"It was like losing a brother, losing a best friends, losing your fucking spouse, and it's like losing your dream." That's how guitarist Zacky Vengeance described the death of his bandmate, drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, when we interviewed him in 2011 for Revolver's special issue, The Book of Avenged Sevenfold. Many fans felt similarly crushed by The Rev's fatal accidental drug overdose—not just a phenomenal drummer, Sullivan was also, in many ways, his band's biggest personality, a fun-loving goofball who brought an air of mischief and unpredictability to the group. With that prankster sensibility came serious creative drive that led him to write many of A7X's hookiest hits and wildest epics. But for all his contributions to Avenged Sevenfold, what was most important to his bandmates—vocalist M. Shadows, guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, and bassist Johnny Christ—was that he was one of them.
"I had known him for longer than I had known anybody else in the band," Avenged Sevenfold bassist Johnny Christ says of Sullivan. "He was best friends with Brian before Brian joined the band. He was just very much, in a weird way, the guy who brought us all together."
REVOLVER How did you first meet Jimmy?
SYNYSTER GATES It's a funny story. We were in wood shop in eighth grade. It was just two weeks since I had moved to Huntington Beach, so I didn't really know anybody at the school. He was sort of loud-mouthed, obnoxious, and was picking on everybody. He would always wear this DW [Drum Workshop] hat and I thought that was really stupid. I was sort of a guitar elitist at the time. I had been playing for a few years and I thought there was no way this kid was any good. He was just this little dickhead kid, you know?
So I'm standing on line in wood shop. He's in front of me and I'm like, Ah, fuck. He turns around and spots me. He starts poking me and he's like, "What do you think you're doing?" So I hit him. As hard as I could. I just wanted to nip this in the bud. I'd just moved into this school and I didn't want to get picked on. So we get sent outside and we start talking right away. I was like, "So what's up with the DW hat?" I was still kind of being sarcastic to him. He was like, "Well, I play drums." We started talking about bands and I was, like, he seems like he knows a bunch of shit.
So we ended up meeting over at my house. My little brother played drums so we had a drum set over at my house. And he just blew me away. I mean, he played like he did the day he died when he was in eighth grade. He just matured. But he could do all the double-bass shit and all the freaking crazy fills. He was one of the tastiest drummers, if not the tastiest drummer, I had ever heard.
Zacky, how you did meet Jimmy?
ZACKY VENGEANCE One of my best friends was actually in a band called Successful Failure with Matt [Sanders, A.K.A. A7X singer M. Shadows]. They played at the Huntington Beach Library and I'd go to all their concerts. The first time I ever met Jimmy was at a Successful Failure concert and there's about 10 people there. I was sitting there watching, and this tall, skinny, scary-looking kid came up to me and grabbed me and said, "Get up and mosh, you pussy." [Laughs] I was horrified, and he pulled me up and we started, you know, a nine-person mosh pit to our friend's band. But it was awesome, you know. That was the first time I ever laid eyes on that guy and it was incredible.
How about you, Johnny?
JOHNNY CHRIST Jimmy and Brian [Haner, A.K.A. Synyster Gates] knew one of my older brothers when we were all growing up. They were the same age. It wasn't until high school that I realized Avenged Sevenfold was picking up locally. I'd go over there and watch them practice. I'd literally sit behind Jimmy while they were practicing at this little garage space at Matt's mom's house. I'd watch him play, amazed. And when everyone else was done practicing, I'd pick up the bass and Jimmy would just jam with me. We were both big Primus fans, so he would just jam with me, not for very long, but it was fun.
Matt, like Brian, you knew Jimmy since you were a kid. When did you finally form Avenged Sevenfold with him?
M. SHADOWS When Successful Failure eventually broke up, me and Zack hooked up and I said "We'll do metal band. I'll try to convince Jimmy to play drums for us." Jimmy and I had been best friends for, you know, a good eight years before that, and he could play every Slayer song, every Pantera song. Jimmy just wanted to overplay everything. He just wanted to go crazy. He was leagues above what we were doing. So we started writing demos, and all those songs ended up being on [Avenged Sevenfold's 2001 debut album] Sounding the Seventh Trumpet. That was the beginning of the band.
As good as Jimmy's playing was from the start, he took it to a whole other level by City of Evil…
M SHADOWS I remember before we did that record, we played video games at his house and he'd sit behind the couch with his drum stool and he'd have his kick drum set up, just his pedal, and we'd be sitting there playing with the sound off and he'd just have the metronome going, just [makes noise of metronome] going like that, he'd just do it for hours and then he'd do it faster and faster and it was, like, 210 beats per minute. So then that's why he became, like, a machine at it. It was like you could get him to go forever live.
I have so much respect for Jimmy 'cause I grew up with him and I saw him every day, and I saw a lot of drummers that we loved and we'd stand onstage and watch them and they weren't even in the same league as Jimmy, especially live. And Jimmy was such a nice guy. He was always like, "Oh, that's cool, that's cool." And I was like, "Dude, I know that you grew up listening to this guy, but are you kidding me?!"
Besides being a great drummer, Jimmy also wrote many songs for Avenged, including "Almost Easy," "A Little Piece of Heaven," and "Welcome to the Family." How would you describe his songwriting?
SHADOWS When we first started the band, his songwriting was very eclectic and out there. We were more trying to go towards a more hardcore-, metal-type thing. And Jimmy was really into that kind of music, but when he'd write, it was always very Mr. Bungle-ish, The Residents, like, Frank Zappa, very out there. We didn't really know what to do with it. But towards the self-titled record, we were going way more experimental. We were dabbling in country and hip-hop production, and he wanted to bring some songs in. The first thing he brought in was "A Little Piece of Heaven," which was completely out there. We had string sections and choirs and all this crazy stuff. It was something, at that point, we were ready for, and we encouraged it.
His songwriting, to me, was brilliant, because it was not normal, and it was never "stuck"—as Metallica calls it—and it was really refreshing. You'd always get a smile on your face when he was laying down a song or a part. He was just really brilliant.
Was Jimmy's hard-working, creative side sometimes masked by his often loud and goofy persona?
GATES If you hung out with him, he always initially created this huge element of danger and made everyone uncomfortable and nervous until he picked you out. Then he'd make you feel so fucking unique and special. He genuinely had an interest in everybody he came across. He was fascinated by the human element. Even when we were kids, he would befriend schizos and homeless people and hang out with them on a daily basis. One of my funniest memories is when I went to hang out with his friend "Mike the Schizo," who was just crazy, 5'2", obese… He hears voices and he's fucking nuts. And Jimmy absolutely loved hanging out with him. He saw him the way nobody else could.
When he passed, it was so crazy to hear all these people call him their best friend. It took me a couple of days to get that. Then all these friends, literally, like, 20 of them just started playing me these messages that he had left them just saying, "It's so good to have you in my life. You are an extremely special person. I miss you when I'm not with you and I cannot wait until the next time that we get to." There would be literally 10, 20 messages on 20 to 30 peoples' answering machines of Jimmy just making random calls to them and professing his love and admiration and missing of them. It was unbelievable how special he made people feel.
Do you guys feel at all like Jimmy was not meant for this world? Do you think he thought so, on some level?
CHRIST He definitely did. [Laughs] He was just one-of-a-kind. In the 28 years that he lived, he lived for, like, three normal peoples' lives. It was just the way he was. He was an artist in the truest sense. He had fun all of the time. In a lot of ways, I just feel he's too smart for this world. He was a very, very intelligent guy in all aspects. A lot of people just wouldn't get him. If you didn't know Jimmy and he wouldn't let you know him, you would just watch him be this complete lunatic and you wouldn't understand the genius of it and you'd probably be thrown back by it. To know him was to know how genius he really was. I'm sure, on some level, he wasn't meant for this world. He pretty much said it a few times. I think he knew.