Local Music 'Mericans: John Graham Toured With Pantera and Damageplan Before Tending Bar At All Your Favorite Music Venues
Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we'll be meeting some people behind the local music scene who aren't the musicians, but more behind-the-scenes folk.
Right before Pantera's major label debut, Cowboys from Hell, came out in 1990, John Graham went on the road with them and their opener, Skid Row, as an assistant lighting technician. The tour basically took the cast around the world and back. And, when they returned home to Dallas, it was to a sizeable, and swelling, crowd reception.
Then, when Vulgar Display of Power dropped, Graham went out and lived the dream all over again -- this time as a guitar technician.
After Pantera disbanded, Graham kept working with the Arlington-based Abbot brothers, this time in Damageplan, helping out in the studio and on the road. His role, this time around, found him working closely alongside a metal icon, "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott. The two worked closely together for years -- and Graham was off to Dime's side the night that Abbott's life was taken on stage at a club in Columbus, Ohio.
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It's a subject Graham still, six years later, prefers not to talk about.
But he still works closely with Darrell's brother, Vinnie Paul. Graham helped the legendary Pantera drummer launch his own record label, Big Vin Records, serving as the labels' VP, and releasing, among other items, the Rebel Meets Rebel album that found Pantera members collaborating with David Allan Coe.
Over the years, he's seen a hell of a lot of Texas music. After the jump, we pick his memory banks a little for some of the very best stuff.
So, what are you up these days, as far as work?
On the side, I bartend at a few of the concert spots: Trees, Palladium, The Loft, and at the SuperPages.com Center. I've been involved in real estate work for a good part of my life, even before I started working with the Pantera crew. I'm still at it today.
You've said that the first tour you did with Pantera and Skid Row was one of the greatest times you've had in your life. What stands out in your mind from that period the most?
Watching the show from underneath an onstage stairway, with (Pantera drum tech) Kat Brooks. There was a curtain that blocked us from being seen by the audience, but looking straight across the stage at the show, we were right there. We could see everything. Clearly the best seats in the house. We went all over the world, became pretty close with the Skid Row guys, and fell victim to an uncountable amount of pranks from Dimebag. It was all great. It's really hard to single out any one thing from that time. Everything about it was an amazing experience.
The attention Pantera got from all that hard work and travel is well documented. What sort of opportunities did it yield for you, if any?
I ended up doing work for a couple of the other bands that were out with us as well. I was a bass tech for Skid Row for a bit, and also for the band Love/Hate when they were on the tour.
After the Vulgar tour ended, you returned to a more simple life at home for a good stretch. At what point did you re-enter the picture and begin working them again?
I went back to doing real estate and other things. I bartended and assistant-managed at Cowboys in Arlington. When those guys started auditioning singers for Damageplan, I was in the studio with them, and started helping out in various ways.
What did you spend most of your time working on when Damageplan was ramping up?
One of the most fun things was getting in all of Dime's new gear he had coming from Dean Guitars, and from another company they had called Kettner. Dime and the guys could never remember the exact name, so they were always calling it "Ketchup and Mustard." But this awesome stuff would arrive -- amps and gear -- and I would set it all up, and start fuckin' around with it, and Dime would call me up and ask what I thought of it. Then he'd come down and try it out. When Damageplan first went out on the road, they had another guy doing stage tech work, but he left at some point, and they asked me to jump in and do it.
That, of course, was when tragedy struck, and everything for Damageplan came to a grinding halt. Did you go back to real estate and bartending again?
I was living with Vinnie Paul during that time. I didn't really do much of anything for a while after all that. I was pretty shell-shocked, pretty beat up in the head. Eventually, Vinnie and I started up his label, and I was made vice president of Big Vin Records. The first thing we wanted to do was put out Rebel Meets Rebel (featuring 3/4 of Pantera and vocalist David Allan Coe). They had been mixing that record when I re-entered the picture, right before Damageplan got started. We really wanted to see what we could do with Hillbilly Orchestra, too.
Who has a chance of breaking out of Dallas local rock nowadays, in your opinion?
One band I saw at Trees that I thought was really good was Reckless Intent. Their current record could use some work from a production-angle, but they really put out a great live rock show.
You're a big country fan as well. Did that start when you worked at Cowboys in Arlington? Any local country that you're a fan of right now?
Part of my job at Cowboys was making sure the country acts got loaded in. I saw a lot of cool guys on their way up come through there -- Toby Keith and a bunch of others. I'm really into the country stuff! I love [Cross Canadian Ragweed's] Cody Canada, Jason Boland. I'm going to the Steamboat Festival again soon, up in Colorado. Super cool to see to see all the Texas Country guys perform up there.
Where do you hope things are headed for you as far as future involvement in music?
I'm not quite sure, but I sure do want to stay in touch with it all. Something in promotions would be great for me. It's been in my bloodstream most of my life, and at this point, I don't think I could be dragged kicking and screaming away from it successfully.
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