It’s the kind of news every Pantera fan had dreamed of seeing since guitarist and co-founder Dimebag Darrell Abbott was shot and killed onstage in 2004. Those dark years were preceded by others, when a nightmarish rift between the group's founding Abbott brothers, Dimebag and drummer Vinnie Paul, singer Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown was headline news.
At first, fans weren't sure whether the reunion was fake news. Billboard reported that the estates of both Vinnie Paul Abbott, who died of a heart attack in 2018, and Dimebag had given the project the green light, which wasn’t a surprise given the money involved. Neither Anselmo nor Brown had confirmed the news to any media outlets, and there was no mention of who would be filling in for Dime and Vinnie.
The Observer contacted Brown via email Thursday to find out.
“But we’re not doing ANY press at the moment!!” Brown wrote.
Then, last Thursday, Blabbermouth reported that Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante had confirmed that they were joining the 2023 Pantera reunion tour. Wylde was a perfect choice given his relationship with Dimebag Darrell. And no slight against Benante's skills, but Anselmo’s drummer for his band The Illegals, Joey “Blue” Gonzalez, would have been a great choice since he’s from North Texas and a monster on the kit.
As Blabbermouth reported, shortly after Vinnie Paul’s death in 2018, Benante told SiriusXM, “I always equated Dime and Vinnie as, like, Alex and Eddie from Van Halen. I always thought Pantera was like Van Halen reborn. They had a guitar player who was a hero. The drummers were fucking awesome, but the thing about Vinnie that, I think, not a lot of people know — maybe they do — but from a technical side of things, Vinnie made those Pantera records sound like that. He was the guy behind it all who was turning the knobs, EQing shit so that his kick drum wasn't fighting with Darrell's fucking chunky guitar. He was a lot of the brains and the glue that held that band together and, basically, pushed that band.”
Another thing about Vinnie: He had hated Anselmo, blamed him for Dime’s death and refused to bring Pantera together again after Dime’s death. And fans are split about whether the band should be touring at all.
Dr. Rock, a longtime friend of Vinnie Paul Abbott and former DJ for The Clubhouse, the strip club owned by Vinnie Paul, said his phone began blowing up when word about the tour spread. He remembered vividly the last time someone had asked Vinnie about a reunion tour a couple of years after Dime died.
A friend in Las Vegas had reported hearing on the radio that Vinnie would be joining Brown and Anselmo onstage either with Eddie Van Halen or Zakk Wylde playing Dime's parts, as Pantera. At the time, Vinnie was living in Vegas, so Dr. Rock says he asked him about the news.
“He said, ‘I will never ever have a reunion tour with Phil so you can forget about it, Rock. I will never do a reunion tour with Phil,’" Dr. Rock recounted. "I said, ‘OK, I believe you.’”
"Phil and Rex have every right to perform the songs they helped write. Plus, I think the fans deserve the chance to hear songs [from] one of the greatest heavy metal bands ever. But it will never be Pantera without Dime and Vince.” –Jeff Murtha
It's not surprising. Vinnie had made everyone in his circle well aware of how he felt about Anselmo and Brown. He wouldn't allow Anselmo to attend Dime's funeral, and he had Brown kicked off the stage at the Arlington Convention Center during Dime's public funeral. Dr. Rock had just finished his eulogy and gotten through introducing Eddie Van Halen, Wylde and Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains when Brown approached the podium.
“He was hammered and wanted to talk on the podium in front of 15,000 people,” Rock says. “I backed up from the podium, and I heard Vinnie. He was on the floor part, lower level, and yelling at me, ‘Get him the fuck off the stage! He didn’t love my brother.’ Rex is crying his story. Fuck, what do I do?”
Rock listened to Vinnie, he says, and got security to help escort Brown off the stage.
When word of the 2023 Pantera tour was announced, Rock says some people took the stance that other bands have toured just with their original drummer and that bands like The Temptations don’t have any of their original members. Rock says he told them that he understood. But he was close to Vinnie and to those friends who were always at his parties barbecuing or going to Cabo San Lucas with Vinnie for Sammy Haggar’s birthdays in October. For this reason, Rock says, it’s a difficult tribute to swallow, especially given how Vinnie felt about a reunion tour and Anselmo until the day he died.
“It’s not Pantera without Vinnie and Dime,” Rock says. “They were Pantera.”
In a fantasy world, a Pantera fan could easily imagine the Abbott brothers' spirits rocking out onstage with Anselmo, Brown and the boys in celebration of the music they created as one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all times. A mosh pit from hell would form at center stage and devour the lower balcony. Fans would lose their minds and release their aggression, making the world a safer place, as Dime ignited his guitar and Vinnie set flame to his sticks.
The reality is that even in fantasy, Dime and Vinnie will be rocking out at their gravesite in Arlington, flipping a middle finger and drinking Black Tooth Grins while fans gather to honor their memory and Vinnie fires up the grill.
Another longtime friend of Vinnie's, Jeff Murtha, a former partner in Vinnie’s all-nude golf-themed bar The Clubhouse, has a similar take and says that if Vinnie had approved of a reunion he would have done it between 2004 and 2018. He recalled Vinnie once telling him, “‘[It’s] like Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin isn't Led Zeppelin without John Bonham.'
“But I also know Vinnie loved his fans more than anything,” Murtha says. “I think he would’ve considered it for the fans. My personal opinion is [that] as long as they don’t call it Pantera it’s fine. Phil and Rex have every right to perform the songs they helped write. Plus, I think the fans deserve the chance to hear songs [from] one of the greatest heavy metal bands ever. But it will never be Pantera without Dime and Vince.”
Yet, it's like Anselmo's Illegals bandmember Gonzalez wrote recently on social media: “Remember folks, opinions are like assholes ...”