The former music editor for the Dallas Observer was just another Texas teen when metal rockers Pantera emerged from Arlington in the nineties and went on to sell millions of records and concert tickets worldwide. In BLACK TOOTH GRIN: THE HIGH LIFE, GOOD TIMES, AND TRAGIC END OF “ DIMEBAG” DARRELL ABBOTT, he captures the essence of the band’s virtuoso guitarist, who was revered by musicians and fans alike for his outrageous skills and everyman persona—and who, in December 2004, was brutally murdered by a deranged fan at a concert in Columbus, Ohio. Crain, who has written for Spin and Esquire, is currently a senior editor at D Magazine.
Rock bands, like superheroes, have origin myths. What is Pantera’s?
There are two legends. The first: Vince Abbott came home from high school with a tuba, and his dad, Jerry, a country musician, songwriter, and producer, told him he’d never make a nickel with that thing. So he traded it in for drums. Pretty soon some kids needed a drummer for their band. Vince told them he’d join, but only if they let his little brother, Darrell, in as well, on guitar. Even though Darrell couldn’t really play. And that’s the second legend: Darrell locked himself in his room—for six weeks or six months, depending on who you believe—and when he came out, he was, you know, Dimebag Darrell. “He could play like he could play,” they say.
How did the band change when it made the leap from regional clubs to national arenas?
By then, they had come into their own musically, arriving at a sound perfectly summed up by their first major-label record, Cowboys From Hell: hard and fast and, in many ways, Texan. This made their shows less about lights and explosions, though they were still spectacles. Pantera concerts were notorious for having the biggest, craziest mosh pits. A lot of bands tried to court the modern rock audience, but Pantera never did.
What about the Dimebag nickname?
Darrell’s stage name was “Diamond” Darrell, but his friends turned it around and called him Dimebag, a play on the fact that he wouldn’t keep more weed around than he could get rid of that day. He was paranoid about getting busted and losing his career.