Big Heart In The Metal Art: Celebrating Vinnie Paul

Metal and horror go hand in hand. Children we are different from societal standings and constantly fighting against the norm, seeing a lot of beauty, poeticism and strength to persevere in art forms that are not only frowned upon but constantly degraded. This is sometimes like a badge, however, a beacon to show each other who we truly are and gives us a special ability to find one another, these truly special people, amongst the barrage of terrible people we encounter in this life. Horror and metal both give us understanding and somewhere we, the misfits, belong. I would trust a tatted, pierced and multi hair colored person over anyone in business attire any day. Among these genres are some of the most genuine celebrities and artists you can meet. Souls who shine so brightly that they take a piece of that brightness and share it with us with their art. One such person who shared every bit of their soul metaphorically with their music also embraced everyone he met with that soul intimately with his personality and love. That person is a Texas legend whose laughter could be heard in bars and concerts across the state. Whose love and generosity traveled continents making friends as he went, not just with other metalheads and bands but with anyone willing to open up their spirits to him. A man whose music transcended language barriers and influenced a generation with the beating of a drum not of war but of survival and joy. A beat that was a celebration of life that brought the horns of Ronnie James Dio into the air and fists on the rise to the skies, crying out the anthems of his music and beating as one with our hearts that loved what he did. This man was Vinnie Paul. Pantera, Damageplan and most recently Hellyeah he was everything you could want and more from a hometown hero as a misunderstood and lost kid growing up in Dallas, Tx.

The first time I listened to Pantera was when I was discovering music and would constantly try to find any and all Rock Block’s, Metal hours Headbangers Ball or anything of the sort to binge and learn my new love. Cowboys from Hell came on and from that opening sound like an impending eruption, I felt a building anticipation. Then that guitar riff, finally it all kicked off. I was immediately blown away by what I was hearing. That groove on all fronts from guitar to bass to drums. I became obsessed and immediately devoured the discography. I had to learn of these people, who they are and where they came from. The Abbott brothers. Two young boys obsessed with KISS, Poison, Megadeth, Metallica, such an eclectic taste like my own. In a time of Grunge where everything was too mellow for me, showmanship being thrown out the window, there were two brothers jumping around crazily, huge smiles on their faces putting everything they had into what they were doing and you could hear their hearts and jolts of excitement with every beat and riff. Their influences all over each song being different and unique but carrying that same insanity and F#CK YOU attitude. They were everything a kid who grew up with a broken family struggling to find who he was needed. Their obvious skill and musical appreciation aside, you cannot find a video or clip of them being talked about as being anything other than the nicest people on the planet. There’s a particular story of the band Shinedown sharing a trailer with them on tour. There was a divider between the two bands and as the lead singer puts it he heard foot stomps and before he knew it the barrier was down and standing there was Dimebag Darrell Abbot and Vinnie Paul Abbot of Pantera. Dimebag said to them, “There’s not gonna be none of this separation stuff. We don’t know you and you don’t know us probably. But you might as well come on in and share a drink with us so get your pull.” That's who the Abbott brothers are. You can hear countless stories from Scott Ian, Zakk Wylde, even members of Black Sabbath and their favorite band KISS about how generous and loving they were. Not just to other stars, but their fans as well. If you lived in DFW, Texas you could easily see them at shows. Rocking right there with you like you were their best friend. Inviting you over for barbeques, teaching you things on the drums and guitar. They love who they are and what they do and everyone surrounding them that supports them. Never did they turn their nose up at anyone.

In our lives, we are very lucky to have a bond so strong with anyone as strong as the Abbott brothers. At one point Dimebag was offered to play in Megadeth with Dave Mustaine but he simply said, “Not without my brother.” How many people in your life can you say have a bond like that? Tragedy struck as Dimebag was taken from us by a crazed fan and poor Vinnie secluded himself for years. I can’t even imagine what that must’ve been like, as we the world lost a hero but Vinnie lost a piece of who he was. It took the strong love and bonds of friends like Chad Gray from Mudvayne and the rest of the Hellyeah family to bring Vinnie back with a vengeance. The first time I saw Hellyeah at the now legendary Ozzfest 8-9-08 one day date in Frisco Texas it was a magical moment. We hadn’t seen Vinnie in years it felt like. But there he was back in his groove, beating out the beats of his heart and soul accompanied with a new family to share their love with us the crowd. It was a loving warm welcome home with a huge tribute to Dimebag Darrell. I feel like that show cemented Hellyeah in our minds as continuing on the Pantera and Damageplan traditions. As becoming new hometown heroes. As bringing back a piece of what we lost and bringing Vinnie back to us who loved him.

From then to now I began to see Vinnie everywhere I went. We had almost the exact same taste in music. I saw him at Alice Cooper where he and I rocked out together singing Poison. I saw him at Rush horns up during YYZ. I saw him at Poison smiling at Bret Michaels. He was just a fixture at concerts and as KISS was our favorite band I would always see him either backstage or front row going just as crazy as myself. He loved people, no matter who or what they were. I’ve seen the man just randomly hand out booze to random people on the street smiling at them and making friends as he went. I know everyone in DFW whose a fan has “Big Vin” stories and while mine probably aren’t as amazing as most, they mean the world to me.

Of all my run-ins with Vinnie, two stick out the most. The first one was when I went to go see Tesla’s Five Man Acoustical Jam. I had bought front row seats and this guy and his kid snuck up in the seats next to me as it seems whoever had those seats hadn’t shown up and the concert had just started. Moments later who happened to show up was none other than my constant concert buddy Vinnie and apparently, the dad and his kid were in his seats. The dad tried to explain it was his son's first concert, but Vinnie being who he is simply shrugged it off and told him to stay there and Vinnie bent down next to the kid and started headbanging with him. The smile on that kid's face and the smile on Vinnie’s I'll never forget. What happened next though is a testament to what a great guy Vinnie is. Tesla started playing their hit “Love Song” and during the chorus as Jeff the singer wailed into the microphone, “Love will find a way!” Vinnie lifted the kid onto the stage and the kid hugged Jeff as he sang it. That kid will never forget that. I’ll never forget that. My second story is all for me. I went to go see Ace Frehley from KISS for my birthday at Trees in Dallas. I got gridlocked into the front and couldn’t move to get my card which I had left at the bar, but the set as always was incredible. In the middle of the set Ace called out Vinnie in the audience as always being at his shows and of course, Vinnie let out a loud and loveable, “HELLYEAH!” When the show ended I went back to the bar to get my card and Vinnie was sitting there chatting everyone up. I had seen him at so many shows and always bumped into him but had never gotten to talk with him or take a picture with him. I went up and asked if I could get a birthday picture. “Hellyeah brother come on in, happy birthday!” He pulled me in for a big hug and we took the picture. It was one of the most fun photos I’ve ever taken.

In my heart, I’ve always had this strange connection to Vinnie. We love the same things and we both had a brother who meant the world to us that we lost. My best friend in the world passed right after Dimebag but I got to see Hellyeah with him when Vinnie came back after all those years and we loved Vinnie and his music. This was my personal story of Vinnie and my connections to him. We all here in Texas have stories like that of him or have heard them. He traveled the world spreading that love and joy. Now that he has passed there has been a heavy toll on my heart this week. In this dark twisted world, it always seems the best people are taken leaving us with some of the worst. But like a light in the black, those best people shine us through the worst with everything they were making them forever something that they are and forever shall be, a hope. A hope for the misfits. A hope for the metalheads. A hope for the dreamers. And most of all a hope for a better world. Tell his story and let his legend live on for eternity, but our bonds with him will never be broken. Just as the Abbott brothers bond never was. Now all I can say is in those years they were apart, that bond may have been strained but never truly broken. The bond once again close as the brothers are together again for eternity. They live in each note played through our speakers and headphones and minds echoing their love of the art. Keep those horns up and as Vinnie and Dime would say GETCHA PULL!