Former Slayer Drummer Jon Dette on Dream-Come-True Journey From Fan to Band Member | Page 3 | Revolver

Former Slayer Drummer Jon Dette on Dream-Come-True Journey From Fan to Band Member

"I told my mother when I was 17: 'One day I'm going to play drums for Slayer'"
jondette.jpg, Melissa Donato courtesy of Jon Dette
photograph by Melissa Donato courtesy of Jon Dette

After nearly four decades as revered pioneers of heavy metal and one of the best live acts on the planet, Slayer are nearing the end of their farewell world tour. What will they leave us beyond the fruits of their uncompromising vision: songs, videos, shirts, posters and other memorabilia? For one thing, stories. Lots of stories. So for Revolver's new issue, which features Slayer on one of its multiple collectible covers (you can purchase a copy via our store), we tracked down a few of their many famous friends and fans to compile some of the best.

Here, drummer Jon Dette, who played as a full-time member of Slayer from 1996 to 1997 and as a touring member in 2013, sends off the thrash OGs and looks back on his time in the band. "They created a style of music that will forever be remembered on this planet," he says, "long after they're gone, long after you and I are gone."

JON DETTE My parents were divorced and they both knew I wanted to play drums, so I asked my dad for a drum set, I asked my mom for a drum set. I figured I had a 50/50 shot. And I wound up getting a drum set from both of them. So, I immediately had a double-bass kit, which I didn't realize at the time. But on that same birthday my younger brother got me this record. He's like, "You gotta check this band out." I got [Anthrax's] Fistful of Metal record. One of the cool things about Slayer, Metallica and Anthrax is they all came out with debut records really within six months of each other. "Well, who else is playing like this?" Then I discovered Slayer.

As the years grew — and the way I learned drums is by listening to those records — I really started gravitating toward Dave Lombardo's drumming style. When the time came to audition with them in 1995, I felt very comfortable with the music [laughs] because I already knew all the songs they wanted me to learn.

No, no. That whole marketing aspect of that kind of music ... I just went "Wow, OK. Pentagrams. Cool," you know? Well, I guess if someone has maybe came from a religious upbringing or religious background, I could see how that could scare someone. But I am not a religious person — spiritual, but I'm not a religious person. I would get asked interview questions all the time: "Oh, do they worship the devil or do you worship the devil? And I simply reply, "No, I'm not religious."

Oh god. I mean, gosh, what was it? OK, 1996 we were on tour in Europe supporting the Undisputed Attitude tour, which was essentially a bunch of punk cover songs. And so we were playing a festival in Norway, I believe it was. Every time we would go into one of these cover songs, out of nowhere, just this huge group of skinheads — and I mean tall, tall Norwegians or Swedish guys — they would just do the Nazi arm thing [Sieg Heil]. Like they would push their way to the front of the crowd at the festival, and they would literally just be doing this salute. I thought that was pretty stupid. Then we'd go and do a Slayer song and then they'd all leave, they'd disappear. And then as soon as we'd three or four songs later go into one of the punk cover songs they immediately come to the front and start doing their little chant thing again. Then we'd go into "Chemical Warfare." They all disappear. It's like, yeah, let's not play any more songs off that record today. Let's, let's just do side one, you know?

Then, when we were in the States touring, we were playing a large theater auditorium type place where the balcony would overlook the stage. At one point, I just remember playing and all of a sudden just see something fall on top of the monitor board off to stage left. I look over real quick, and this guy fell from the top of the balcony — and it was a far drop — just thud right on the monitors. And, of course, all the monitors just start exploding in everybody's ears.

But, that same show, which was completely sold out, I guess one of the crazy things was, that we got offstage, I went in the back to just grab a beer after the show. I came back out maybe 10 minutes later, I forget if I was going to talk to my tech or something. The entire auditorium was completely emptied. I mean, literally less than 10 minutes. And I'm like, "How did all these people just get completely wiped out?" Well, it turns out there was a gang fight in the back during "Angel of Death," the last song, and somebody actually stabbed somebody else. And then you peek outside and there's helicopters, there's police cars as far as you can see. I was like, "Oh my god." So I didn't see it, but I guess technically that would be a crazy thing. Again, not, not the greatest thing to happen at a show. Tom, in particular, because he's the voice of the band, I mean, he's always been very vocal about how stupid or unacceptable behavior like that is. And he's pretty quick to call it out. But, honestly, the place was so big, we didn't even see it happen. But I know that had Tom seen anything, he probably would've stopped the song, said, "Hey, what the fuck you guys doing back there?" He's always been really good about that. Just because he cares about the fans and wants everybody to have a good time.

Yeah. Well, I've always remembered him smiling from the first day that I met him. He's just always ... It's like you really have to give them a reason not to smile and laugh. I think when it comes to being onstage, it's really more of a maybe, like, a theater type of thing, you know?

And it was part of the part of the whole show, but yeah. But I think even the fans know that, as well. Tom, he really is, he's a great guy and anybody that thinks that he has an evil bone in his body, well, they're going to be sorely disappointed.

Oh, gosh. Wait, can I call a lifeline on this? [Laughs] No. I think one of the unique things about Slayer is the fact that they've always been Slayer. And what I mean by that is that they created a style of music that will forever be remembered on this planet — long after they're gone, long after you and I are gone. ... They've never deviated from who they are and what their sound is. When the grunge thing happened back in the Nineties, the other bands that were part of that genre, they all ... I guess you could say they explored their musical creativity. Metallica decided to explore a different territory. Megadeth decided to explore a different territory. Anthrax just decided to get a whole new singer and try and explore something new. Slayer, they've always been ... in my opinion, have never changed the style and the sound of their music. It's always been authentic. And I think that's what resonates with the fans both from as far back as in the days of when I was being a fan back in the Eighties, to someone that can just discover the band today.

Literally, you could go back in their catalog and it's just going to be like, this is who we are. And there's no deviation from that. So I think in retrospect, of those other bands and kind of the genre that they created and grew up in, they've never deviated from their sound. And that's, in my opinion, what makes them unique. Well, it's like you know what you're going to get with them.

I'm happy I've been a part of that history. I never would have thought ... My mom wanted me to fly jets like my dad — my dad was a pilot in the Navy and aviation always seemed kind of [what they wanted me to do]… I told my mother when I was 17 years old — and I swear it hit me like a bolt of lightning — "One day I'm going to be a professional drummer and one day I'm going to play drums for Slayer." Eight years later I'm in a room with those guys learning songs for a tour, so I guess the impossible can happen.