In 1990 the Arlington heavy metal band Pantera broke out with its major-label debut, Cowboys From Hell, which spotlighted “Diamond” (later “Dimebag”) Darrell Abbott’s pyrotechnic guitar playing and Phil Anselmo’s overdriven vocals. A little more than a decade later, the band had a particularly ugly breakup, largely due to tensions surrounding Anselmo’s heroin addiction. Much worse was to come: In 2004, while Darrell and his brother, Vinnie Paul, Pantera’s drummer, were performing with their new band, Damageplan, a crazed fan stormed the stage and shot and killed Darrell.
On the occasion of Cowboys’ twentieth anniversary, Rhino has released an expanded edition of the album, available in two-CD and three-CD formats, as well as an $85 Texas-shaped box set and a $100 Ultimate Edition. The 46-year-old Vinnie Paul splits his time between Arlington and Las Vegas, where he has become “really good friends with Carrot Top and the Amazing Johnathan and all the top entertainers out there.”
Before Cowboys From Hell, you guys were a typical eighties glam metal band—you had the teased hair, the spandex, the makeup—and then on this record your sound got a lot heavier and your look got a lot grimier. Which change came first? The look or the sound?
It was a combination. Megadeth called Dimebag up and pretty much offered him the world to come play guitar with them, but he turned them down. And we all went, “Wow, we gotta do something here to turn this band into something special.” Our independent releases were kind of mimicking the bands we were listening to at the time, so basically we said, “Let’s get rid of these magic clothes—they don’t play music for us. Let’s strip this thing down.” We were ready to do something new—keep the hillbilly roots that we had from Texas but kick it up a notch.
What do you mean by your “hillbilly roots”?
My dad was a country musician, so we had David Allan Coe and lots of other country music playing around the house all the time. If you take the riff from the song “Cowboys From Hell” and really break it down, it’s almost a hillbilly guitar riff: dekka dekka dekka dekka dekka dekka dekka dek. We just took that kind of vibe and put this heavy metal machine behind it.
You and Darrell actually had a short-lived band with Coe a while back, Rebel Meets Rebel. How did that come about?
Coe was playing over at Billy Bob’s [in Fort Worth] one night, and Dime saw the show and really loved the dude. He stood in line after the show to get an autograph and shook hands with Coe and said, “Hey, man, I play in this band called Pantera. I really dig what you do.” And Dime gave him our DVD, and later that night, when Coe was traveling to the next town, he popped it in. He had no idea who Pantera was, and it floored him. He called Dime the next day and said, “Goddam, I put this DVD in, man, and I felt like I was watching the Beatles. We got to get together and write some songs!”
I know that when Pantera broke up there was a lot of bad blood between you and Phil Anselmo. Did you guys have to deal with each other at all to put this reissue out?
Nah, nah. I did everything that I could to make sure it was as good as it could be, and he contributed his part, and I think we did the fans justice by all being part of it.
In his liner notes Anselmo goes on and on about how great all of you guys are, as if he’s trying to bury the hatchet. But in your liner notes you take a subtle dig at him by writing, “Phil was very different at the time—very honest and open with his lyrics.” Should I assume that you’re not going to smoke the peace pipe?
That’s a pretty good assumption. I’ll leave it at that.