John Lennon was murdered by a crazy fan on December 8, 1980. On December 8, 2004, another crazy fan murdered a musician: Nathan Gale, a 25-year-old former Marine, initially told friends that he blamed "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott for breaking up the heavy metal band Pantera. It was then widely reported that Gale began claiming the band was stealing song lyrics he had written.
When Dimebag Darrell and his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, played in Columbus, Ohio, with their new band Damageplan, Gale jumped onstage and shot Darrell to death. He then shot and killed a bouncer (that tried to stop him) and two others before police gunned him down.
A lot of things came to mind when I heard this story. There was a time I was working an overnight DJ shift at Rock 102.1 (now Rock 105.3) and I had friends in from out of town. They were in the studio with me. As I recorded phone calls for potential playback on the air, one caller stated he was going to sue Led Zeppelin because they stole the lyrics to "Stairway to Heaven" from him. The guy spoke normally enough and presented his case. He read verses from the Zeppelin song and then the verses he claimed he wrote. After listening to this guy rant for awhile, I asked, "How old are you?" When he told me, I said, "Zeppelin released that song in 1971. You weren't even born, so how could they steal it from you?" There was silence on the other end, as my friends laughed in the background. Then he replied, "Next time I see Robert Plant [Zep singer], I'm going to kill him!" He hung up.
When I told this story, laughing about it, to our afternoon DJ and promotion director Chris Ryan he told me that when he worked at a radio station in Phoenix a listener often called in threatening to kill the DJs. One DJ told the caller the station's address and dared him to come down. That DJ was shot and killed by the caller later that day.
I also thought about the time I was at an Isley Brothers concert at the Del Mar Fair five years ago. We were near the back, where everyone stands before the seating begins. Everyone started running for the exits. We asked, "What's going on?" and someone answered, "A guy pulled out a gun!" We ran, too. But from outside that area we heard the Isley Brothers still singing, not missing a beat. We glanced around the corner, saw their purple suits still onstage, and walked back in. I thought then of how easy it would be for somebody to shoot a person onstage -- how vulnerable they are up there.
Bobby "Blue" Bland played at 4th & B a few months after 9/11. My friend is a blues lover and he wanted an album autographed, but Bland had security all around him. One of the security guys said, "Ever since September 11, Bobby beefed up security. He doesn't want anything crazy happening to him."
It was odd that, after the shooting of Darrell, Bland was playing 4th & B the next night. And my friend again tried, unsuccessfully, to meet Bland.
I talked to Ed Pate, the sound engineer at 4th & B. He said, "Even I couldn't get near Bobby 'Blue' Bland. He was in and out of there so fast. The second the show was over, he jumped onto the bus. Everything was weird that night."
I remember when metal band W.A.S.P. played 4th & B. Their fans are known for bringing raw meat to throw onstage. The band hated this. One member said, "We slip on the liver and could get hurt." I asked Pate about this and he replied, "Yeah, our security guards found lots of meat in their pockets and we had them throw it out before they came in. Usually, security pats people down and there aren't problems. If people have weapons, they see us searching everyone, so they go back and put them in their cars. The worst problem we have is with the rap acts, from the rappers that perform here. We tell them they have to leave those [weapons] on their bus."
Before I hung up with Pate he told me, "I overheard some security guards talking about the shooting of Darrell. One of them said, 'That could never happen here.' I turned around and said, 'Yeah, what about all those times some fan jumps onstage and then jumps off to stage -dive?'"
When the classic rock station I worked at became a hard rock/heavy metal station, Pantera became the number-one requested group. I couldn't figure it out. I didn't care for them. Our music director and afternoon DJ Peg Pollard said, "They always got the most requests. And when I got my job working in Denver, they were the most-requested band there, too."
Pantera released Vulgar Display of Power in 1992 and played the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park on November 14 of that year. The night before the show both Darrell and Vinnie called our music director Peg and asked if there were any parties that night. She told them she had to work at Dream Street (oftentimes radio stations go to a club to do promotions). They said they'd show up. She called me at home to ask if I'd help her with the event because she knew that if those guys showed up, it might get hectic.
So there we were at Dream Street in Ocean Beach and it's looking like they aren't going to show. I said to Peg, "They called you about a party. They wanted to party, not come to a bar." But when the last local band was onstage, late in the evening, the two guys from Pantera walked in. The crowd was going nuts, asking for autographs (which they gave), buying them beers (which they drank), and finally, they played onstage with the band.
The music was just loud noise to me. Since I don't play guitar, I couldn't appreciate what Darrell was doing -- yet I would always see him on the cover of guitar magazines. And when I once went to NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) in Los Angeles, of all the musicians there, Darrell had the biggest crowd around him, asking for autographs. It struck me as odd that the guys were so nice. For some reason, you think metal-heads are just going to be rude. But these guys were smiling, letting the fans take pictures -- and the concert wasn't even until the next day.