I remember Dimebag as a warrior. He was not only an incredible guitar player and personality but also within the Pantera gang of band members and road crew, he was a very dynamic personality, always very demanding of everybody. And he had a magic way of showing you his appreciation.
The way he went out, using the word “murder” is always a stark, cold, hideous thing. None of this shit gets easier for me. It actually keeps getting tougher and tougher. For me, personally, I’ve yet to come to terms with it. I don’t see the sense. I don’t see the everything-happens-for-a-reason attitude. This year is the toughest yet.
But when I think about Dimebag, 99 percent of the time, it’s always the hilarious great times, and then one percent of the time it’s regrettable times, on my part. I think of Dime every day of my life. I’m a vivid dreamer and he’s in a lot of my dreams. When I dream about Dimebag, it’s always good times back when we used to travel in the blue van or his souped-up yellow Camaro, where he would just terrorize his little Arlington, Texas, neighborhood. He was just fucking hilarious, tearing into people’s lawns or smashing into fucking mailboxes. He was a fucking wild man.
The first time I ever laid eyes on Dimebag was in 1987 when I tried out for the band. I said, Jesus Christ, look at this skinny guy with this Afro playing guitar. His hair didn’t quite reach his shoulders, because he had this real long-ass neck, and it had this bounce to it. Later, I told him, “Dude, you look like a ruffled-up, fucking old Q-tip.” And he laughed.
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When I joined the band, he was going by “Diamond Darrell.” I was always in the process of morphing the band into what we eventually did become, by controlling the cassette deck and turning them guys onto early Mercyful Fate, Slayer and shit like that. After awhile, I was like, “This ‘Diamond’ shit ain’t gonna cut it anymore. Brother, you ought to change that shit to ‘Dimebag,'” and the look on his face was priceless, ’cause I could tell he loved it right off the bat. It just cracked his ass up and he went with it from there.
Dimebag was really a big advocate of all things fun. A lot of touring bands will tell you life on the road isn’t always a smooth operation. There’s hard times, there’s mishaps, and it ain’t always rosy and pretty; Dimebag was one of those guys that could make a not-so-perfect situation into something special and hilarious and actually fun.
I remember him doing that once toward the end of the Vulgar Display of Power tour. There was this cat who used to come out to shows in a certain town and he was a nice enough guy, but he wanted to hang out a little too much and kind of got on everybody’s nerves. The day we got to the town was one of those days where I rolled over on the wrong side of the bunk thinking the worst. I head to my dressing room, and there’s this huge, two-page letter from this guy that says, “For Phil.” The guy’s saying, “I hear you guys have some time off, so I’m planning on coming down to New Orleans and visiting your house. I’ve got your address, and I’m going to bring my wife with me and she’ll give you special favors.” And I’m going, “Motherfucker, man. This is a nightmare.” I’m furious. I’m beside myself all day long. And about an hour before the show, as usual, Dimebag kicks the door open on my dressing room with a couple shots of whisky in his hand: “Time to get going, motherfucker. Let’s go.” And he goes, “By the way, that letter, that was total bullshit. I wrote the whole fucking thing.” God damn it. I grabbed him and I said, “You motherfucker!” He had me wound up all fucking day long. It made the rest of the night a blast.
But there was another side to him. When it came to Pantera, he was deadly serious. But there was a tongue-in-cheek perfection depending on the mood of what we were writing. When I first joined the band, it felt like I was the “new guy” all the way through Vulgar Display of Power, with the Abbott brothers peeking over my shoulder, picking at my lyrics, which drove me bananas. I remember when we recorded “Cemetery Gates,” at the end of the song where I’m hitting the wailing high notes and he’s matching me with his whammy bar, that was competition – who can outdo who. And of course he’d hit this crazy high fucking note that there’s no way I could. It made him feel awesome for that five or 10 minutes, but later it was always, “Fucking great job, man.” When it came to Pantera, he was very particular, and when it came to pushing anyone, whether it be me, Rex or anyone, he could push you, but he was also a great motivator. And he was always working towards the best for whatever particular song we were working on. He’d get the best out of everybody.
“I want to leave his memory sacred.”
If he were still alive, I’d damn well know him, because of our love for each other. He was one of my best friends on this planet, and best friends – especially those with strong personalities and integrity – butt heads sometimes. But we always found a compromise. I know for a fact that we would’ve made more music together. There would’ve been more Pantera tours. There would’ve been more albums.
Then, when I think about it, the reality of his death collapses that entire pipe dream, and once again the heart is crushed.
I learned a lot of lessons from Dimebag. There was a time when I was going through a very tough period when it felt like my body was betraying me, and some days I would just have a shitty attitude and that would be my fucking mood for the day. Both Dimebag and our security guy, Big Val, came in one day and said, “You know, Phil, when you roll off that bus, you set the tone for the day with your actions.” From that I took a positive from it, and no matter how I’m fucking feeling these days, I make sure I poke my head in and say hello to the opening band, I say hello to the road crew, really just sort of to show a kinder side to myself. Dimebag taught me that making things easier for everyone around me is imperative.
His loss has made me work harder to do his memory justice. I want to leave his memory sacred and do the best that I can do, because I know that’s what he would’ve wanted: my best.
The old saying “there are no guarantees in life” – that’s very fucking true. Never take anything for granted. All I can tell his fans is to enjoy every second that you possibly can in this life, because there will be times when we will all be tested. The loss of a parent, the loss of a child. Somehow, we need to have the intestinal fortitude to move forward and make our loved ones proud.
Pantera fans are and always were the greatest. They are part of the family. And the songs that we wrote, those are their songs now. I just hope that everybody who is trying to find closure, just does the best they can every fucking day, because that’s the way Dimebag lived it. And that’s the way, honestly, he went as well. He was on that stage playing the fucking guitar.
This essay was originally published on December 8th, 2014.