This story was originally published in Guitar World's Guitar Legends No. 79 and Revolver's 2012 Pantera special collector's issue.
On December 1st, 2004, while on tour with Damageplan, his post-Pantera project alongside his brother, Vinnie Paul, guitarist Dimebag Darrell gave his final interview. Seven days later he was dead, killed onstage while playing with the band. Darrell's interviewer was Joshua Gropp, a jazz-guitar student at Humber College in Toronto, who was writing for the school newspaper, the Humber Et Cetera.
Since then, Gropp has graduated from Humber and released two solo acoustic CDs "featuring a lot of guitar drumming and tapping," he says. On his next album, which he is currently working on with producer Bill Stevenson (Rise Against), Gropp will playing with a full plugged-in band for the first time since Dime's passing because, he explains, "it was too hard to play electric for quite some time afterwards."
Of his interview with Darrell, Gropp says today, "It was conducted to give the students at my college some very professional advice on the industry, and was done assuming that not everyone had heard of Dimebag, which is why some of the questions seem a little obvious. He was the reason why I took guitar 'studies' seriously, and despite his hard-edged reputation, he truly was humble, kind and real — incredibly rare nowadays, especially in the industry."
WHEN YOU WERE A TEENAGER, YOU WERE KNOWN FOR WINNING MOST OF THE LOCAL GUITAR CONTESTS. WHAT WAS IT THAT PROMPTED YOU TO ENTER THOSE CONTESTS?
DIMEBAG DARRELL I used to go to this huge music store all the time, and they had these contests where you would go in and just jam out, put some riffs on a tape and do your most impressive shit and throw it in a box with your address on it. And the first one I entered I had only been playing for, like, three months, and I thought I had no chance. But that dream was always there, you know? And I won it — couldn't believe it! After a few years, I had won seven in a row. Won all kinds of cool stuff: ESP guitars, Charvels, Dean guitars, Randall amps. When I went to enter again, they said, "No, dude, don't even enter — you're going to judge the next one."
WHAT SORT OF THINGS WERE YOU PRACTICING BACK THEN?
I would just listen to records and learn what I could, then just roll it over and over and over. I tried to take lessons once, and the dude was really good and he tried to teach me theory and all that shit, but none of it made any sense to me. You know, to be just running up and down these scales when I could be playing fucking Randy Rhoads or something, I just didn't find any enjoyment in it. I don't know what kind of enjoyment dudes get out of it if they already know what a certain mode is going to sound like, or a certain scale before they go to it. It's kind of like the cat's already out of the bag, you know? There's a certain amount of spontaneity that goes on whenever I'm jamming, and I don't think that part of my playing would be there if I did learn all that shit. But yeah, lessons didn't really work out for me, so I went to the old school, listening to records and learning what I wanted to learn.
IN THE PAST YOU'VE SAID THAT A PERSON IS INFLUENCED BY EVERYTHING YOU SEE AND HEAR, WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT. YOUR DAD HAD A STUDIO WHILE YOU WERE GROWING UP, WHERE HE RECORDED A LOT OF LOCAL BLUES ARTISTS — DO YOU THINK THAT MUSIC INFLUENCED YOU AS WELL?
Yeah, it definitely influenced me. I mean, everything gets in there one way or another, you know? I don't know if it came from my dad's studio or from listening to my mom's 8-track Lynyrd Skynyrd tapes back in the day before I even knew what Van Halen was or Black Sabbath or Kiss. There's a shitload of kickass blues players around here in Texas, and we go out a lot and check these guys out. And it's going to get in there, you know? It's not 150 percent pure metal for me my whole life, you know? I love rock and roll, I love the blues, I love King's X, Merle Haggard, David Allen Coe, you name it. A lot of people that are in bands think you have to preach against every other kind of music in the world to be "hardcore," but that, to me, is just Hitler bullshit. Go ahead and keep your fucking ears closed, you closed-minded fucks — I'm gonna be jamming. There are so many different things that music can do to you besides beat you between the fucking eyes, you know? Of course, that's the favorite feeling, and you've got to have your favorite thing, but give me a goddamn break! Have some variety in the fucking shit, you know?
IT SEEMS THAT, WITH BANDS LIKE DAMAGEPLAN, SHADOWS FALL, CHILDREN OF BODOM AND OTHERS, GUITAR SOLOING IS BECOMING MORE POPULAR AGAIN.
I think it's getting a little bit more like that. For a while, people were like, "Fuck guitar solos — they're boring," but I never bought into any of that shit. And all the people that it was coming from were those dudes that play the seven-string guitars that could only play the top four strings. So I think everyone that's into guitar playing has been screaming out for the last couple years and now you see more dudes doing solos, or at least short little bits. But I'm not into the short bit thing — it almost seems like you're putting it in there to say, "Look, I could do it if I wanted to." But that ain't the truth — either you can fucking rip or you can't. I mean, what if Zakk Wylde put out a record and it had only two little short solo snippets? Dude, you would know that that ain't right. You didn't get the whole meal deal!
Well, if you're just trying to make it and get rich in this business, just go ahead and hang it up right now. Between the record companies being the way they are and the fact that people can just download one song instead of buying a whole album, it's hard to make a good living nowadays. But if you want to do it because you fucking love it, then go for it. That's why we're still doing it, because we love it.