Today I would like to talk about the book by Rex Brown called The Official Truth 100 Proof: The Inside Story of Pantera.
The book was a very interesting read and a rather eye-opening account of the inner workings of the legendary band Pantera and all the trials and tribulations they went through as a unit. With such chapter titles as: Rex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll, Dangerously Vulgar, We’re Taking Over this Town, The Downfall, The Aftermath and The Worst Day of my Llife… You can imagine there is plenty of drama and crazy antics reported on.
Of course everybody likes a good story or two and to read about the various backstage antics and shenanigans that rock and metal bands often partake in. He certainly laid everything out in great detail, and how things went down via his own experience or perspective. And since this was basically only the second book about the life and times of Pantera [the first being Black Tooth Grin; which you should also check out] I was hooked from the get-go and almost read the entire book in one sitting.
Few heavy metal acts survived the turmoil of the early 1990s music scene. Pantera was different. Instead of humoring the market, the band instead demanded that the audience come to them by releasing a series of fiercely uncompromising, platinum albums, including Vulgar Display of Power and Far Beyond Driven—two #1 albums that, like Metallica’s And Justice for All, sold millions of copies despite minimal airplay.
Rex Brown’s memoir is the definitive account of life inside one of rock’s biggest bands, which succeeded against all odds but ultimately ended in tragedy when iconic lead guitarist Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott was murdered mid-performance by a deranged fan.
This is a lucid account of the previously untold story behind one of the most influential bands in heavy metal history, written by the man best qualified to tell the truth about those incredible and often difficult years of fame and excess.
To set the stage for the book and the time frame I thought the forward by King’s X bassist Dug Pinnick was pretty damn cool. King’s X was another favorite 80’s band of mine (even though they were miles apart from Pantera stylistically), it’s a shame they never received the critical acclaim that I thought they deserved. Check this out…
“I remember back in 1987 when Pantera and King’s did a double in-store together in Dallas. Both our bands pretty much kept to ourselves, but all I remember was that Dime was in the corner shredding through a very loud amp practically the whole time, with a bunch of wide-open metalheads going nuts. He was simply fucking amazing!”
“Fast forward two years. Pantera played the Backstage Club in Houston (a real cool club that everyone played), and me and my buds Galactic Cowboys went to check them out. Well, I wish everyone could have been there to see them that night doing Power Metal. It was the tightest, most brutal metal I have ever heard in my entire life. Phil, Vinnie, and Dime were mesmerizing, but me being a bass player, I completely focused on Rex. In my opinion, Rex is not only the coolest looking bass player ever, but he could execute every song with the kind of brutality and groove that was rocking me like only a bass player can, and holding down the fort.
“Oh, and they did some amazing Metallica covers. Pantera executed every song with a power on a level I had never experienced before. We hung out backstage drinking and having fun. This became the norm, but on [this] one particular night they came to play, everyone was there, ready to experience this sound we had so gotten addicted to and loved so much. To our surprise, they did a whole set of new songs. It was the entire Cowboys from Hell album. All I can remember is that there was an amazing vibe that we all had just experienced the future of metal. The rest is history.”
~Dug Pinnick, Kings X
I certainly remember hearing Cowboys From Hell for the first time, what about you? I guess I should take a step back and state that this was not the first Pantera album that I’d ever heard back then. I gave their fourth album Power Metal quite a few spins on my turntable (and cassette deck – haha) and I also had their first three self-produced independent releases as well. Of course the first few self-released/financed indie titles were more in the hard rock/melodic metal vein and the boys even wore spandex attire and even had their hair teased – along with other stage gimmicks that was popular at the time – mostly from California with bands such as Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Dokken etc.
Although Dime was certainly shredding on these albums, when lead singer Phil Anselmo joined the the band it took things to a whole other level. Now, we all know when Phil stepped in that he was singing partially like Rob Halford (Judas Priest) and even some Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche) at first with a higher pitched vocal range or singing style.
Looking back now, it’s very interesting to see how Phil quickly progressed from just this one album to the next. With Cowboys from Hell most of the falsetto screams and melodic vibrato were gone except for maybe in parts of the more [balladesque] Cemetery Gates and a few other spots. In its place were guttural screams and pure aggressive vox power.
I always wondered what sparked Phil’s change in vocal delivery, direction and stage presence and I found out while reading this book. According to Rex, “While Phil had upped his game significantly as a vocalist on the record, he was still trying to find himself as a front man, a true performer, so Suicidal Tendencies were great road mates for us. Mike Muir was a fucking huge influence on him, and I’m sure Phil would acknowledge that. Mike has this demeanor on stage that makes you not want to fight with him, and Phil definitely wanted that same vibe. He saw the respect that Mike got because of it, so that’s where a lot of his tough guy front man shtick comes from for sure.” This was just one of the many a-ha moments throughout the book for me.
The guys were obviously listening to a lot of Metallica during this time frame and used that as a blueprint somewhat to shape their sound into a heavier thrash style that was becoming increasingly more popular. It was a much welcomed change in my book and they got all the parts and pieces right with this combination of members, songs, production style and sound. Hats off to the Texas boys as they would later show us with the Cowboys album/song lyrics “We’re taking over this town.”
Rex adds “Even though our material still had a loose, pop sensibility to it, the riffs were steadily getting harder and heavier. Listening to Metallica back in 83′ and 84′, Ride the Lightning changed everything and so began a whole new step in the evolution of heavy metal. Their first record had turned our heads into a heavier direction, but the progression to Ride the Lightning was huge and certainly influenced our next studio recording I Am the Night, released in 1985.
It appears Metallica really made a lasting impression on Pantera. Says Rex “We saw Metallica when they supported Raven in 83′ or 84′, but never got a chance to meet them. Rita Haney, a chic who was always hanging around Dime – knew them. So then in 85′, when they came back through town with W.A.S.P and Armored Saint, we got to hang out with them. I remember being completely in awe of them and their music because they were doing exactly what we hoped we could do. That experience really had a big impact on me and Dime in particular. Even at that time [James] Hetfield was the kind of guy who you just let talk – very, very serious and you got the sense that there was something grilling upstairs but you were never sure what it was.”
“On another one of these nights we were sitting outside some club with Metallica and they were playing us their new record; there’s no bass on it and they are laughing their asses off saying; “We got this new guy Jason and we are fighting with him – we’re just not going to put his bass in the mix.” They were fucking howling about it and I guess they saw it as their way of harassing him. I’m saying “So where’s the bass?” And they just said, “Ha ha it’s not on it.” There’s been a lot of debate and speculation about that issue over the years as to whether it was an intentional attempt to humiliate Jason Newsted. And we heard it straight from their mouths. They meant it.” Ugh…
Our place in the line of Rock Music Evolution
Rex states “To me it all started with the Delta blues, with someone like Robert Johnson. From there you can trace it through to Howlin’ Wolf, Chicago blues, and I know that steps a lot of time and a Lot of great blues players who were out there, but that’s the general progression as I heard it. So you could say that the origin of Rock ‘n Roll comes from the Mississippi Delta all the way through Chuck Berry to English bands like the Beatles, The Stones, and Led Zeppelin to where we are now. But it began in America, in the South. I always felt that Pantera’s sound was misidentified. You couldn’t label us or call us anything in my opinion; we just took our place in the line of rock music evolution.”
Interesting insider tidbits from the Kindle e-book version.
To be quite honest I was a bit shocked about how truthful/forthcoming Rex was throughout the book.
“All through 2003 relations were very strained because of Philip’s inability to answer the phone – not for the first time or the last – to discuss what the future held for Pantera. Neither management nor I could even talk to him. Far less the brothers. So when we eventually got confirmation that Phil was doing this Superjoint Ritual project that year, we were all left in limbo.
“I always truly believed that all our differences would be worked out in time and that Pantera would continue. It just felt like when brothers fight and don’t talk for a while, that’s what brothers do. Despite how upsetting the awkwardness was, I never saw it as a permanent communication breakdown.”
“At this stage, Philip was completely out of the picture. He was still doped out of his mind and I had decided that there was no possibility of working with him again until his addiction situation changed. It is one thing trying to reason with someone who simply drinks and has a good time, but it’s an entirely different matter when you’re trying to reason with someone who’s using – they’re on a different fucking planet. Thank God he’s got his life together now.”
I did get quite teary-eyed towards the end of the book when (as everyone knows what is coming) he describes Dime getting shot onstage…even though it’s been many years since, it still hit me like a ton of bricks! I literally had to bookmark my spot and take a break as the scene that was painted in the book was so vivid and shocking that I could not go to sleep that night. I felt so terrible for everyone involved, I was angry, confused and just stunned in general. The events leading up to, during and after the shooting were quite chaotic it seems. And to re-live that via Rex’s perspective was intense to say the least.
On Dime’s Funeral
I couldn’t believe some of the stories about Dime’s funeral that were mentioned in the book. There were a huge number of Dimes’ musician friends there, and Eddie Van Halen and Zakk Wylde were asked to make speeches. I was sitting in the second row beside Eddie, who was just totally out of line, really disrespectful actually. I told Eddie on numerous occasions to shut the fuck up but there was no point. Zakk was always one of Dime’s and best friends, as well as being, like Dime, a great guitar player, but on this occasion he was in the bizarre situation of having to keep Eddie Van Halen – who was coked out of his head and acting like a complete idiot, in line.
Fucking shut up, Zakk told Eddie after he had rambled on for a while, while he was giving his eulogy – something about his ex-wife if I remember it right – but that didn’t stop him, he just kept going. It was really disrespectful.
Here are some other interesting points that stood out for me:
What you need to remember is that only four guys ever really knew what went on in Pantera, and one of us isn’t around anymore to tell his of the story.
One summer in the early 80’s, somebody gave Dime Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman records. Dime then sequestered himself in his fucking bedroom for that entire summer, and when he came out he was a fucking virtuoso. It was that simple!
Remember, we were musicians, not accountants, and learning to look after your cash is something only learned after a lot of trial and error.
If you put your head up above the fence often enough, eventually some fucker is going to throw a rock at you.
The press likes to build you up and then blow you down like a fucking tower. Even worse, many people like to read about it.
I certainly didn’t get into this to get my face on the cover of People Magazine, and Phillip certainly didn’t either.
We got Phil out of a band called Razor White, a metal band who’d been out touring like we had but with more emphasis on states like Mississippi.
Phil started turning us on to all kinds of different stuff that we hadn’t listened to before, because he turned out to be the biggest fucking metalhead of all time. He knew every fucking band there was to know.
Atco Records wanted us out touring the record as quickly as possible, so even before the record came out in July 1990 we were out on the road in April, initially with Suicidal Tendencies and Exodus.
Of course in the late 80’s hair metal/hard rock and heavy metal in general was on its way out and Pantera [in my humble opinion] was the main band to keep the metal flag flying throughout much of the 90’s. The scene was changing and even Metallica changed their sound in a big way. I won’t go into much detail about the Black album [or Justice for that matter] as I like it albeit it’s such a departure from their first three albums. My favorite is still Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning comes in as a close second.
Regarding this change and time frame Rex says “At this point in our trajectory, despite the relative success of Cowboys from Hell, we still considered ourselves to be fairly small-scale – we were in a way, certainly in comparison to what we would later become. From a critical acclaim standpoint, things definitely changed, but our lives had been altered radically to and we were still very hungry for fame in cash. We were still doing our own little headline shows while also supporting the bigger bands, but nothing huge was happening to boost our profile as fast as we wanted. We wanted to explode! Despite being signed to a big label, we still felt like we needed to silence a few doubters with whatever we released next. What helped a lot was that when Metallica dropped this big commercial record of theirs they unwittingly gave us this big, fucking gaping hole in the market to fill. While we deftly did have firm ideas for how we wanted the record to sound, Metallica’s record confirmed to us that we were the band to take over the void they just left behind.
It’s hard to remember which track we started with, but once we got going it was just nonstop – with ideas flowing from us, and we increasingly realize that, with our grassroots, heavy sound, we really were the band to fill the slot the Metallica had just vacated. We believed we had the right profile to occupy the position of theirs and it was our perseverance and sheer desire to make increasingly heavy music that allowed us to do that. It was all on our terms and nobody else’s. It wasn’t on Metallica’s terms or anything like that, and there also wasn’t a lot of competition at this particular point in the 90’s, but I can’t think of many bands in our genre that, instead of going out of our way to appeal to an audience, made an audience gravitate toward us. That’s in part a distinction to make, I think, because it’s such a rare thing in this world of falling trends and fashions.” I agree with his statements and the only other band was called Machine Head who was introducing heavier music with a more groove oriented feel to it that became popular.
*I won’t even bother talking about all the Nu-Metal nonsense that was out and about.
Here are some [characters and important] people who were mentioned in the book. Stephen Gibb, Trent Reznor, Guy Sykes, Gene Simmons, Robert Johnson, Ozzy Osbourne, Mark Ross, Jeff Judd, Jimmy Bower, Jerry Cantrell, Pepper Keenan, Tommy Bradford, Vinny Paul Abbott, Rita Haney, Philip H. Anselmo, Big Val, Aaron Barnes, Lemmie, Rob halford, Keith Richards, Donnie Hart, Jason Newsted, Max Norman, Terry date, Tom Petty, Mike Muir, Kim Zide Davis, Jerry Abbott, Warren Riker, Doc McGhee, Terry glaze, Walter O’Brien, Kirk Windstein, James Hetfield, David Codikow and Toby Wright.
A funny note in the e-book extras says: Notes for Parents | The reading level is for adults, not exactly a book for kids! Because of strong language throughout, heavy content. But it’s a book about heavy metal, what more would you expect?
Last closing remarks by Rex: “This would not have been possible without your screams and adulation’s, many, in fact!!! Love you all, Rex.”
Official Truth, 101 Proof: The inside story of Pantera was co-written by Mark Eglinton and is available by Da Capo Press (member of the Perseus books group).
Book review by Kinger