Zac Crain's favorite "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott story isn't about Dimebag, actually. Rather, it's about one of the late guitarist's pets.
"He had a goat and had dyed its beard like his, so it was a little Dime goat," Crain says during a recent phone interview. "And it was a real asshole of a goat. It would jump up on people's cars and kick them."
The goat's comic misanthropy contrasted with the friendly Abbott, whom Crain describes as "Yosemite Sam with guitars instead of six-shooters." It's one of many anecdotes that made Crain regret never meeting the guitarist and made him so determined to share Abbott's story with the world outside the heavy-metal community—a world that knows little about the guitarist other than his infamous onstage murder.
Crain's controversial new Da Capo book Black Tooth Grin: The High Life, Good Times, and Tragic End of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, released this month, does just that. It's a thoroughly researched biography and a fun read—almost reverential in its respect for its subject. You could consider it Crain's atonement for earlier sins against the band, but he doesn't look at it that way.
"If I sat down to write it today, I probably would have been more outwardly critical of the latter records," Crain says. "But when I started writing it, it was not even two years removed from his death. It's tough to write about someone who recently died. No one wants to speak ill of the dead."
It was too late, of course, to undo the ill he'd spoken before the death. By the time Crain became music editor for the Dallas Observer in 1998, Arlington groove-metal pioneers Pantera had achieved international stardom. Crain didn't have anything to add to their story during his five-year tenure save one occasion—when he included the band's 1996 LP The Great Southern Trendkill on a list of the worst local releases of the 1990s.
So, sure, he seemed an unlikely Dimebag biographer. But when Spin magazine sent him to cover Abbott's funeral, Crain was moved by how beloved the man was. Everyone he spoke with—fellow musicians, bartenders, fans—hadn't just met Abbott, but enjoyed a laugh, a drink or a raucous prank with the wildman. Crain sent Spin a much longer piece than he was assigned—and still had plenty left to say about it.
At the time, Crain was set on writing a book about a different hard-drinking rock band, Guided by Voices—until he was told that a friend of the band was already working on a bio. Then, out of the blue, an agent asked him to consider writing an Abbott biography.
The first person he reached out to was Abbott's brother and lifelong drummer, Vinnie Paul Abbott. Vinnie Paul had sent word that, while he was surprised Crain was the one who wrote it, he and the family were happy with the Spin story.
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"I felt like we had enough of a relationship where he might give his blessing, or at least not put up roadblocks," Crain says.
But Vinnie Paul refused a meeting. Encouraged by his editor to continue, Crain forged ahead and was a couple of weeks from finishing when the family put out a press release denouncing the author. That single negative story was cited as proof of Crain's bad intentions.
If the roadblock's intent was to derail the book, though, it was too late; Crain believes the only interview Vinnie Paul's release cost him was one he'd hoped to score with Trent Reznor. The lack of family cooperation, though, means that the book's remembrances are by people who want to talk about Dimebag, the persona, rather than Darrell Abbott, the man.
To hear Abbott's longtime friends tell it in Black Tooth Grin, though, the two are one and the same.