Vincent Paul Abbott was a nice guy. Though a rock star, he never met a stranger. He made some feel like a rock star themselves or a long lost friend. He didn’t act like a rock star. He was a down-to-earth guy who enjoyed football, hockey, and golf. He celebrated life off and on his signature kit, despite witnessing the soul-crushing death of his little brother, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, onstage in December 2004 at a small club in Ohio.
Standing in a line that stretched down the block for three hours and 33 minutes in the triple-digit Texas hell-heat, fans shared these words and more with me about the fallen North Texas legend whose cause of death has not yet been determined. They swapped stories of encounters with the former Pantera drummer and sought shelter in the minimal shade offered by the buildings lining Canton Street and the umbrellas that a few veteran Texas concert attendees were wise enough to bring.
Talking about Paul seemed to help the fans awaiting a memorial service at the Bomb Factory deal with the heat and his loss. Some recalled tales of Paul’s willingness to offer the kind of advice that changes a person’s life. Others discussed his early-80s power-metal days and Pantera’s transformation into the Cowboys from Hell. A few showed their memories of Vinnie Paul in photographs uploaded to Facebook. The majority wore black concert t-shirts of his various bands –– Pantera, Damageplan, and Hellyeah –– as well as ones remembering his brother.
At 54, Vinnie Paul died in his sleep on June 22 at his Las Vegas home. Unconfirmed reports claim he suffered a major heart attack. It was mentioned in passing on this Sunday afternoon.
Rumors about who might be playing made their way into conversations as the hundreds of fans melted outside the Deep Ellum venue. Members of Hellyeah were the obvious consideration, but Godsmack was mentioned, too. It seems the guys had been known to drop by Vinnie Paul’s place. His blow-out parties, whether sports- or holiday-related, were tradition in North Texas. They were the kind of celebrations where people from the local metal scene could mingle with rock stars passing through on tour.
Though he was celebrated for his easy-going nature, Vinnie Paul was a beast behind the drum kit, just as his brother was on guitar. The story goes that their parents had originally bought Vinnie a guitar and Dime a drum kit.
“There were a lot of great metal drummers who Vinnie was influenced by, but once he got behind the kit, every single one of them had to take a look at what Vinnie Paul, the Brick Wall, was doing,” Pantera bassist Rex Brown recalled in his July 5 statement to Rolling Stone. “He changed the game. He was the original for his generation, a generation that’s still going. Everybody wanted to play like him. People always thought those were sampled tracks. They were not. Period.
“I don’t think there’ll ever be chemistry like what the four of us shared again,” he added.
It was a sentiment that resonated with the fans outside.
When the doors finally opened, the fans in line entered the Bomb Factory to find a stage covered in stories of Vinnie Paul. They appeared in the form of flowers sent by bands like Slayer, Alice in Chains, and Anthrax, in his drum kit wrapped in a banner that read, “Undeniable,” and in the montage appearing on a giant screen which showed all the lives that Vinnie Paul had touched over the years. Rock music that inspired him served as the soundtrack to the celebration and included songs from Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, which he wanted played at his funeral.
“I wouldn’t want my funeral to be a sad, sappy thing,” he once said.
Gathering in front of the stage, fans seemed to half-expect Vinnie to show up and sit behind his kit, but his family and loved ones had buried him in a KISS casket on Saturday at an Arlington cemetery, just like his brother. His headstone is still being carved, and only flowers and a freshly covered grave mark his burial next to his little brother. A cardboard cutout of Vinnie in a black cowboy hat center-stage seemed to be saying goodbye to fans.
Among those paying tribute to the late drummer at the Bomb Factory were Drowning Pool, various radio personalities, pro wrestler Chris Jericho, and, via video, rock gods like Peter Criss and Sammy Hagar. Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo, who had been estranged from Vinnie, also offered his condolences. “Vince,” Anselmo said, “always have love in my heart for you, man. Rest in peace.”
But everyone seemed to agree with Grim Reaper’s Nick Bowcott, who opened the celebration discussing the Abbott brothers: “I wish they were both here, but right now the brothers are reunited. The Cowboys from Hell are in Heaven.”