This story was originally published in 2014.
When Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered onstage while performing with his band Damageplan at the Alrosa Villa nightclub in Columbus, Ohio, it left a massive hole in the heart of heavy metal. Dime was not only a trailblazing shredder with a knack for infectious, grooving riffs and lightning-struck solos, but he was also one of the biggest and most exuberant personalities in the scene. An early champion of Pantera, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford would come to befriend Dime, collaborate with him and, after his death, mourn and remember him. Here, the Metal God pays tribute to the late, great guitar hero.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST MEET DIMEBAG DARRELL?
ROB HALFORD Priest was in Canada rehearsing for the Painkiller tour. I was doing an interview from the hotel room and I turned the telly on to [Canadian music-video channel] Much Music. The sound was turned off, and I saw this guy and he's got a British Steel T-shirt on. So I quickly finished the interview, and I turned the volume up and he's just talking about his band, Pantera, and Cowboys From Hell. And just watching him and listening to him on the television, you just felt like, This is a great guy. Firstly, I saw a clip of the band. I was like, My God, this guitar player is fucking phenomenal, besides the rest of the band. And then just hearing him talk I thought, I really would like to meet this guy. So I called up Much Music and I said, "Was that Darrell? Is he still there?" It wasn't Dimebag in those days, it was Diamond Darrell. They said, "Yeah, he still is." And he was like, "Oh my God, I can't believe it, I'm wearing a Priest shirt." And I said, "Yeah, I've just seen you on the Much Music." He said, "Oh man, I'd love to see you. We got a show tonight at the club in Toronto." I'm pretty much sure that it was Pantera and Stryper.
So I went down there, and we had a great time together, and we just talked about metal, this, that and the other. I think jammed "Metal Gods" with them. It's a bit blurry — it should be more significant than this, but this is 1991. I was clean and sober then, but you know how things get jumbled up in your brain. So that was the start of that. And I told [Judas Priest guitarists] Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing specifically after that: "I've seen this band. They're absolutely fucking amazing and they are going to be huge. They are going to be huge!" And I said, "We should try to get him on the tour." So, to cut a long story short, we brought them with us on the Priest Painkiller tour of Europe and nobody had a clue who they were. They had no distribution as far as I understood in Europe. So they went out blind, in front of Germans and French and whatever. I used to watch every show, and the first reaction fans gave them was, Who the hell is this? And it was like, Oh my fucking God, what's going on in front of my eyes? They would just win an audience over in 30, 40 minutes. From playing fresh, new music that nobody had heard before. The communication was instant with that band. So, there it was. So, by the time we'd done the European tour, and they went back to the states, Cowboys was shooting up the charts. And that was it, they were off and running. They were just launched into the stratosphere on that first release.
YOU MENTIONED DIME'S BRITISH STEEL SHIRT. HE USED TO WEAR A RAZORBLADE NECKLACE IN HONOR OF YOUR ALBUM, TOO. DID HE EVER TELL YOU ABOUT THAT?
Yeah, and he had it tattooed on his leg, as well. He loved that record. It meant everything to him. It was one that he said was very inspiring to him as a guitar player and as a musician in general. That's great, isn't it?
SHORTLY AFTER YOU TOURED WITH PANTERA, YOU WORKED WITH DIME ON THE SONG "LIGHT COMES OUT OF BLACK," FOR THE BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SOUNDTRACK. HOW DID THAT COME TOGETHER?
I was away from Priest. Sony were working on the soundtrack. They wanted Sony artists and asked me to write a song. I hadn't written as a solo writer for years and years and years. But it's one of those things where you don't know what you can do until you put your nose to the grindstone. So I wrote "Light Comes Out of Black," and I was stuck. And I got Dime's number, and I called him up and I said, "Here's the deal." And he goes, "Let's do it. Just get in the plane and come down to Dallas." So, that's what I did the next day, went to the studio, laid the track down in a very short space of time. Phil [Anselmo] wandered by, said "Oh, how's it going, 'Metal God'?" So, I told him and he said, "You got a spot for me?" I said, "Pfft, here's the mic." So Phil joins me on the back end of the song. And it turned out really good. It's amazing to think that that's a Pantera song really. It is Pantera with me on lead vocals, and Phil obviously doing the outro sections. But it's a Pantera song really.
DID YOU PLAY GUITAR ON A DEMO AND SEND IT TO HIM ORIGINALLY?
Yeah, I put my very primitive ... I just don't have the mental capacity to do what guitar players do.
WHAT WAS EXCEPTIONAL ABOUT WORKING WITH DIME?
His interpretation of the song. His phrasing, the feel was unique. Let's face it. You look at rock & roll. You've got Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, you've got Eddie Van Halen. I'm just going through a list off the top of my head — you obviously got Dimebag. Obviously, Glenn [Tipton, Priest guitarist], [Iron Maiden's] Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, all of these significant lead heavy-metal, hard-rock guitar players. And Dimebag ... I'm mentioning them now because they're very influential. All of those guitar players have been very influential to not only music but specifically to other guitar players around the world. And there's no doubt that Dimebag's impression was just monumental. If you took Dimebag out of the equation, metal would sound totally different right now. Without a doubt it would, definitely.
WHAT WAS THE LAST TIME YOU TALKED TO DIME?
I'm pretty certain it was Aladdin in Las Vegas on the Halford Resurrection tour with Iron Maiden. It might have happened maybe once, twice after that.
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU HEARD DIME HAD DIED?
I was in my house in Phoenix. I think somebody texted me or somebody called me, and my legs went from underneath me. I just hit the deck. This can't be real. I put the TV on, and it was actually on CNN. I just sat there in disbelief. And then I bawled like a baby, like you should do. I just cried my eyes out. And you just don't know what to do. You're full of confusion, you're full of anger, you want to fucking smash things to pieces. You want to play the music. You want to call Phil. All of these things are going on in your head. And obviously, Pat [Lachman] was singing for Damageplan at the time. I wanted to call Pat. Do you call? Do you not call? What the fuck's going on? Just a bazillion things are going around your head at the same time. But it was just terrible. It's just seems inconceivable. I don't think, now, that's never happened to anybody else, has it? I mean, we lost people through self-induced things, like booze and drugs. We've lost people like Ronnie [James Dio] with the kinds of illnesses. But to be fucking brutally murdered is just insane. Absolutely insane. John Lennon is the only other person, isn't it? They're both in good company, as far as what they mean and how they've lived on in our lives. How Dimebag will always live on. That's the only bit of solace you've got. It's that the work that they made will live forever. That's the blessing.