Featured Music: Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Darrell Lance Abbott: 1966-2004.
Heaven Just Got Heavier

Remembering Metroplex metal star Dimebag Darrell, a.k.a. Darrell Lance Abbott


You don’t have to listen to more than the gentle, reflective acoustic passages of Pantera’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” to really see into the beautiful soul of guitarist Dimebag Darrell — touching and pure. This piece of music comes close to representing exactly what the local metal god was, a monster on the guitar and a giant of a human being. Yeah, you can bet that non-metalheads are rolling their eyes at the unfortunate passing of a guy nicknamed “Dimebag,” but screw those jerks. Darrell Lance Abbott was both a brilliant musician and a warm-hearted, amazing human being, and if any musician ever warranted a tear-stained obituary, it’s him.

It’s easy to get lost in the mind-bending heaviness that Abbott brought to his instrument and music, but beneath all of that power lay a spirit that was driven by passion, a smoldering desire to just make music. And it didn’t matter which style he attacked — whether he was bringing extreme metal to the national mainstream via both Pantera and Damageplan, tearing up sawdust joints with country-rocker David Allen Coe, or giving a Top-40 rock band like Nickelback a hand with his textbook metallic crunch. It didn’t seem to matter to him what he played or whom he played it for. What mattered was that good music was being made and his gift was being delivered. And what a talent it was and will continue to be — a tone so crisp and muscular that it created its own parameters and a groove so distinctive that once the play button was activated and your speakers began breathing in and out, you knew from the get-go who was playing. Uniqueness, after all, is the mark of a true legend: Jimi had it. Randy had it. Stevie Ray had it. Iommi has it. Eddie V. has it. And Abbott had it in spades. From the opening lick of “Cowboys from Hell” to the stop/start of ‘This Love” to the solemn beauty of “Cemetery Gates,” his approach to melody and structure is unsurpassed in heavy music. Everything was made possible by one easy-to-follow idea — keep the sound heavy but give it a groove that people can understand. If there was one thing that separated Abbott and his bands from their metal brethren, it was that.

Locals who experienced any of the countless glorious and riotous nights at Joe’s Garage, The Basement, and Dallas City Limits and later at Fair Park Coliseum and the Smirnoff Centre, know that Abbott — no matter the size of the venue — was always about the music and, more importantly, the fans. There are thousands of stories about late-night bar-crushing escapades with Abbott, his crew, and random fans whom Abbott would invite along. Didn’t matter who or what you were — rock star, day laborer, family man. If you were cool with Abbott, he was cool with you. Like his band’s unique music, his egalitarian nature made him different; he was, in fact, more gracious than any marquee musician you’ve probably ever met. His brother Vinnie Paul recently wrote — accurately — that “Dimebag had a heart the size of Texas.”

The dynamic between the brothers meant a lot to Abbott. The globe’s flooded with sibling bands, but few seem to have the connection that these two shared, a bond forged by a deep, salt-of-the-earth zeal for creating and loving music.

VH1’s special on the top 100 hard rock bands of all time, which aired last year, featured numerous comments from current and classic rock stars, giving their opinions on why this or that band was so great and what relevance said band had in rock and metal. One of the highlights was when Abbott and Paul had their say. Their take on Van Halen and KISS was not only full of pure street-kid enthusiasm, but it gave the viewer a true look into their total lack of pretentiousness and straight-up honesty. “Van Halen,” said Abbott. “Guitars, guitars, guitars, and the most bad-ass frontman of all-time.”

This snippet — and others like it, from various guitar and metal mags — gives music fans a look into Abbott’s mind, a playground of recklessness, pride, commitment, fun, and down-to-earth sincerity.

Of course, your ultimate view into the world of not only Abbott but Paul and the entire world that surrounded them can be found on the DVD 3: Watch It Go, a home video/concert/hi-jinks reel that was Jackass way before Jackass was born. It just screams southern-fried mayhem. One viewing will leave you wondering how in the hell they did what they did and why you weren’t there. The carnage of furniture, booze, weed, managers’ fragile egos, and Guy Sykes sunglasses are now the stuff of legend, along with a healthy dose of Texas-bred fire-breathing rock ’n’ roll with Abbott as ringleader.

The respect recently paid to him as a guitarist and songwriter by his peers is gigantic; he does rank among the best and most innovative players of all time. But it was the person beneath the musician that made Abbott so damned unique — husband, brother, friend, inspiration to countless younger players, and a really soulful artist just looking to connect with anyone and everyone through his music, laughter, and spirit. The man lived life on full-throttle, and you could feel his relentless energy in every note, groove, and string bend. On www.damageplan.com is a long list of comments from some of heavy metal’s biggest names — from KISS’ Paul Stanley to Judas Priest’s Rob Halford. One of the names is Zakk Wylde, another stellar axe-man and close friend of Abbott. Wylde sums up the loss of his friend perfectly: “Dime is in my veins.”

In remembering Abbott, please also remember the others who were killed by the gunman, including Jeff “Mayhem” Thompson, who made the ultimate sacrifice — shielding a friend in harm’s way. God bless him, all the other victims and their grieving families, and Abbott. He made heavy such a damned happy place. l

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