The tragic murder of Pantera's guitarist, Dimebag Darrell.
Dimebag Darrell was a founding member of Pantera and one of the greatest heavy metal guitarists of all time. After Pantera broke up, many fans were upset, but one angry fan, 25 year old Nathan Gale, was angry enough to take Dimebag’s life during a concert.
*This is not an exact transcript, but rather an outline of my notes.
Dimebag Darrell was born Darrell Lance Abbott on August 20th, 1966. His older brother, Vinnie Paul was about 2 years older than he was. Their father was country music producer Jerry Abbott. Darrell and Vinnie had a really tight bond and got into music at an early age. They both started playing drums when Darrell was 12 and Vinnie was 14. Vinnie was a natural. As he got better and better, Darrell was getting left behind, so he asked his dad to get him a guitar for his birthday. His first guitar was a Les Paul-style Hohner, which he received along with a Pignose amplifier on his twelfth birthday.
At first he didn’t know how to play it. He would put on make-up in the style of the band Kiss, and he’d stand in front of the mirror, posing with his guitar. Vinnie would say “Man, are you ever gonna learn to play that thing?” Their dad, Jerry, would learn to play Kiss songs on the guitar so he could teach Darrell to play them. Since Jerry was a country music producer, there were often musicians coming to record in their home studio, so Darrell and Vinnie were both able to watch them and learn from them. Within a month, Darrell asked Vinnie to jam with him. They played Smoke on the Water for 6 hours. Going forward, the pair would spend a ton of time together learning music and thriving on it.
In 1979, their parents divorced. Fortunately, they were on good terms and the family remained close.
At age 14, Darrell started attending guitar competitions. His mom would have to take him because he wasn’t old enough to go alone. He usually won these competitions and was eventually asked to stop competing so he could be a judge instead.
In 1981 a band was formed that would eventually be known as Pantera. Initially the band was called Gemini, then Eternity, before finally settling on Pantera. Vinnie Paul was approached by his buddies, Terry Glaze, Donny Hart, and Tommy Bradford, to form a band. Vinnie told them that he would join their band, only if his brother Darrell could also join. They were pretty hesitant, as they were all about 18 years old, while Darrell was a scrawny 16 year old kid. They really wanted Vinnie though so they gave in, initially letting Darrell share guitar duties with Glaze. Eventually, they came to be impressed by Darrell and made him lead guitarist. According to Glaze, “he just morphed over a 6 month period.”
Pantera wasn’t always a heavy metal band. In fact, they started off as glam metal and took influences from bands like Kiss, Van Halen, and Judas Priest. They wore spandex, makeup, and a ton of hairspray. The band signed to Metal Magic Records and Pantera released its first album, Metal Magic, in 1983, when Darrell was 16.
In 1984, Pantera released their second studio album, Projects in the Jungle, followed by I Am the Night in 1985. These albums were still kind of glammy but began to show the band becoming progressively heavier. Terry Glaze wasn’t about that and his glam style was no longer fitting in with the rest of the band, who were trying to go into a heavy metal direction. Glaze left the band in 1986.
They held auditions for a new lead singer and tried a few guys out but didn’t quite find what they were looking for until they came across 18 year old Phil Anselmo and hired him on the spot. He immediately clicked with the band. Phil had a gritty, raspy voice that brought a harder sound to the band and allowed Darrell to play around with heavy, speedy guitar riffs.
So Pantera had developed this new sound that came to be known as groove metal. In 1988, Pantera released their fourth studio album, Power Metal, showcasing their new singer and their new sound. Darrell was becoming widely recognized as one of the greatest heavy metal guitarists of all time. In fact, Dave Mustain actually approached him after the release of Power Metal and asked him to join Megadeth. But Darrell told him, only if my brother can come too. Dave was like “nah we already have a drummer”.
In 1990, the band got new management and released their fifth album, Cowboys from Hell. This was the first album that really hit the groove metal sound they had been developing. It went certified gold and then platinum. Then they released Vulgar Display of Power in 1992 which would become one of the biggest selling heavy metal albums ever. It debuted at #44 and stayed on the charts for 79 weeks. It was also ranked #10 on Rolling Stones list of 100 greatest metal albums of all time.
Darrell developed a new look that would kind of become his signature. He’d wear cargo shorts, a sleeveless shirt, a razorblade pendant, and he dyed his goatee half pink. He also dropped the moniker “Diamond Darrell” and adopted a new name– “Dimebag Darrell”. Some people are confused about the meaning of his name. It’s weed. A “dimebag” is a $10 bag of marijuana. There’s no other secret meaning behind that, Darrell just liked weed.
Pantera continued touring and recording and in 1994, released their seventh studio album, Far Beyond Driven. This album is described as the heaviest album to ever debut at #1. This album was recorded in a new studio in Nashville, so with all the traveling back and forth, the band ended up hanging out in each other's hotel rooms and getting drunk and partying.
The lead single from Far Beyond Driven was called Broken and it was about Phil’s struggle with chronic back pain and self-medicating with alcohol, pills, and heroin. Phil began to isolate himself from the rest of his band, taking his own tour bus separately and not joining the band until 20-30 minutes before going on stage. He admitted in a 2014 interview that he would drink an entire bottle of Wild Turkey every night before the show and then interrupt the show with random ranting. He was becoming notorious for the things he would say during shows. At one show, he stated that rap music was advocating for the murder of white people. He initially denied accusations of racism, and issued an apology, stating that he was drunk and that his remarks were a mistake.
Pantera’s next album came in 1996 and it was called The Great Southern Trendkill. With tensions rising among the band members, they decided to record separately. Phil recorded his part in New Orleans in Trent Reznor’s studio, the frontman for Nine Inch Nails. The rest of the band recorded in Dallas. A couple months after the release of this album, the band continued touring. After a concert in Dallas, TX, Phil Anselmo used a lethal dose of heroin and went into cardiac arrest. He was dead for 5 minutes before the paramedics revived him. He recalls waking up in the hospital confused. “I didn’t know what had happened. I had all these tubes hooked up to me and I sat straight up and threw up immediately. This nurse leaned over and said to me, ‘Welcome back to life. You overdosed on heroin.’“ Anselmo apologized to his bandmates the next night, and said that he would quit using drugs. 2 days later, he was back on stage to continue the tour.
The revelation of heroin use came as a shock to Vinnie and Darrell, who were embarrassed by Anselmo's actions, according to Darrel’s girlfriend, Rita Haney. This incident caused a lasting rift within the band. They started working on their next album, Reinventing the Steel, but it was a drag getting Phil to actually participate. Vinnie said in an interview after the album's release: "It was like pulling teeth to get [Anselmo] down to the studio. He didn't like any of the material, and it was always just like this head-butting contest." To make matters more difficult, Darrell and Vinnie’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999 and died just 6 weeks later. This really affected the brothers, especially Darrell.
Phil Anselmo had multiple side projects he was working on, including a band called Down. The rest of the band didn’t have a problem with this. But then 9/11 happened in 2001, and Phil told Vinnie that he wanted to take a break from music for about a year. Darrell and Vinnie were frustrated but they agreed to take a break for what would become an indefinite period of time. But Phil didn’t stop touring or recording with his other bands, he only took a break from Pantera. According to Phil, the break was mutually agreed upon by all members of the band.
Since Phil was touring with his other bands, Darrell and Vinnie figured that once those tours were over in 2003, he would come back to keep working with Pantera. Instead, he began recording another album with his own band. While performing with his other bands, Phil would start to say things like “Fuck Pantera! Pantera is dead!” making it pretty clear he didn’t want to be in the band anymore.
"Really, it was just a complete lack of communication [within Pantera], and the wrong things being said at the wrong time," offers Pantera's manager Kim Zide-Davis. "Philip doesn't have a real understanding that he needs to be careful of who he says what to, and how people can misconstrue what he's saying. It got to the point where I'd come into the office and Phil was out on tour with Down or Superjoint Ritual and had just said something else. Honestly, it was gut-wrenching. "I spent the better part of the last three years [with Pantera] working with them on and off, trying to keep them from disintegrating. The brothers were ready to go, and so was Rex. But Philip was beyond anybody's control."
"There never was an official breakup of the band," Paul says. "It never officially broke up. When we finished the last tour that we did, in 2001, we really didn't talk to each other for about a year, and then Phil's Superjoint thing is going on full blast, then he gets this Down thing, and he goes out on Ozzfest and people from the crowd are obviously going to yell, 'Pantera!' and he would make all these 'Fuck Pantera' speeches. 'That band is dead.' We're like, Where the fuck did this come from? News to me. That's really how the whole thing started. We tried to reach out to the dude. Dime reached out to the dude several times personally. After about a year and eight months or whatever, me and Dime just said, 'You know what? I guess we don't have a band anymore, man. We better get on start doing something else if we want to keep rock and rolling. I got all these cool new riffs.' And that's how Damageplan came about."
Vinnie and Darrell were both pretty bummed out. Especially Darrell, he felt like all of their hard work and success had been pulled out from under them.
In response to the brothers saying that Phil never communicated his decision to leave the band with him, Phil said, “Well, they have phones as well. And they weren't communicating with me. Their way of communication was through, so they would send their errand girl to call me up and see where my head was at. Now that was pretty offensive, so I didn't play that game, and time passed. And I don't let time pass, I have to do something, I can't sit on my ass and just do nothing, I have to do something, and it must be musical. When I don't use my gift I become defunct and I become clumsy and I become useless. It's a terrible feeling to be that vulnerable.”
“We were in Ireland when the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place in New York. We were stuck there for seven or eight days and the tour was called off because of the turbulence. After that it seemed there was a great… distancing.
"I think, more or less, it lies between Dimebag and I. There was never a point when he could not get drunk. Which was pretty much every day. And now I'm hearing it's worse than ever.
"He would attack me, vocally. And just knowing that he was so much smaller than me I could kill him like a fuckin' piece of vapor, you know, he would turn into vapor — his chin would, at least, if I fuckin' smacked it. And he knows that. The world should know that. So physically, of course, he deserves to be beaten severely.
Phil would later backtrack, claiming that he was misquoted or joking. Vinnie couldn’t believe that Phil had actually said that so he actually obtained a recording of that interview just to make sure, and sure enough, Phil really had said those things about Dimebag. Vinnie made sure the fans knew the truth.
Somewhere throughout all the drama, the band’s bassist, Rex Brown, said “I’m out”, and so Darrell and Vinnie went on to form a new band called Damageplan. Damageplan didn’t come anywhere near the commercial success of Pantera, but it didn’t do too badly and a lot of Pantera fans went on to become fans of Damageplan. However, Pantera fans were kind of split down the middle as some went on to become fans of Phil Anselmo’s bands. This caused a rift between Pantera fans.
Damageplan released their debut album in February 2004 and spent the rest of the year touring on their Devastation Across the Nation tour. They played at smaller, intimate venues and nightclubs, trying to meet new fans and connect with old ones. Vinnie and Darrell had an expression they used to get pumped up. It was “Van Halen!” and it their codeword to let it all hang out.
As I mentioned, a lot of people were upset about Pantera’s breakup. But one fan took it particularly difficultly: a 25 year old former marine named Nathan Gale.
Nathan Gale was born on 9/11/79. He was a big guy. At 25, he was 6’3” and weighed over 250lbs. After high school, Nathan developed a drug addiction. He worked minimum wage jobs while living with his mom and he would often tell her that he felt like he was being watched. She figured this was just his drug use making him paranoid. At some point, Nathan became violent with his mother and she kicked him out. He became homeless and she eventually let him come back under the condition that he attend rehab.
Nathan did the rehab thing and then enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2002, which made his mom really proud and hopeful. For Christmas that year, she bought Nathan a handgun.
Nathan was stationed in North Carolina until October 2003 when he was discharged. The official reason for his discharge isn’t clear, but his mother would eventually go on to say that he was discharged because of a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. According to his mom, Nathan was never on medication for this or being treated for it. So he’s got untreated schizophrenia and his mom just got him a gun for Christmas.
Nathan played on a semi-professional football team and his teammates recalled that he would listen to Pantera before games to mentally prepare himself. He was a huge Pantera fan and became especially fixated when the band broke up in 2003. His friends were all Pantera fans too, but they all noticed that Nathan was over the top. Nathan would claim that he was the true writer of Pantera’s songs. Like he would invite his friends over to jam Pantera songs and he’d claim that he actually wrote them and Panteras stole them from him. He also said that they tried to claim his identity. His friends started to become really uncomfortable around him. He would also do weird shit like pretend to carry a dog and interact with it. His friends all started distancing themselves from him.
Nathan had a pretty lengthy criminal record for a lot of non-violent acts, like trespassing, sleeping in a park, steeling from a construction site, driving with a suspended license, and skateboarding at a K-Mart. Towards the end of 2004 he got a job as a construction worker and got his own apartment in Marysville, Ohio.
On April 8th, 2004, Nathan attended a Damageplan concert in Cincinnati, Ohio. He ran onstage where he was stopped by security before reaching the band. He refused to leave and ended up toppling over a light board and being dragged out by security. He caused nearly $2000 in damages but the band did not press charges as they didn’t want to return to Cincinnati to deal with the court.
8 months later, on December 8th, 2004 (which happens to be the anniversary of John Lennon’s death), Nathan attended another Damageplan concert at the Alrosa Villa nightclub in Columbus, Ohio. He hung around in the parking lot, just kind of lingering while the opening acts performed. He wore a hockey jersey over a hoody, a baseball cap, and thick glasses. Another concertgoer asked him why he wasn’t watching the show, and Nathan said “I don’t wanna see no shitty local bands.” The guy was like “You can at least go inside and stay warm.” Nathan replied, “No man, I’m gonna wait for Damageplan.”
The venue held 600 people but there were only about 250 at this show, so it wasn’t that crowded. Nathan was talking to people in the parking lot, like bugging band members as they walked by. The manager of the venue thought he couldn’t afford a ticket and was just loitering, so he sent someone to ask Nathan to leave the premises. Then, he heard Damageplan take the stage. Nathan hopped over a 6ft fence and rushed inside through a side door, even though he had a ticket. People saw him jumping the fence and actually cheered him on, thinking he was just sneaking in without a ticket.
Can you imagine being one of those people who cheered him on, and finding out later that he was the killer?
Nathan walked through the venue towards the stage, passing pool tables and concertgoers on the way. The crowd sees him approaching the left side of the stage, but they thought he was just getting ready to do a stage dive. A singer from the opening band, Billy Payne, saw Nathan marching up to the stage, and said he looked determined and angry, like he was on a mission or walking into battle.
Damageplan began their set. About 90 seconds into the first song, Nathan pulled out his 9mm Beretta handgun that his mom gave him for Christmas, and headed toward Dimebag Darrell. Darrell was headbanging while playing his guitar. He was completely in the zone and didn’t even see Nathan approaching. He was completely blindsided when Nathan suddenly appeared right in front of him with a gun in his face, and fired 5 shots at point blank range. Darrell was hit in the right cheek, left ear, back of head, and right hand. The audience couldn’t tell what was happening, it was loud and what they could see and hear, they figured it was part of the show, so they continued jamming out and pumping their fists. Then Darrell’s guitar starts making loud feedback noises, and the music stops. Vinnie stopped playing and stood up, and someone in the band started yelling “Call 911!” Then, chaos ensued.
Nathan continued firing shots, beginning with the tour manager Chris Paluska who was shot in the chest. Then, Damageplan’s security chief, Jeffrey “Mayhem” Thompson, tackled Nathan from behind. Thompson was fatally shot in the chest, back, and upper thigh in the struggle. Then, a 23 year old fan named Nathan Bray leapt on to the stage to try and resuscitate Darrell and Thompson, and Nathan Gale fatally shot him in the chest.
Nathan tried to reload his gun, when 29 year old Erin Halk, an employee of the venue and former marine, charged at him. He was fatally shot 6 times.
A roadie, Travis Burnett, tried to disarm Gale and had his arm grazed by the bullet. He shouted to Nathan “Dude what the fuck are you doing?” Nathan said “Get out of here!” and fired at him. When more shots started coming towards his head, he fled. A drum technician John “Kat” Brooks tried to subdue Nathan, and was shot twice in the leg and then taken hostage. By now, the police had arrived. They arrived within 3 minutes of receiving the call. Officer James Niggemeyer entered the club through the backdoor and spotted Nathan holding Brooks as his hostage. He waited for Brooks to move his head to the side a little to give him a clear shot, and he fired a single shot right into Nathan’s head from 20 feet away, using a 12-gauge Remington Model 870 shotgun, killing him instantly. I mean, it like blew his head off. Brooks survived, but now has PTSD from this incident. Officer Niggemeyer also has PTSD over this too, but I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
Once the paramedics arrived, Dimebag Darrell was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 38 years old. Thompson the security guard and Halk the venue employee were both pronounced dead on the scene as well. Nathan Bray, the fan, was transported to Riverside Methodist Hospital, where he was declared dead that evening. Paluska, the tour manager who had been shot in the chest, was also transported to the hospital and ultimately recovered from his injuries.
By the way, I shared a couple of video clips of footage from this event on BrokenLimelight.com. Officer Niggemeyer is seen walking around with a blank face and holding his shotgun immediately after shooting Nathan Gale. They searched Nathan’s body and found that his magazine was still half full, and he had another 30 rounds of ammunition on him. This could’ve been a massacre.
After the concert, Vinnie Paul left the venue and went to his tou rbus and just hunkered into his bunk and cried. He couldn’t leave. Vinnie has talked a lot about this event in interviews. He recalls his brother’s last words right before he stepped on stage to begin playing. Just a minute and a half before Darrell’s death, he and Vinnie high-fived each other and each said “Van Halen!”
As you know, Vinnie and Darrell were big fans of Van Halen and they became acquainted with them. It was a similar dynamic, as Eddie and Alex Van Halen were also brothers and bandmates. Before Darrell died, he had been interested in getting one of Eddie Van Halen’s limited edition series guitars that hadn’t yet been released. At Darrell’s funeral, Eddie explained that he planned to give him one as a present, but then he died. Suddenly, he pulled out a yellow and black striped guitar he called the Bumple Bee; the same one that’s featured on the back cover of Van Halen 2. He placed it in Darrell’s casket to be buried with him.
As Darrell was also a huge fan of the band Kiss, they actually donated a Kiss casket for him to be buried in as well. He was buried next to his mother in Arlington, Texas. His brother, Vinnie Paul, died in 2018 of heart disease. He died in Las Vegas just a couple of days after performing at Vinyl at the Hard Rock Casino. He was 54 years old and was also buried next to Darrell and their mother.
Officer Niggemeyer, the officer who shot and killed Nathan Gale, was cleared of all wrongdoing and praised for his actions. In fact, Nathan’s mom thanked him and said that no one knows how many lives might have been saved because of him. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with PTSD and was unable to continue working as a police officer. He has since been fighting to have PTSD be included in workers compensation claims, as it currently only provides coverage for physical injuries.
In 2007, Dimebag Darrell was inducted into Hollywood’s RockWalk. Ace Frehley was in attendance and he spoke in honor of Darrell. In 2015 Darrell was ranked as the most influential metal guitarist on the past 25 years by VH1. Also in 2015, Darrell placed at #5 on Gibson’s list of “The Top 10 Metal Guitarists of All Time”
In 2016, they held a tribute concert for Dimebag called Dimebash. Phil Anselmo performed and he did some pretty controversial on stage. He ended his performance by giving a Nazi salute and saying “white power” to the crowd. He received severe backlash from the metal community so he tried to backtrack. He apologized and claimed he was joking, at one point he said he was talking about white wine.
Anselmo addressed the criticism in the comments section of aYouTube clip: “Ok folks, I’ll own this one, but dammit, I was joking, and the ‘inside joke of the night’ was because we were drinking f—ing white wine,” he writes. “Of all f—ing things. Some of y’all need to thicken up your skin. There’s plenty of f—ers to pick on with a more realistic agenda. I f—ing love everyone, I f—ing loathe everyone, and that’s that. No apologies from me.”
Ultimately he was like “I’m really sorry but everyone calling me a racist is really uncalled for.” He didn’t really take any responsibility for his actions. He did an interview with Serius XM Radio and said that he was being taunted by hecklers at his shows. He ended up going on a rant about it and then losing his shit.
Phil continued down a spiral of challenging “political correctness”. He claimed that hip hop music encouraged racism towards white people. He was the type of person that would say shit like “why can’t I have white pride?”
Over the years, there has been talk about doing a Pantera reunion. Vinnie had said that he wasn’t interested in doing a reunion without Darrell, and he maintained that stance until his death in 2018. But in 2022, Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown, Pantera’s bassist, got back together and formed their reunion band with Zak Wylde on guitar and Charlie Benante on drums. Their tour just kicked off this month, December 2022.
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