Pantera: 10 Things You Didn't Know About 'Cowboys From Hell' | Revolver

Pantera: 10 Things You Didn't Know About 'Cowboys From Hell'

LSD breakdowns, Port wine pro tips, first-take shenanigans and more
gettyimages-1164303703-niels_van_iperen-web-crop.jpg, Niels van Iperen/Getty Images
Pantera, Rijnhal, Arnhem, Netherlands, March 15, 1991
photograph by Niels van Iperen/Getty Images

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Pantera's fifth album, 1990's Cowboys From Hell, was a huge turning point for the band — a powerful groove-metal mission statement and crucial stepping-stone in the Texas crew's rise to Nineties metal dominance.

Since forming in 1981, the Abbott brothers — Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul — had been refining their glam-infused heavy-metal sound (and Eighties hair-metal look) over three albums that also featured bassist Rex Brown and singer Terry Glaze. By the mid-Eighties, Glaze was out. After a few false starts with other singers, the guys recruited New Orleans transplant Philip Anselmo to track 1988's Power Metal. While that record displayed more of a thrash influence, it didn't deviate much from their previous traditional-metal style. But what it did do was cement the now classic lineup — Dimebag, Paul, Brown and Anselmo — that would help shift the heavy-metal landscape in the following decade.

And Cowboys was the first hint as to what was on the horizon. Gone were the hair-metal touchstones — and in their place was a furious new creative focus centered on their unique groove-heavy sound. Cowboys was also Pantera's first major-label outing, and they knew a lot more people would be hearing the material. This was their moment. And when the record hit, in July 1990, Pantera made their intentions crystal clear with the album's crushing opening song, lead single and mission statement "Cowboys From Hell."

"The message was, 'We have arrived,'" Anselmo told Revolver. "But at the time it was written, we didn't know we'd be signed to any label at all — or that we'd be playing to audiences all over the world. It was up to them to buy into it. We didn't know it would become a staple of our set. But the riff is so signature and it just has that stamp of identity."

"You had to have some balls back in the day," added Brown. "Otherwise, you wouldn't get noticed. So yeah — we're taking over your town. That's how it was in Texas when we were coming through the club ranks. We were pretty headstrong, especially with Philip. He wrote those lyrics. It was pretty ballsy, but that's just where we were at the time. … Cowboys was definitely the birth of a new sound."

Below are 10 things you might not have know about Pantera's Cowboys From Hell.

1. Bassist Rex Brown wrote the acoustic intro to "Cemetery Gates" and played rhythm guitar on the title-track
Cowboys From Hell introduced the world to the guitar heroics of Dimebag Darrell. Darrell was a once-in-a-generation talent, whose musical influence cannot be overstated. But Pantera's sole guitarist was also an unselfish bandmate — as evidenced by his willingness to occasionally share six-string duties with Rex Brown.

"We were sitting in the office at the studio and we had a couple of acoustics," Brown recalled to Revolver. "There was this one Guild guitar that was at the studio, and I still have it — I stole it." He laughed. "So I was just sitting around picking and that's how I came up with the 'Cemetery Gates' intro. Then we put that backwards piano on it. I actually played rhythm guitar on 'Cemetery Gates,' too — and 'Cowboys From Hell' — behind the leads. Dime and I would trade sometimes. He'd play a bass part and I'd play a rhythm part. It was no big deal."

2. "Cemetery Gates" was inspired by the suicides of two of Philip Anselmo's friends
Pantera's now classic ballad "Cemetery Gates" was the second single released after Cowboys From Hell's title track. The haunting song features one of Dimebag's most memorable solos and showcases Anselmo's impressive range and new willingness to explore some deeply personal subject matter.

"'Cemetery Gates' was based on suicides by very good friends that went down about a year before," Anselmo told Revolver. "It was on back-to-back weekends, if I remember. One guy was a big friend of everyone in the New Orleans scene. The very next week, one of his best friends — and we knew this guy very well, too — committed suicide, as well. We didn't know quite what that was about, but it was these back-to-back deaths that rocked us pretty hard."

3. After Diary of a Madman's producer bailed, Pantera's love of Soundgarden led them to Terry Date — a partnership that would continue through the next three albums
Cowboys From Hell was Pantera's major-label debut, for ATCO Records, and as such they had a lot more money to budget for producers. Their first pick was Max Norman, who helmed Ozzy's 1981 crusher Diary of a Madman. Unfortunately, days before recording was supposed to commence Norman got a better offer from Lynch Mob and bailed.

"We were such huge fans of Ozzy's Diary of a Madman and this band Malice, and they were produced by Max Norman," Vinnie Paul told Louder Sound. "So he flew to Houston to see a gig and he loved us. We were all ready to go. But our recording budget only allowed for $30,000 for the producer. About two days before we were supposed to start recording, Max got offered $50,000 to do Lynch Mob. So he calls us up and said, 'Guys, I need the money. I'm out.' We were like, 'What the fuck?'"

Fortunately, they found success with Soundgarden producer Terry Date — who helped them make their first truly great record, Cowboys. "Philip and I loved Louder Than Love so much — and any of the Soundgarden stuff that came out around that time — and that's how we got Terry Date," recalled Brown. Pantera's fruitful partnership with Date continued through through their next three albums: Vulgar Display of Power (1992), Far Beyond Driven (1994) and The Great Southern Trendkill (1996).

4. Chris Cornell's Port wine pro tip was the secret ingredient to Anselmo's dynamic "Cemetery Gates" vocals
"Cemetary Gates" showcased Anselmo's remarkable range — but tracking it was not an easy task for the singer. He was sober (at the behest of the band) and was struggling to hit a couple choice notes. After Anselmo's frustration resulted in a smashed chair, producer Terry Date offered a pro tip from the playbook of Soundgarden's Chris Cornell.

"He said Port wine helped give you that edge to the voice, that rasp," Anselmo told Revolver. "It even helped with the cleaner, higher-range stuff. That was a Cornell trick that he and Terry Date had stumbled upon, and Terry Date passed the wisdom to me. And I'll take it. I mean, who's better than Chris? Not many."

5. Dimebag's signature Cowboys From Hell guitar tone was reportedly inspired by Overkill's The Years of Decay
Dimebag was also excited to work with Terry Date on Cowboys From Hell, but for different reasons. Dime was a big fan of Date's work on Overkill's 1989 album, The Years of Decay, and reportedly used guitarist Bobby Gustafson's tone as a benchmark for Cowboys.

"One of my proudest moments as a musician came from Dimebag, when he told me he used my guitar tone from The Years of Decay as the basis for Cowboys From Hell," said ex-Overkill guitarist Bobby Gustafson.

6. Anselmo reached an LSD-fueled, peanut-butter covered "boiling point," which inspired Rex Brown to come up with the title for "Psycho Holiday"
Prior to Cowboys From Hell, Pantera were gigging a ton, and when they weren't on the road Anselmo was grinding pretty hard in his newly adopted home of Texas. As Anselmo's drug use and temper continued to rise, Brown felt an intervention was needed. So he booked the singer a ticket back to New Orleans for some R&R, and left Anselmo a note containing the flight information and the words "psycho holiday."

"I was a New Orleans boy that done moved to Fort Worth, fucking Texas," Anselmo told Louder Sound. "Every now and again there was a mixture of being a little homesick and just a lot of drinking too much. I went through a big LSD phase. I quit washing my hair. I put peanut butter in my hair when I was tripping, and I didn't take a bath for the longest time. …

"Rex and I were living together at the time, and when I came back to the house, I looked next to the telephone and written on this pad is 'Psycho Holiday' scribbled out with all these flight times. It was Rex trying to get my ass out of fucking town. I was the psycho. It became an inside joke, and Vinnie Paul said, 'Man, that's a great fucking song title.'"

7. "Primal Concrete Sledge" was written in 10 minutes, and featured Anselmo "free-styling"
Cowboys second track is considered by many to be the stylistic bridge to the scorched-earth groove-metal style they would perfect on 1992's Vulgar Display of Power. "It was the catalyst," said Brown. "It was the last song written for the album. As we were breaking the drums down in the studio, Vinnie came up with this beat and Dime goes, 'Hang on a second!' It seems like we wrote it in no more than 10 minutes. We tracked it and called Phil to come down and slap lyrics on it real quick."

Anselmo recalled channeling the band's collective "we can't be stopped" spirit as he laid down the song's off-the-cuff lyrics. "That's one of those songs where I was very much free-styling, lyrically. … Like, this is an attitude, a way of life, and we're embracing it and running headfirst into it. But we knew we had something rhythmically unique. It was a very pleasant surprise at the end of a long recording session that none of us expected at all."

8. Rex Brown thought Cowboys From Hell's cover art was "goofy as shit"
When time came to create Cowboys From Hell's cover art, the group decided to play off the album title — and superimposed photos of themselves into a 1910 photo of the "Cosmopolitan Saloon" in Telluride, Colorado.

"We had this conceptual idea of us being in an old barroom, but we were basically standing in front of a green screen and they took shots of us and pasted us into some old saloon photo," Brown explained to Revolver.

"The only thing I can really remember about it is when we actually did that shoot I actually stood up on a bar stool, there was no bar there," recalled Anselmo. "But I lept off this thing so the photographer could get me high up in the air, and that first leap, I must've jumped a good 10 times, but that first leap could very well have been the last leap figuring I busted my ass. … It's funny, because people say, 'Hey, is Vince eating a sandwich?' Nah, he's counting money, or he's holding a wad of money. He's holding a lot of cash."

"When I finally saw it, I thought it was goofy as shit," said Brown. "But with the new Pantera logo and the Cowboys From Hell title, it was cool for what it was."

9. If Dave Mustaine got his way, Cowboys From Hell may have never existed
Before Megadeth's Dave Mustaine hired guitarist Marty Friedman in 1990, he offered Dimebag Darrell the job. Darrell was reportedly open to the opportunity — but it had to be a package deal that also included hiring his brother Vinnie Paul on drums.

"I actually called him up and asked him to play in Megadeth," Mustaine told the Tampa Bay Times in 2019. "Fate would have completely changed if I would have called him before I called Nick Menza. I said, 'Hey, Darrell, I'm looking for a guitar player.' And he goes, 'Can I bring my brother?' … He wanted to bring his brother and have him play with us, and I go, 'Oh, man, I just hired Nick Menza.'"

"They offered him health insurance, a Nike endorsement and lots of money," Paul told Louder Sound. "But he came back to Texas and said, 'Look man, I would only join Megadeth if they wanted to hire you, and they already got a drummer. So let's fuckin' knuckle down and make this thing happen.'" Paul remembered the experience as the galvanizing event that "really made everyone focus" on creating the material that would become Cowboys From Hell.

10. "Domination" was a first-take cut — and Vinnie Paul's count off isn't "Art stinks like a motherfucker"
Cowboys mid-album fan-favorite "Domination" kicks off with a raw count off by Vinnie Paul, who screams a line that many listeners heard as "Art stinks like a motherfucker." The real story is that the version that appears on the album was actually the first "Domination" studio take — and includes Paul excitedly proclaiming: "First take like a motherfucker!"

"We wrote 'Domination' in the practice studio," Paul revealed to Louder Sound. "Some people think it says, 'Art stinks like a motherfucker' in the beginning. Actually, it was me going, 'First take like a motherfucker.' It was the first time we were gonna actually lay it down after we'd been jamming on it. And we used the first take. It's full of energy and it's very raw."