantera released their debut album, Metal Magic, which had more of a glam metal sound as opposed to their better known '90s albums.
After two more albums, Projects in the Jungle and I Am the Night, Terry Glaze left the band in 1986. Taking Glaze's place was New Orleans native Phil Anselmo, who debuted on Pantera's fourth album, Power Metal, which has more of a traditional metal vibe as opposed to their last three releases. After attending one of their concerts in Texas, Atco A & R rep Mark Ross helped the band land a major record deal, which led their 1990 major label debut, Cowboys From Hell.
Cowboys From Hell was the first album of Pantera's to chart on the Billboard Top Heatseekers, peaking at #27 in 1992. That same year. Cowboys was followed up by Vulgar Display of Power, which would go on to receive double platinum status in 2004. Two years later, Pantera would achieve the number one spot on the Billboard 200 with their 7th album overall, Far Beyond Driven. This is kinda surprising when you listen to how heavy this album is. After two more albums, The Great Southern Trendkill and Reinventing The Steel, Pantera would go on a hiatus in 2001 and end up disbanding all together in 2003 due to communication issues with Phil Anselmo.
After Pantera, Darrell and Vinnie would go on to form another band, Damageplan, that same year. The guys recruited Pat Lachman on vocals and Bob Kakaha, also known as Bob Zilla, on bass. One year later, Damageplan would drop their one and only album, New Found Power. Unfortunately, this album would not perform as well as Pantera's albums did, only debuting at No. 38 on the Billboard 200 and selling 44,000 copies its first week.
Aside from Damageplan, Darrell, Vinnie, and Rex recorded a country metal album with famed outlaw country singer David Allan Coe titled Rebel Meets Rebel. Damageplan would go on to tour nightclubs across the country in support of the album.
However, the tour would come to a tragic end on the night of December 8, 2004.
A damaging end
It was a cold, 40 degree night on Wednesday, December 8, 2004. Darrell and his boys in Damageplan were set to play at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio. Unbeknownst to them, there was someone waiting for them - one Nathan Gale. Gale was in his car waiting in the parking lot for hours, even being asked three times by security to move his vehicle so that traffic could get through. After a few hours of waiting, Gale got out of his car and started pacing.
Credit: CBS News| A picture of Nathan Gale when he played football
He also hung around the tour bus checking to see if Darrell and Vinnie were on board. Gale was initially brushed off by the massive security chief of Damageplan, Jeffrey "Mayhem" Thompson. Later, he checked again to see if the brothers were on the bus, this time asking Aaron Barns, the sound man for Damageplan. Barns told him that the brothers were already inside, which led to Gale turning and running towards the Alrosa Villa. As Gale was running towards the club, he came across a high wooden fence that blocked a patio on the side. Gale hopped up, grabbed a hold of the top of the fence, and climbed over it.
Gale then ran towards the side door, followed by a parking lot security guard, Mitch Carpenter, who witnessed Gale climbing over the fence. Damageplan was opening with their song "Breathing New Life" when Gale entered the building, pushing past audience members and club workers while continuing to be trailed by Carpenter and another bouncer. After making it past the obstacles of crowd members and club workers, Gale jogged up the steps leading to the carpeted seating section that was located by a sunken mosh pit and disappeared behind the towering main speakers at the front of the stage. Initially, he was thought by workers, including 19-year-old club assistant Emili Lewis, to be an audience member who wanted to stage dive and surf the waves of the crowd.
“My first reaction was, ‘OK, he’s just a kid who’s gonna crowd-surf, Then I remember seeing him come right in front of the drum riser.” - Emili Lewis
After emerging from a wall of amplifiers, Gale walked behind Bob Zilla and Pat Lachman. Then, he walked up behind Darrell and shot him five times with his 9 mm Beretta semiautomatic at point-blank range. The last bullet pierced through Darrell's skull, leading him to a sad demise. Darrell fell to the floor atop his guitar, with the loud, screeching sound of guitar feedback filling the nightclub.
After changing clips, Gale fired upon his next two targets, Jeffrey "Mayhem" Thompson and club security guard Erin "Stoney" Halk, killing them both as they were charging at him. Chris Paluska, Damageplan's tour manager, and drum tech, John "Kat" Brooks, attempted to subdue Gale, only for the both of them to get shot at (Thankfully, it wasn't fatal). Fourth to go was Nathan Bray, who was shot trying to revive Darrell with CPR. As all the carnage was going on, fans and bouncers rushed the stage trying to help Darrell and stop Gale. One of these stage rushers was none other than UFC fighter Matt Brown.
"We rushed the stage – 'Come on, let's get this dude.' About that time a security guard knocked me over and a guy started shooting everyone in the crowd. I started to run away; there was a big pillar and I got behind it." - Matt Brown
Brown then thought about trying to at least stand and face Gale. While that thought was going through his head, he witnessed someone else get shot by Gale.
Next thing he knew, someone finally came to save the night.
"It can't be as fast as it happened in my mind, but I remember looking over and at the back door was the off-duty cop with a shotgun, and he shot the guy." - Matt Brown
That off-duty cop was Officer James D. Niggemeyer, who shot Gale in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun. Right before his much deserved demise, Gale took John "Kat" Brooks hostage and attempted to use him as a human shield. Officer Niggemeyer saved many lives that night with his lucky shot.
A short news report about Dimebag Darrell's murder
On December 14th, 2004, Darrell's memorial service was held at the Arlington Convention Center in Arlington, Texas. One of the attendees was Black Label Society, Ozzy Osbourne, and Pantera "reunion" guitarist, Zakk Wylde, who was very close friends with Darrell.
Credit: Metal Wani| Zakk Wylde (left) and Dimebag Darrell (Right)
"A whole part of my life is gone" - Zakk Wylde
Also in attendance was Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell, Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares, Grim Reaper guitarist Nick Bowcott, Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor, and many others.
"If somebody can jump onstage with a gun and shoot one of the most influential guitarists of my generation, what's next? If this is allowed to happen, what the hell? What does that say? Just that somebody would think this was a good idea in his own insane world, what does that say about where we're at right now? It's definitely given me pause. I'm an entertainer as well as a musician, so I have to look at this and think not only has one of my really good friends died, but what if that had been me?" - Corey Taylor
However, not in attendance was at-the-time former vocalist Phil Anselmo. Anselmo was barred from attending the memorial due to his feud with Darrell at the time. Anselmo shared his feelings in a 2004 Metal Hammer interview about Darrell. "So physically, of course, he deserves to be beaten severely". This has led to accusations that Anselmo's dispute with Darrell inspired Nathan Gale to commit the shooting. However, this theory has been dismissed by authorities investigating the murder, as they did not find any CD's or magazines connected with Anselmo, Pantera, or Damageplan. This theory has also been questioned by Phil and Darrell's bandmate, Rex Brown.
"[Vinnie] would not have anything to do with Phil — period. He thought that that was the reason his brother was dead. I disagree with that. I think this was a nut that had already been out there planning and premeditating whatever move he was gonna make." - Rex Brown
Not to mention, according to Gale's former friend, Mark Break, Gale used to act like he was petting an imaginary dog, and at one point, claimed that God told him to kill Marilyn Manson.
Despite his inability to appear at the memorial, Anselmo recorded an emotional video statement regarding Darrell's death.
Two nights after Darrell was slaughtered, Megadeth frontman and rhythm guitarist Dave Mustaine hosted an episode of MTV's Headbangers Ball dedicated to him.
Aesthetics of hate
At some point after Darrell's death, an article was published on the conservative news site The Iconoclast entitled "Aesthetics of Hate: R.I.P. Dimebag Abbott, & Good Riddance." The article was written by William Grim and basically trashed Dimebag Darrell and metalhead in general.
"It was highly amusing, and also terribly sad, to watch on television fans conducting a “vigil” for the slain Mr. Abbott outside of the Alrosa Villa. It was an assemblage of ignorant, semi-human barbarians who were filthy in attire and manner, intellectually incoherent and above all else, hideously ugly to the point of physical deformity. Here is a definite case in which the outer appearance of these “fans” accurately represented the hideousness of their souls. That the physical deformity of their ugliness was self-inflicted makes the spiritual tragedy of their misspent lives all the more tragic."- William Grim
"But one can see why the heavy metal fans so closely identified with Mr. Abbott. He was an ignorant, barbaric, untalented possessor of a guitar and large amplifier system. Freakish in appearance, more simian than human, he was the performer of a type of “entertainment” that can be likened only to a gorilla on PCP. Lacking subtlety, wit, style, emotional range and anything approaching even the smallest iota of intellectual or musical interest, Mr. Abbott was part of a generation that has confused sputum with art and involuntary reflex actions with emotion. De gustibus non disputandem est. Matters of taste are not subject to argument." - William Grim
In response to this article, Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn issued a statement in response. He talked about the good memories he had with Darrell and, in general, clapped back against William Grim.
"What would YOU know about love or values? What would YOU know about giving to the world? All that you know is teaching prejudice, and your heart is as black as the “ignorant, filthy, and hideously ugly, Heavy Metal fans” you try and paint in your twisted, fictitious ramblings. It’s because of people like YOU, that there are Nathan Gale’s in this world, NOT the Dimebags and Metal musicians who work to unite people through music." - Robb Flynn
Flynn even wrote a diss track against Grim on Machine Head's sixth album, The Blackening, titled "Aesthetics of Hate". This tune is a banger if I do say so myself.
Outside of William Grim, there are plenty of people, especially those in the metal scene, who have almost nothing but good things to say about Darrell, his personality, and his playing skills.
Jason Newsted, former bassist for Metallica, recalled an instance at a Pantera concert where they made him come up on stage to perform:
“I come up and I’m in my casual clothes, and we played ‘Whiplash’ and ‘Four Horsemen’ or something — two songs off Metallica’s ‘Kill Em All.’ [Frontman] Phil [Anselmo] played guitar on one, and Darrell sang — they swapped. I just remember getting in front of his amps and having my hair peeled back. F*** man, I’ve played with Metallica on stage for 15 years and it’s loud. But in front of Darrell’s amps, Darrell was loud as f***! That was a very special moment.” - Jason Newsted
Charlie Benante, Anthrax and Pantera "reunion" drummer, remembers Darrell as someone who never had a dull moment and would treat fans that met him as if they were lifelong friends.
“Even when people would meet him for the first time, he would make them feel like they knew him forever. He would make sure that the experience was a memorable one.” - Charlie Benante
In a short interview with Loudwire, Korn frontman Jonathan Davis recalled how Darrell and Vinnie would go to his band's shows anytime they played in Dallas, Texas. He also spoke about how Darrell would get on to Korn's guitarists, Brian "Head" Welch and James "Munky" Shaffer, for not playing guitar solos and said that Korn wouldn't exist without him.
"He's one of the greatest guitar players ever. I mean if there was no Dimebag Darrell, there would be no Korn." - Jonathan Davis
Lamb of God axeman Mark Morton has also spoken about the influence that Darrell had on his band:
"Dime's music was a huge influence on me personally and on Lamb of God as a whole. As a guitar player, he was a true innovator. His sound tone and style shaped modern metal and his riffs are constantly referenced by nearly every band in metal, including my own. Only recently did I have the pleasure of hanging out with him on a personal level, and he was as genuine and down to earth as anyone you would ever meet. This is a huge loss to the music world." - Mark Morton
Even Metallica frontman and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield was inspired by Darrell.
"Dimebag introduced me to the solid-state amp I remember. He had this freaking amazing crunch going on and I was like 'what is that' you know. So yeah, we inspired each other. He inspired me as well. No doubt." - James Hetfield
Credit: Reddit| A picture from when James Hetfield (left) met Dimebag Darrell (right)
Without Dimebag Darrell's influence and legacy, modern metal wouldn't be where it is today.