Music

Former Pantera tour manager shares memories of Vinnie Paul, Dimebag Darrell

Guy Sykes, Pantera's longtime tour manager, with Vinnie Paul, who co-founded the band with his brother, guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott. Paul died June 22; Dimebag Darrell was fatally shot by an audience member at a 2004 concert by Damageplan, the brothers' post-Pantera band, which Sykes also worked with.
Guy Sykes, Pantera's longtime tour manager, with Vinnie Paul, who co-founded the band with his brother, guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott. Paul died June 22; Dimebag Darrell was fatally shot by an audience member at a 2004 concert by Damageplan, the brothers' post-Pantera band, which Sykes also worked with. Guy Sykes personal collection

Guy Sykes, who had a long tenure as Pantera's tour manager, had known Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell Abbott, the Arlington-raised founders of the metal band, since they were teens. On Saturday, for the second time, he attended one of their funerals.

"I've known 'em since about 1982," Sykes said in a phone interview Saturday night, hours after the funeral for Vinnie Paul Abbott, who died June 22 at age 54 (an official cause of death has yet to be determined). "You can't really separate one without talking about the other. You can't talk about Vinnie without talking about Darrell, and not just because they were brothers. Their bond was stronger. It was music, Their passion for music."

Sykes says that Vinnie Paul's funeral, which was private, was a gathering of friends and music-industry colleagues, much like his brother's funeral was. Some of those friends could appear at Vinnie Paul's Celebration of Life," set for 3:33 p.m. Sunday at the Bomb Factory in Dallas.

Details were still being worked out Saturday night, but Sykes said appearances by several celebrities are possible, including KISS guitarist Ace Frehley, professional wrestler Chris Jericho, and members of Hellyeah, the group Vinnie Paul was a member of at the time of his death (the group's sixth album was in production at the time of Paul's death, and Sykes believes that his drum tracks were recorded).

"It's a celebration of life," Sykes says, adding that details were still being ironed out. "We're not mourning Vinnie's death, because his music will live on forever."

Guitarist Darrell Abbott was fatally shot Dec. 8, 1994, during a concert by Damageplan, the brothers' post-Pantera band, in Columbus, Ohio. He was 38 years old. Vinnie Paul Abbott, who professionally went by Vinnie Paul, was on drums that night and witnessed the shooting.

"It was pretty bleak there for a while," Sykes says. "But once [Vinnie] got past the mourning period, he found inspiration in going back and creating music again, and he found that with Hellyeah. It was tough for him to get back behind a kit but he did."

Sykes was Pantera's tour manager from 1986 to 2003, and worked with Damageplan as well. The '90s were peak years for Pantera, when they were one of the most popular metal bands in the world, but Sykes' association with the brothers starts well before then, when they were a bar band developing a loyal North Texas following.

"I can remember the first time I met them," Sykes says. "I was just out of high school. Back then, the drinking laws were a little more liberal in Texas, I think the drinking age was 18 or it had just turned 19. I had a job as a bartender at this place called the Rock of Texas in Denison. ... One weekend we had this band booked in called Pantera, and — amazing."

The Pantera of the early '80s looked a little different from the Pantera of later mega-selling albums such as "Cowboys From Hell" and "Far Beyond Driven." Their father, Jerry Abbott, was a successful country-music singer-songwriter who guided the young band, which featured Darrell on guitar, Vinnie on drums, Terry Blaze on lead vocals and Rex Brown on bass.

"Darrell at that time looked like a Q-Tip," Sykes says with a chuckle. "Spandex and big, bushy hair. The guitar was almost too big for him. If I was 18, they were underage at the time, but Jerry, their dad, was with them as their manager. ... In between sets, he'd make sure that the boys were out there selling their records and their cassettes."

Sykes says he started out as more of a friend to the band, but around 1986, he decided that it would be a good idea to promote a show with Pantera. "Long story short, I lost a ton of money, couldn't pay the band and basically became an indentured servant," he says with a laugh. "I bounced around with a very short stint as Darrell's guitar tech, helped Vinnie and finally landed as Rex's guitar tech before I became tour manager."

By the time Sykes had become tour manager, Philip Anselmo had replaced Blaze as lead singer and the band began to take on the harder edge that made them such a force in metal.

Sykes says that Vinnie Paul handled most of the business for the band, even during the days of grinding through North Texas rock clubs, covering songs by Van Halen and Def Leppard but also playing a set of originals.

"Vinnie would get paid, and he always kept the money in his sock," Sykes says. "So whenever he gave us money, the per diems or for something to eat, the cash would be slightly sweaty." Another hearty laugh.

The Abbotts loved the music that they grew up with, and success brought them the opportunity to meet, share bills and even perform with their heroes. They got to play some Mexico and South America dates with KISS during a reunion tour that brought together the original members Frehley, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss and the makeup they were known for in the '70s.

"Pantera was fairly big back then, but we were in business class," Sykes says. "KISS was in first class. It was Vinnie's birthday, and Gene and Paul and Peter and Ace came back to business class with a copy of 'The KISS Book' and sang happy birthday to Vinnie."

Pantera was still playing clubs when Metallica's landmark "Master of Puppets" came out in 1986, but the Abbotts knew guitarist/singer James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich from Metallica's earliest days. In 1991, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pantera shared a bill in Moscow with Metallica and AC/DC, Sykes says, performing before more than a million people.

Since Paul's death June 22, numerous tributes have appeared on YouTube, either by acts covering Pantera songs or dedicating their own songs to Paul. Sykes was on tour with a Danish band called Volbeat, which was playing a four-day festival, when he got the call about his friend's death. Acts such as Megadeth and Marilyn Manson (which Sykes also worked with) were on the festival bill, and Sykes says the tributes started flowing immediately.

Vinnie Paul was not one to sit still. He died in Las Vegas, where he was living at the time, and the Las Vegas Review Journal's obituary noted that he was a regular at live music venues all over the city, and a fan of the comedian Carrot Top, who told the paper, " “He might have been my biggest supporter. He was just the kindest, sweetest, most genuine person. I’m very sad.”

The Abbotts were not just known for being fans — they were known for their connection with them as well. Sykes says Vinnie always carried a Sharpie with him in case he was asked for an autograph.

"Vinnie would have huge, huge barbecues over at the house," Sykes says. "It wasn't just like, 'Oh, a couple of friends just because I'm famous.' It would be like, 'Yeah, bring your brother, bring your sister, bring your friends, come on over. The house is open. Let's turn on some music and have a good time.' ... It was always a guaranteed good time, because he wanted to live life."

Between Pantera, Damageplan and Paul's time in Hellyeah, the Abbotts left a legacy that Sykes says will continue.

"Even after the loss, Vinnie and Darrell's spirit lives on," he says. "I always see a Pantera shirt. It makes me smile that younger kids who never got to see the band live get to know the music like I got to learn who Black Sabbath was when I was a kid, 15, 20 years after the first Black Sabbath record."

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