Sitting in a hotel bar overlooking downtown Denver, Vinnie Paul Abbott is stunned that not a single TV is tuned to the hockey game. His boys, the Dallas Stars, are taking an ass-whuppin' at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche -- or so Big Vin tells me -- and he'd like to see it. I have no use for hockey, but he's a diehard fan. And since he's Vinnie-fucking-Paul from Pantera and Damageplan, for chrissakes -- one of the most powerful and revered timekeepers of the past two decades -- I have very little doubt that if he really wanted to watch the game, he could make a few phone calls and within minutes be seated in the owner's box.
But Vinnie is gracious to a fault. In fact, he doesn't even ask the bartender to change the channel. He didn't come here to talk about hockey. He's in town to drum up some interest in Rebel Meets Rebel, a collaboration between legendary country outlaw David Allan Coe and three of the Cowboys From Hell: Abbott, his late brother, Dimebag Darrell, who was brutally murdered onstage a year and a half ago, and Rex Brown. Aside from some Damageplan demos recorded before Dime's death, these are among his last recordings.
Vinnie believes in this project. So much so that he formed his own label -- Big Vin Records -- and secured a distribution deal with Fontana. Now he's getting out there and spreading the word on his own dime. Earlier this afternoon, he guested on a local radio station. And when we're done here, he's off to a popular strip club to kick it with the fans. But while the personal appearances are a nice touch, the record speaks for itself: It's Coe fronting a kick-ass metal band.
Rebel Meets Rebel
"It was a total trip, because none of us knew what to expect when we first got together," Vinnie explains. "It wasn't even really a project at first. It was just kind of an idea. Dime went out and met the dude, hung around after the show, waited 20 to 30 minutes in line to get an autograph from him. And then when he got up there, David looked at him and goes, 'Man, look at you with this curly hair, this fucking goatee and all these tattoos -- you gotta be somebody, man.' And Dime goes, 'Yeah, well, I play in this little band from Texas called Pantera, here's one of our DVDs, check it out,' you know? Dude got back in his bus later that night and put in the DVD and then just flipped out. He goes, 'Man, here's this dude that waited 30 minutes in line to get an autograph from me, and he's playing to 20,000 people in Japan on this video. I gotta call this dude back.'
"So he calls Dime back up," Vinnie continues, "and says, 'First of all, I want to apologize for not knowing who you were,' and all this. He goes, 'Dude, I watched the DVD. I loved it. You guys are the outlaws of heavy metal as I've been to country music my whole life.' And then further along down the conversation, next thing you know, they're talking about we ought to hook up and write some songs together."
The next time Coe came through Dallas, just a short while later, he looked up the brothers Abbott. He parked his bus in front of Dime's house and got drunk -- "like we should've in the first place," notes Vinnie -- with the Cowboys From Hell. Later that night, they ended up in the studio -- the same one where the last two Pantera albums and the Damageplan release were recorded -- and commenced jammin'. Understandably, the Cowboys were intimidated by Coe's iconic status.
"He just said, 'Y'all do what you do,'" Vinnie recalls. "So me and Dime and Rex just kicked in like we always did and started slamming away, and we kept asking, 'What do you think, David?' And he's like, 'That's cool, man. Just keep rocking. I'm just writing some words over here.'"
By the end of the evening, Coe and the Cowboys had finished "Nothing to Lose," Rebel's opening track. Over the course of the next four years, whenever they had any downtime, they wrote and recorded. And before they knew it, there were enough songs for a full-length album. But the disc was completed right around the time that Vinnie, Dime and Rex were making their debut as Damageplan, and the three were hesitant to confuse the fans with another post-Pantera act that could dull the 'Plan's impact. So the Coe project was shelved.
And then tragedy struck late in 2004, on a Wednesday night in Ohio.
"Everybody knows what happened on December 8," says Vinnie, stoically. "It took me about eight months to kind of get my head screwed back on and to try to find a reason to live, you know? Then it just hit me one day: Wow, this record's been done. It's in the can. It's one of the Dime's favorite things that he ever did. It's got some of the very best guitar playing he ever did on it. People need to hear this. This is what I need to do."
Vinnie had submitted the disc to Atlantic, which had no idea what to do with it, he says. So rather than shop Rebel to other suitors, he opted to form his own label -- something he'd always wanted to do -- and issue the album himself. Now, depending on how well the record does, he may actually hit the road with Brown and Coe.
The obvious question: Who would take Dime's place? (My money's on Zakk Wylde.)
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"Nobody could ever replace Dime," Vinnie stresses. "I'm not going to say who yet, because we haven't decided if we're going to do it. But there's a couple people that come to mind, people that were very close to Dime; they were good, personal friends who had a lot of the same characteristics and a lot of the same values in life. But we talked about it, and if the record does well enough and there's enough demand, I think it would be fun to kick it with the old man for a couple dates and play these hillbilly metal songs, man."
It would be fun for the audience, too -- especially considering that Vinnie almost gave up music after Dime died. "I didn't think I was ever going to play again," he says. "My love for it, I felt like, went away when Dime went away." But this project resurrected his love for playing -- and Vinnie thinks Dime would have it no other way.
"I don't think you ever get to where you can accept it or deal with it," he concludes. "You just have to keep moving forward. And the only thing I keep thinking is that wherever he is, he wants me to keep kicking as much ass as I can. So that's what I'm doing."