Pantera Tribute Act Cowboys N Hell On The Best Cover Bands in Phoenix

People either love or hate cover bands. Some think they are fantastic tributes, while others think they are blatant rip-offs.

Personally, I love tribute bands. They give music fans a chance to hear songs live and celebrate a favorite band--and often it's a band that's disbanded, one you'll never be able to see live anyway. Some of the biggest cover bands are doing it up huge today, like the Pink Floyd Experience and Led Zeppelin II; The Pink Floyd Experience have played Pink Floyd's music for decades, and Led Zeppelin II recreates their live performance to perfection after studying tapes of the Led Zeppelin's performances, appearances, antics and body language.

I'm lucky that when it comes to my favorite band, Pantera, I have two different tribute bands that know how to rock wonders. One is Far Beyond Driven, based in my hometown of Kansas City, and the other is Cowboys N Hell, based right here in Phoenix.

Since 2011, Cowboys N Hell has displayed their Pantera-worthy talents on stage with some of the band's most beloved hits. The four-piece is comprised of guitarist Josh Draskovic, vocalist Mike Niggl, bassist Steve Helmstadter and drummer Johnny Huggins, each playing their respective parts of that legendary Texas metal sound while adding some of their own Arizona outlaw edge.

Cowboys N Hell will play alongside an array of other tribute bands, including Grindhouse (Rob Zombie), Recipe for Disaster (Guns 'N Roses) and Powerslave (Iron Maiden) on June 14 at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.

How did you guys come together?

We've only been on the circuit for like a year. Well, we pretty much started with DimeFest at Joe's Grotto, and we'd only had one little show before that. We just like to come in and play with the crowd. Some of the venues out here are pretty greedy though...we can go into a bar and kick everyone's asses up and they ask if we'll come back to play for free... again. [Laughs]

I was originally in an Iron Maiden tribute in 2009. And I thought, "If I'm going to do this, I want to play the music that I grew up loving." So I went from Iron Maiden to a Van Halen tribute... far-fetched, I know! But it was quick. As I was playing at 910 Live one night, I saw a guy in the Bad Reputation tribute, the guitar player, carrying a Dimebag guitar.

I walked up to him and said, "That's my shit!" and he said back, "No, that's my shit." And I said, "okay, let's meet up and get somewhere with it." When we finally got together a couple months later after trying to get ahold of him on Facebook... well, keep in mind I've already had five or six Dimebags come over. They all looked like Dime, and none of them played like him. So when Josh walked in, the first thing I asked him was if he could actually play it.

And that man came in and played every part correctly. And he's such a nice guy, he's everything the same as Dime was. He doesn't exactly look like him, but I wanted someone who had the spirit. We went through two bass players before the same situation happened with Mike. I saw him on Facebook as well, and I knew he was the Phil. I knew he had what we needed. Once we finally got together, he came in and killed it.

I didn't realize there were so many local metal cover bands.

Oh my god; there's tributes up the ying-yang here. You got originals up the ying-yang...and basically, people love the original stuff but there's so much of it it's saturated. And so they want to go see something they know. Since I grew up in Phoenix, I knew something like this would fly. So we're running with it. It's an awesome thing.

Well, when I saw you guys at Martini Ranch, I loved it because I'll never be able to see Pantera again live.

Yes; it'll never happen again, and that's why tributes are so important! Did you feel the spirit?

Yes. I was in my Pantera heaven.

That's the pay-off right there. If someone comes over and sees that we brought the vibe, or that we reminded them of Dime...that's the pay-off.

So what is it that first made you love Pantera?

Oh hell, like I said, I grew up in Phoenix, and when it comes to songs like "Walk"... all the people I grew up around, I prefer them to just respect me. Or walk. So everything Phil was talking about then was everything that was pertinent in my life.

I may be exaggerating a little bit, but to me, growing up, that was all very important for people to know. Don't play games; be good people and I'll be good people. And when Vulgar Display hit it just had a power of its own, and I grasped hold of it. It affects everyone too--the guys playing Phil and Dime are only 25 years old. I grew up with it fresh on the circuit, and it's great to see how the music influences so many people. It's just our thing.

What's your favorite Pantera song to listen to?

"Hollow." Yes. That's because we don't have two guitar players to play that live yet, but were working up to it. A lot of bands need two guitar players for that. I wanna bring the entire vibe of the song so that's why we need the extra.

What about to play?

To play? I think we just added "13 Steps to Nowhere" on our set list. And that is a really fun song. It's good stuff.

So you guys are playing with five or six bands this weekend that are all tribute bands, right?

[Laughs] They're all my personal friends. It's about the unity between people, and all the bands to show up from beginning to the end of the show, bring their crowds, and have a lot of fun. We're all on the same page.

So if you had to recommend one tribute band in the local scene, is there one from that group you would put forth?

Wow, they all have such a groove within themselves got the Judas Priest, the Motley Crue guys, the Iron Maiden guys...that was my old band to tell you the truth. Then there's the White Zombie guys... that's it! The White Zombie guys! That would probably be my favorite band to suggest because... (dramatic pause). They get every titty in the house shaking, every time they play. I kid you not. Every tit in the house in moving. Even my girl! I look over at her, and I'm like, "You're supposed to be dancing to Pantera!" And this may be their last show; I think there are some new people involved.

But of course, I wouldn't recommend them over us. Hell no. All the bands are great and easy to work with. Everyone helps each other out, but it will be one big great fiasco at the same time.

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise