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.
Peg begged me to go to the Pantera concert, but I declined. The next day she told me, "Everyone from Dream Street last night was backstage drinking beer. I asked them how they got there and they said, 'Dimebag gave us free tickets to the concert and backstage passes last night.' I had never seen so many people backstage."
When the news of this tragedy hit, Rob Halford, now a Hillcrest resident, issued a statement on the website "Metal Sludge." It read: "His [Darrell's] musicianship was superb and his original style was and will remain an inspiration to players worldwide. His friendship can never be replaced. I first met Dime in 1991. I was in Toronto preparing for the 'Painkiller' tour. I had MuchMusic TV on and saw this guy talking about metal and wearing a 'British Steel' shirt. From what he was saying and the Pantera video that aired I knew right away that this man was a guitar god. I called MuchMusic and spoke to Dime and that night went to a club and hung with the band. We jammed. From that point on, he and the rest of the band became solid friends. My gut feeling was that this band would be huge."
So Pantera toured with Priest all over Europe. Halford continues, "Of course, so much has happened since those early times and I feel that it's important now that however we take the turn of events in recent years we all stay true to the same belief that Dimebag had about his love of metal, which was to play your heart out and be real wherever you are. Some things that happen in life make no sense at all, but out of pain comes strength and use it as an enduring memory for Dimebag. Love never dies."
Pantera was in our studio for interviews every time they came to town. I don't remember much of what they said because I was usually working or just not listening. But Peg recalls, "They were the nicest guys. Some bands came in with attitudes and were assholes. These guys were always nice. One time my boyfriend Len wanted me to have a drumhead signed by Vinnie. Sometimes people spell things wrong, so I said, 'L-E-N' -- saying each letter. He asked again, looking confused. I again spelled it. He ended up signing 'Ellian' -- thinking I was saying a name, not spelling it."
The next time we partied with Pantera was in 1996. They co-headlined a show at the Sports Arena with White Zombie. Again they called Peg the night before to ask, "Where's the party?" There was no party going on that we knew of, but Peg thought fast on her feet. When a listener called in near the end of her shift, it sounded like a large crowd was at that house. She asked if a party was going on. There was. She said, "Can I come over?" Of course, the listener was excited that this DJ he listened to was going to come over. He started screaming when she said, "I'm bringing Pantera with me." He asked, "Did I win some contest or something?" Peg laughed and said, "No -- me and the guys are just looking for a party tonight."
She called me and we met at a house in Clairemont. Andy had Dimebag sign a guitar the second he walked in. (Andy -- if you're reading this, I want a copy of the picture you took!) Near the end of the night, Dimebag was showing Andy how to play some chords.
Everyone began asking Dimebag for autographs and Peg said, "Give the guy a break! Let him grab a beer and chill out." He said, "No, no, it's fine." He signed autographs for half an hour, before drinking. One guy called him "Diamond." I said, "No, his nickname is Dimebag." I was quickly corrected. The fan told me "He started out being called Diamond Darrell, but somewhere it got switched to Dimebag. I think because he always has a dime bag of pot on him."
Of course, everyone was also handing him joints, which he'd gladly toke, and hand back. One guy said to me, "I'm going to save this joint. I'm going to tell people that Dime actually took a toke from it." I wonder if it will end up on eBay now.
As it got later in the evening, more and more people began to show up at this small house. I noticed Andy calling friends on the phone and I told him, "If too many people show up, the cops will probably close things down. And the guys are going to get sick of being asked the same questions over and over. I think they just want to party, not act like rock stars." He hung up the phone saying, "That's cool, that's cool."
At the Sports Arena, Peg and I were on one side of the stage, watching. Pantera had a banner behind them with a marijuana leaf on it and everyone was throwing joints onstage. Dimebag was lighting them up right onstage. At one point he staggered over and put his arm around Peg, offering her one. She refused, and he started talking incoherently to her, smiling and laughing. We both realized that he wasn't playing his guitar and the song was still going on. She pushed him back to the stage and he started playing again. It was so odd.
Pantera once came to town with Ozzy Osbourne. Upon this tragedy, Osbourne released this statement: "Dimebag was a dear friend of mine. I'm absolutely beside myself with grief. I can't for the life of me understand why someone would do this. Pantera toured with me many, many times. I'll always remember the signed guitar that he gave me at my 50th birthday party. My heart goes out to Dime's family, his fans, and the other innocent victims who were killed in this senseless tragedy. It's just terribly, terribly sad."
While working in radio, I would see fans come to the studio and give musicians all kinds of gifts. The musicians would thank the fans and throw the stuff in the limo, in the trash -- sometimes never look at it. Sometimes a band would bring the gift into the studio, just having been handed it in the parking lot. They would open it -- it might be a nice bottle of booze or even something like a portrait that was painted by the fan. Often the musician would smile and say to the nearest person, "You can have this if you want." They'd autograph it and some intern at our station now had a cool gift.
There was a guy named Jimmy who was a hardcore Pantera fan and had a business airbrushing shirts. He gave one to Peg to give to Dimebag Darrell as a gift. She said, "I'm going to interview them before the show. Come by the station and I'll let you give it to him in person."
Jimmy handed the shirt to Darrell, who thanked him for it. That night in concert he came out wearing the shirt. Imagine the thrill that was for Jimmy! Peg remembers, "Near the end of the concert he'd take off his shirt and throw it to the crowd. Jimmy probably didn't care as much for that part of it. But the next time Darrell came into the studio, I let him give Darrell another shirt. And the exact same thing happened. But Jimmy was thrilled he even wore the thing."
Dave Mustaine, singer for Megadeth (and former Metallica member), was born and raised in La Mesa and lives there still. He also issued a statement on the website "Metal Sludge" the very night of the murder: "There is nothing unique or clever to this post and what I want to say has no doubt already been said throughout the metal community, by countless others whom were more closer to Darrell than me, by now. However, knowing he was murdered tonight, I wish to thank and remember Darrell for his amazing life and the gift that he shared with me and so many other fortunates. I pray for Darrell's family and friends; specifically for their healing, their peace, and their understanding of this tragedy in their time of need. I send my deepest heartfelt condolences to the Abbott family, to Darrell's friends, and to the fantastic Pantera and Damageplan fans around the world. We must never forget his life, and his genius, his terrific personality, and to the legacy he left behind to remember him by. Darrell, I will see you in heaven and I, like so many more, love you brother. You will be missed."
A music photographer in Colorado once told Peg that Darrell handed him a beer and that he had a really bad acid trip from drinking it. He was sure that Darrell spiked it with something. A person working with the band said, "Never drink anything Darrell hands you." Peg tells me, "That's weird, because I've drank things he's handed me and never had a problem. He was so sweet and I can't imagine him doing that. Maybe it was a joke."
Unfortunately for Peg and me, the best parties the Abbotts had were in Dallas, Texas. They owned a strip club there and many metal bands that came through partied with them. After her radio career, Peg began working with Suicidal Tendencies. One night the members of that band and Peg were at the club and a guy in Suicidal thought someone in Pantera was laughing at him. He punched the guy, knocking him out. Usually, though, metal bands talk fondly of their trips to Texas to party with Pantera.
Ratt started here in San Diego. Ex-member Juan Croucier issued this: "Dimebag Darrell was an awesome guitar player. Pantera and Damageplan were great, great bands. I remember hearing Pantera for the first time back in the early '90s and thinking to myself, 'Man, this band is over the top.' Very intense. I loved it. It was also my brother Rick's favorite band. Darrell brought something new to the hard rock/metal game. He was not only a great guitar player/songwriter, but he changed the rock music with his style and approach. Hard rock will never be the same. His contribution to music will live on in all of us who loved his work. Life is so precious. Everyone matters. Unfortunately, we live in a world where senseless and insane acts of violence can and do happen without warning."
They do, and that's why I was surprised by Ted Nugent's comments. He's an NRA member, a big hunter, and an outspoken advocate of gun ownership. He told the Flint Journal, a Michigan newspaper, "It was horrible. Darrell was a big fan of mine. He expressed that every time we ever saw each other." Of the many musicians' statements I read, the "Motor City Madman" was the only one to comment on Darrell being his fan, not the other way around. He even mentions songs of his that Pantera covered. He ended with, "It's tragic on two dynamic levels. Once again, innocence is destroyed, and it's Americans destroying other Americans. This conduct runs wild in this country...It's not the Taliban doing it. It's Americans."