We pay tribute to one of the greatest drummers in metal’s history. rIP, Vinnie Paul.
You only have to look at the countless tributes from musicians and friends on social media to know that Vincent Paul abbott was one of the good guys. From former touring buddies to close friends, everyone seems to have a photo of Vinnie Paul either brandishing a pair of barbecue tongs with a big grin plastered across his face, or raising an exuberant toast to who-knows-what alongside any number of similarly ecstatic fellow revellers. If you hung out with Big Vin, you went home feeling better about the world.
the shocking news that the legendary Pantera, Damageplan and hellyeah drummer had passed away suddenly at the young age of 54 broke on June 22, sending a huge ripple of sorrow and dismay through the metal world. having already lost Vinnie’s younger brother, Dimebag Darrell, in the most brutal and tragic of circumstances, the unexpected loss of yet another legend seemed almost too much to bear, and yet a huge outpouring of love and gratitude for Vinnie’s life and music swiftly took centre stage, via that remorseless succession of pictures of the big man visibly hurling himself into his lifelong role as life and soul of the party. Yes, he was one of the greatest metal drummers of all time, a musician and songwriter of vast influence and renown and an icon to a generation of heavy music fans, but the most important thing to remember about Vinnie Paul was that he lived to make other people happy.
Vinnie Paul was born on march 11, 1964 in abilene, texas. Surrounded by music from birth, it was perhaps inevitable that he and his younger brother Darrell would eventually set their hearts on careers in rock’n’roll. But even their hugely supportive father Jerry (a country music songwriter and producer) will have been taken aback by the extraordinary chemistry that developed between the brothers. aged 17 and 15 respectively, they formed Pantera in 1981 and spent the decade that followed exhibiting an infectious dedication to performing live and spreading the joy that both men so obviously found in their musical endeavours.
the first four Pantera albums unquestionably lacked the aggression and ingenuity that later turned the band into stars, but Vinnie and
Dime’s shared love of Kiss, Van halen, Southern boogie rock and the then-flourishing thrash metal movement was a unique proposition from the start, principally due to the sublime interplay between the brothers. When everything fell into place for the epoch-shattering Cowboys From Hell in 1990, it was Vinnie’s drumming that first grabbed the attention: there it was, that irresistible, neck-wrecking groove. metal would never be the same again.
“that isn’t something you can learn,” Vinnie told Metal Hammer in 2007. “We would start writing and one of us would take off and we knew how to follow each other. We had that magic chemistry that brothers have. that [groove] really came natural. I don’t think we ever worked on groove. We grew up in texas, listening to a healthy dose of ZZ top, and they had this Southern groove. We had that in our playing, and added the total metal vibe over the top, I think that makes the difference.”
exodus took Pantera on tour in 1990, and vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza noticed that chemistry between the pair. “as brothers, they had this mind thing,” he tells us. “they grew up listening to certain stuff, and it influenced them so deeply that they both became legends at what they did in the same band. It was very much like the allman brothers.”
Pantera’s vast success in the 90s was arguably against the musical grain: while the media frothed over grunge and then nu metal, Vinnie and his bandmates were reinforcing the supremacy of balls-out heavy fucking metal, effortlessly redefining the entire genre with 1992’s Vulgar Display Of Power, scoring a Number one album in the US with the ridiculously brutal Far Beyond Driven in 1994 and generally traversing the globe with towering confidence and a fearsome reputation for hard and fast living. and while Dimebag and vocalist Phil anselmo unquestionably monopolised column inches and interviews, Vinnie remained the world-conquering quartet’s rhythmic and spiritual backbone.
Sepultura’s andreas Kisser toured with Pantera for the first time in 1994, as the texans reached their commercial peak, and confirms that it was a great time to be alive. “I just feel very lucky to have experienced it first hand, to be together with them at their best and learn from them about how to treat people,” he states. “they were so professional onstage and the sound would shake you to your core. I would get up and jam Walk with them onstage every night, it was ‘Wow!’ you know? to feel that power… Vinnie was so high on the drums, he felt like a drum god or something! It was so cool to be around that atmosphere.”
even on Pantera’s flawed but still killer final album, 2000’s Reinventing The Steel, the drummer’s idiosyncratic style was every bit as fundamental to the music’s power as his sibling’s mindblowing arsenal of riffs and solos. as a result, when Pantera disintegrated in 2003, it surprised no one that the abbotts would continue playing together. they formed Damageplan later that same year and set about building another legacy, touring with their customary enthusiasm and simply getting on with the job of being musicians, playing and partying hard. as ever, Vinnie Paul looked permanently delighted at the way his life had turned out and determined to invite everyone to join in.
on December 8, 2004, Vinnie Paul saw his brother gunned down in front of him onstage in columbus, ohio. the horror, devastation and loss Vinnie experienced that day are simply unimaginable. had he hung up his sticks and abandoned music forever, his global army of fans would have understood, but within two years it became clear that for this lifelong musician, the best medicine was getting back up there and kicking some ass, this time with new band hellyeah.
“that was the most horrific loss I’ve ever had in my life and I didn’t know if I was ever going to get back into playing music,” Vinnie told us in 2012. “It wasn’t something
I was gonna go searching for. But hellyeah fell into my lap. right away, we had great chemistry. I thought, ‘Yes, I can still do this!’ and I have to do this. I have to keep doing it for me and my brother. he’d kick my ass if I got complacent and didn’t do it anymore. this has been the ultimate therapy. I just love playing music. It’s such a big part of my life.”
With vast amounts of goodwill propelling them along, hellyeah hit the studio to record their first album in Dallas, texas, in 2006. For Vinnie Paul, it was an extremely bittersweet experience.
“the first night in the studio was very strange,” he told Total Guitar in 2014.
“You walk in the door and there’s all of Dime’s amps, exactly like he had ’em left, with police tape around them because he didn’t want anybody fuckin’ with his shit. all the pictures on the wall, the gold records, the notes – his handwritten notes from the Damageplan demos before we left to go on tour – it was all really surreal, just a big blur. once all the weirdness went away, it felt like Dime was right behind us driving us all the way.
I felt really good about it, and it really helped me to breathe normally.”
“vinnie was a drum god”
SEPULTURA’S ANDREAS KISSER TOURED WITH PANTERA IN 1994
“we had that magic chemistry that brothers have” VINNIE PAUL WAS ALWAYS THRILLED TO BE
IN A BAND WITH DIMEBAG
across five well-received albums, hellyeah may never have had the same impact of Vinnie’s former band, but they went some way towards upholding Pantera’s high standards of heaviness and rhythmic invention, Vinnie’s drums an endlessly exhilarating focal point. If nothing else, fans were just ecstatic to be able to see the great man in action. of course, the dawn of the internet age ensured that rumours and speculation about a possible Pantera reunion were an omnipresent thorn in his side. he remained unequivocal about the situation throughout: no Dimebag, no Pantera.
“No. my brother is not here. If he was still around, there was always that ‘if’, but without him there is no way,” he told Rhythm in 2007. “I’ve got a lot of reasons. I’m happy doing what I’m doing.
I really enjoy playing in hellyeah.”
that love for his band was evident on the stage, and he was always quick to embrace metal in all its forms, championing new bands and bringing the community together. m. Shadows remembers him as an early supporter of avenged Sevenfold who stuck with them during their the ups and downs.
“No one embraced us as a band quicker than Vinnie,” he says. “he even flew out to be at the rev’s funeral, which spoke volumes about what kind of guy he was. I’ll miss playing basketball at the Palms in Vegas.
I’ll miss playing blackjack all night after watching carrot top perform.
I’ll miss seeing you on the road and barbecues at your house. Go now and be with your brother.”
Dave mustaine also fondly remembers hangtimes with Vinnie, from the last time megadeth and hellyeah toured together. “We played this crazy place in Wisconsin and, as usual, Vinnie was holding court after the show,” he recalls. “he was cooking up the most delicious barbecue, and you could either go and eat the shitty catering or go and hang out with all the hellyeah guys. that was where the fun place was. It was always love, food, drinks, fun, laughs – that’s how I’ll remember him. that, and one of the biggest beards since mr. t!”
an incalculable loss to the world of heavy music – in fact, to music in general – Vinnie Paul touched so many people with his music, his love for life and his devotion to spreading great joy and a little bit of drunken chaos. Not just a musical revolutionary, he also proved that the life of a rock’n’roll megastar was something that could be enjoyed by all. metal will miss him terribly. READ OUR EXTENDED TRIBUTE TO THE LEGACY OF VINNIE AND PANTERA IN A SPECIAL FEATURE IN NEXT MONTH’S Metal HaMMer,
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