Vinnie Paul: Phoenix Rising

Vinnie Paul Is Back And Pumping Double Bass With Metal Super Group HellYeah

At 10:00 A.M. on Saturday, when most sane folks are just rolling out of bed, eyes barely open, and getting ready to shotgun that first cup of coffee, a bright-eyed, eager, tangled mass of black-clad, tattooed teens push past hordes of guitar gear-oglers, tripping over each other in a mad rush to join the long line that twists and turns like a snake through the aisles at the back of NAMM’s drum floor. Posters, drumheads, and sticks in hand, they clamor, legions of followers beneath the neon Pearl sign, sitting, watching, waiting anxiously for the second rock and roll coming: the long-awaited resurgence, revival, and resurrection of double bass legend Vinnie Paul.

When Paul arrives, decked out southern hellbilly-style in a red and gold dragon-embossed black cowboy hat, matching shirt and boots and flashing a wide-open yet mildly mischievous grin, his presence parts the sea of fans, who shout, “Hey Vinnie!” And you quickly get the idea that if Jesus reincarnate was a Dallas cowboy with whiskey on his lips, Wolverine-style muttonchops, and fearsome, fiery, kick-ass pedal-to-the-metal drum licks, this just might be, well, this just might be … It.

Like an exiled king reclaiming his throne, Vinnie Paul sits at the center of a long table of drumming icons like Morgan Rose, signing signature snakeskin snares, old Pantera T’s, and Damageplan albums. His banter with fans, his ease amid the chaos, his natural southern charm with just a hint of swagger, and the way legends-in-the-making show him a reverential deference is all so natural, so effortless. It’s difficult to picture this heavy metal master basher doing anything else. Yet less than a year ago, this seemed like a scene the drumming world might never again see.

Tragedy Strikes. It’s been two years, one month, and ten days since that infamous date – December 8, 2004 in Columbus, Ohio, when a crazed fan – for reasons that will likely forever remain murky – jumped on stage during a Damageplan gig and wildly opened fire, killing Paul’s brother and lifelong musical collaborator, guitar legend Dimebag Darrell, right before his eyes. He was just 38. In that single instant, everything in Paul’s life came unhinged: his family, his band, his drumming, his sense of himself. Time stood still. His world turned upside down. And for a while, it seemed the living legend of Vinnie Paul was destined to be buried alongside Dime – forever more a thing of the past, a musical light snuffed out too soon.

“The day that my brother went away I felt like my heart went away,” Paul says, “I thought that was it.” Seated in an overstuffed chair in his seventh floor hotel room in a rare moment of pause, he periodically glances out the window as he talks. And his voice, shaky at the edges, trails off. “At that time it was just total confusion. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do.” He doesn’t need to say what he’s thinking. You can read it on his face. Though he remains focused, polite, and attentive, his eyes grow slightly moist around the edges and you can feel him retreating within – going someplace dark and distant in his mind – far, far away. “I thought I was done, that it was all over.”

Uncertain whether he’d ever play – or want to play – again, Paul packed away his kit. Determined not to give in to depression, he threw himself headfirst into a frantic, frenzied list of enterprises, dedicated largely to Dime. Honoring a dream he and his brother shared, Paul started a record company, Big Vin, released Rebel Meets Rebel, a country-meets-metal-meets-the-devil musical spin-off he and Dime recorded with David Allan Coe, and Dimevision Vol I: That’s The Fun I Have, a hijinks-filled home video collage/DVD homage to his pyro-loving bro. Heck, he even became a strip club mogul.

Anything and everything to stay busy, focused, and concentrated on the present. Anything and everything to avoid slipping into that sinking pit in his stomach. Everything, that is, but the one thing he loved most: playing drums. Offer after offer came and one after another, and he turned them all down. Days turned into weeks, then months, until a full year had passed without Paul so much as picking up a pair of sticks. “Vinnie Paul” was whispered in hushed tones reverentially in the past tense, and the word “retired” sat on the edge of the rock world’s lips.

The Rebirth Begins. But the Gods of rock weren’t finished with him yet. Once the stars began to align – merging the talents of Mudvayne (Chad Gray, vocals and Gregg Tribbett, guitars) and Northingface (Jerry Montano, bass and Tom Maxwell, guitars) into an all-star metal super group – fate came calling at Vinnie Paul’s door. Or rather, longtime pal Montano did – begging him to fill the drum throne and refusing to take no for an answer – again, and again, and again.

“Gregg and Chad and Jerry and Tom had talked about putting together a side band when they toured together but it had never really happened, and they never found the right drummer for it,” Paul recalls. “[Jerry] called me and said, ‘Dude we want to throw this band together and you gotta be the drummer.’ And I was like, ‘Naw dude, thanks for thinking of me. You gotta find somebody else.’ He called me back a week later and was like, ‘We keep talking man, you gotta be the dude.’ And I was like, ‘Naw, I’m not gonna do it man!’ Anyway, about five phone calls later he caught me on a night when I’d been listening to some music and I’d been drinking and I was in a really good mood, and I said, ‘You know what, let’s give this thing a shot and just try it and see what happens.’”

Hellyeah! The next day, one by one all of the guys called. And just like that, HellYeah was born. To kick-start things, Paul invited all of them down to Chasin’ Jason, his sprawling southern home studio spread for a down and dirty rapid-fire week-and-a-half monster jam/songwriting/recording session. “The obvious place to come was Texas because we have our own studio that we’ve always had. I built three bungalows out in the back of my house; there’s four of ‘em now. You can’t beat it. Everyone was shacked up right there at my house. They had their own room, just like having a hotel, complete with satellite TV, air-conditioning, heating, the whole nine yards.”

The plan was simple: drink a few beers, (okay maybe more than a few), down some Jack Daniels, and take a few little seedling guitar riffs and jam the hell out of ‘em – bashing, blasting, and blazing through. Never mind never having played together before. Never mind that Paul hadn’t touched his kit in a year. Never mind that the guys hadn’t discussed what kind of music they’d play. And oh yeah, they didn’t even have a name yet.

“When we first got together I was afraid these guys were going to want to make a death metal record, and I was like, ‘Man I’m not into that, that’s not my bag of tricks,’” he laughs. “But we were all on the same page. We just wanted to make some s**t that kicked ass with a groove that was heavy as f**k and had some melody. The whole idea behind the band was kick-ass music with an attitude. And all the time we’d say something like, ‘You like that right there – hell yeah!’ One day Chad comes in and goes, ‘Dude that’s it, that’s the name of our band.’

“We knew we weren’t going to have a whole lot of time to write and record as in two different processes. So I brought the mindset to them that me and Dime always used in the last three or four projects we were a part of – that we’ll just get good sounds when we set up and we’ll just record as we go and that way we’ll capture all the magic, capture the spontaneity. And when we’re done, it’s done. We don’t have to set up and go do it again somewhere else.”

Working with longtime friend and Pantera/Damageplan co-producer Sterling Winfield, Paul waded through his warehouse of drums looking for the perfect sonic fit. Rather than go vintage Vin – with the dueling monster 24″ kicks and massive toms that made Pantera famous – he went for a chrome Pearl Export rig. “That’s the first time I ever recorded anything with standard-size drums,” he says. “It feels funny when you first get behind it, just ‘cause I’m used to everything being a little more spread out. But I got used to it, and it sounded cool. I think having the standard-size drums kind of gave the band a little different sound.”

Still, the result is pure Paul – thick, heavy, solid double bass fueled by raw prog power, sharp, grinding, metal-edge monster chops – and at the core, a salty southern drawl-infused rock-steady groove. It’s all here: from the thundering floor tom and kick turnaround that weaves in and out of the solid groove on “Matter Of Time” to the raucous, racing hellbilly ride of “HellYeah,” to the somber, reflective “Thank You,” a marching-beat-driven tribute Gray penned to Dime and fellow bandmates’ loved ones lost. “We didn’t try to sound like Pantera. We didn’t try to sound like Nothingface or Mudvayne. We invented our own sound, and it’s called HellYeah. And I’m really, really proud of it.”

Haunted By Old Ghosts. But it wasn’t easy being back in that same old studio, surrounded by the ghosts of Pantera’s past. Photos and tour posters from Vulgar Display Of Power and Far Beyond Driven line the walls. And the rooms echo with amped-up guitar, laughter, and fireworks, from all those late, late nights jamming with Dime. “The first night that we played it was really scary. I hadn’t felt that kind of fear, I think, ever. You know, here I am playing in the same studio that me and my brother did everything in. I’ve got four guys I’ve never played with before – I hadn’t even played drums in a year. It was just really knocking the dust off and gut-check time,” he recalls.

“There was a couple of times when we first started that I thought I was going to have to run out of the room and throw up just because I was so upset and nervous and trying to get by. But once we got going I felt like we had Dime’s stamp of approval. Everybody really clicked and locked in. It felt comfortable and it got better and better as it went on the whole time.”

On top of the inevitable emotional rollercoaster ride, Paul was seriously out of practice. And he knew it. “I told the guys when they came down, ‘Listen, I’m gonna have to knock the rust off these wheels. It’s not like I’ve been sitting home working on my Neil Peart chops!’ So we had a few comical moments, but that was all part of getting past the fear. You know when you play with somebody like your brother for your whole life or people you’ve played in a band with forever, everyone knows what everyone’s capable of so you’re not afraid to screw up in front of them. You’re not afraid to try new things or experiment because you know they have confidence in you, even though you might have just blown that or screwed that up – it’s a comfort zone.”

It helped that Paul hit it off instantly with Gray and was stunned by Tribbett and Maxwell’s jaw-dropping chops. “The most impressive thing to me was that Gregg and Tom were such capable and good guitar players. You know, people are familiar with them for being rhythm players ‘cause that’s what they play in their bands,” he says. “I’ve always been a fan of lead playing, and I was really impressed with both their skills and the fact that they’ve been hiding it from people for so many years! It’s time for them to be unveiled, so to speak.

“It was the first time Gregg and Tom had played in a band with two guitar players so it was super cool to have that kind of interaction, to have like a theme going on on one guitar while we had this grinding rhythm going on the other. It hadn’t been visited since the old-school like Judas Priest and AC/DC, so it was exiting to be able to feel that kind of intensity.”

And finally the butterflies started to subside. “It was only that first night that it was weird and then it just got easier and easier. And it got to where I trusted them and they trusted me, and we were just bouncing ideas around off each other. Once we started writing the music it was like magic. We wrote seven songs the first eight days we were together and it just clicked.”

The Story Of Two Brothers. Still, having spent his life locking in with his little brother’s racing, balls-out solos – for Vinnie Paul, musically (never mind emotionally) adjusting to anyone else was going to be tough. “My whole life I’ve been used to jamming with the baddest guitar player in the world. And whenever he goes to do his solo, everybody does what they want to do: the bass player can go crazy, the drummer does what he wants.

“It didn’t matter what it was, we just both knew where it was going to go, just because we’d been playing together our whole lives. We had that untouchable chemistry that you can only get from being brothers and playing together, like Eddie and Alex Van Halen.”

Eddie and Alex – the original hard rock guitar and drums bro-bro duo. It’s a reference Paul returns to time and time again. And with a personal story so parallel to VH, it’s easy to see why. “We both started on drums, and I just happened to get better than Dime faster, and I wouldn’t let him play. I was like, ‘Get away! So he got mad and went to my dad and said, ‘Hey, I need a guitar.’” By 14, Paul absorbing everything around him – learning snare technique in the school jazz band, honing kit chops mimicking Neil’s Peart’s powerhouse hits on “2112,” and coping style from Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Kiss, and of course, VH. But at first, his little brother seemed hopeless – more interested in posturing than mastering hot Hendrix licks.

“I’d walk by Dime’s room and he’d be in there standing in front of his mirror with his Ace Frehley makeup holding his guitar – just posing,” he laughs. “I said, ‘Dude are you ever gonna learn how to play that thing?’ One day he goes ‘Dude, you wanna jam?’ And I said ‘Yeah, you know how to play? He goes, ‘F**k yeah!’ He comes over in the room and hooks up and starts going. We played “Smoke On The Water” for probably six hours that night and the neighbors called the cops on us. That happened to us a lot back then.”

From then on, they were inseparable. Dime shredded day and night, entering guitar contest after contest, and winning title after title – until finally, still in his teens, he became a judge. Paul powered his way through jazz band, almost getting tossed out for noodling on Rush fills during an Ellington lesson. Both wanted to play louder, harder, faster, heavier, meaner, better than everyone else.

“I’m a huge Neil Peart fan. I loved John Bonham. I thought he had a great feel. Mikkey Dee was one of my favorites. When I heard King Diamond come out he was probably the most rudimental drummer I ever heard play a drum set. He takes everything you learned in school – the rudiments, paradiddles, ratamacues, and all that – and applies it to the kit. He really influenced me as far as all that. And of course Alex Van Halen. I thought technically, out of all the drummers that I just mentioned, he wasn’t as good technically, but you couldn’t touch his feel. Their music had so much life and so much energy, it was just a party.

“And my all time favorite was Tommy Aldridge. He’s the one that did it for me. When I heard ‘Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)’ by Pat Travers, all these fills with the feet on bass drums, I just freaked out. And I went to my dad and said, ‘I’ve got to have another bass drum.’ He said, ‘Well, son, what’s wrong with the one you got?’ I said, ‘Nothing dude, I need another one. I need two.’ That just blew his mind. He didn’t know anything about double kick.”

Cowboys From Hell. Anyone who listens to the chugging Texas rodeo meets monsters of metal grind on the intro to “Cowboys From Hell” knows right away – that’s Dime, that’s Vinnie Paul, that’s Pantera. Aldridge-inspired double bass fills, Peart-prog-perfect intricate patterns, heavy, solid southern swamp grooves, staccato interplay, frantic, dirty, sweaty, shred-master guitar. It was the song and the album that announced Pantera to the world, and still inspires metalheads everywhere.

“‘Cowboys From Hell’ was the song that really set the tone for what people would come to know as Pantera,” Paul says. “We had a couple demos before that but we were trying to find our direction. We were still in that emulating stage where we dressed and looked and played like Judas Priest. And when we started writing music for Cowboys From Hell, and that song in particular, I think that was when we really came into our own, really made our own trademark. Anytime you hear (hums the opening) you know it’s Pantera. It’s the familiar guitar sound, a little bit of hick root in there, it’s us.”

It was one hell of a ride. After all, how many guys get to play Monsters Of Rock in Moscow with AC/DC and Metallica, get picked up for a Van Halen gig in Eddie’s limo, and score a #1 album? “That’s probably the biggest accomplishment,” Paul says of nabbing the top Billboard slot in 1994 with Far Beyond Driven, “because that wasn’t given to us by the music industry or MTV or anybody, that was the fans who went out and bought nearly 200,000 units of the album. And we knocked Bonnie Raitt and Ace Of Base and all these people off the top of the charts.

“And everybody’s like, “Who’s this overnight sensation, Pantera?’ It was like, ‘Listen, we’re not on the radio. We’re not on MTV. We toured our asses off nonstop for four years and garnered the biggest batch of diehard fans you could find anywhere. We were a band of fans for the fans. We loved music. We never wanted to be larger than life.”

The End And The Beginning

The End And The Beginning. And yet they were and still are. Dime’s one of the greatest metal guitar players of all time. Paul’s a mammoth drumming icon, a legend in his own time. One look at his hotel room – crammed with belching, tattooed, beer-drinking dudes, two of whom are tangled and strewn across one bed, semi-passed out – says it all. Despite his seclusion over the past two years, he never left rock and roll far behind.

I’ve waited hours for him – followed him from a distance all day like a groupie – trailing him from trade show floor to artist lounge to hotel room to get a moment of his time. In a life like this – filled with constant motion, being shuttled by handlers, trailed by fans from place to place – it’s easy to stay focused on the outside, too busy to think. And in a way, understandably, that’s exactly what Vinnie Paul wants. “It’s hard. I still think about it every day,” he says, looking down and growing quiet again. “For a time I thought [music] was over for me. It’s something that now I’m glad I have back because it’s something I love and that I was made to do and what I always did and lived for.”

Though his custom kits are gathering dust in a warehouse while others have been donated to the Hard Rock Café in Dallas, the ghost of Pantera, and of Dime, remains. It’s in the gold and platinum albums on the studio walls, in the goofy smile Dime flashes in between fireworks on Dimevision (the second installment of which is underway now), in every toast of a black tooth grin (Dime’s signature coke and double-whiskey drink), and in the well-worn grooves on Cowboys From Hell – where at every moment, somewhere a 14-year-old boy is slamming along with Paul, while his 12-year-old brother poses with a guitar, wild hair flying in his faces, fake tattoos covering his limbs, mimicking Dime in the mirror.

“He’s going to live on way past all of us. I know that for a fact,” Paul says. “He made his mark, and I’m just so proud of him – to have been able to play with him my whole life, to have been a part of everything,” he says. “It still feels unreal to me that he’s not here, but I feel like he’s here in spirit. And he would kick my ass if I sat at home and didn’t do anything. Or if I became a miserable alcoholic or dependent on pain pills or something stupid like that. I’m not going to let him down, so I gotta pick up the ball and go.”

Groove Analysis

Vinnie Paul Chops Workout
Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s May 2007

Vinnie Paul Abbott became a double bass legend whose heavy fists and fast feet helped establish Pantera as one of metal’s most interesting bands. He has remained largely out of the public eye since the murder of his brother, Dimebag Darrell, but now he’s back with the metal super group HellYeah. We wanted to take a peek at some of his drum parts from the band’s debut album, and here’s what we found.

“HellYeah”

The in-your-face drum fill that opens the title track from the band sets the tone for much of this record. Here, Paul plays quad patterns in a 3/4 feel, with a sticking of R RLFF, R RLFF, R RLFF, R RLFF, RLFF, RLFF, then starts the riff again, but this time lands strongly on count 3 in the last measure. The tempo is very fast so this fill flies. He uses the exact same blistering fill to end the song.

“Alcohaulin’ Ass”

This power ballad about drinking and women uses this strong and tasty drum fill to set up the groove entrance. Paul uses lots of flams to add meat to the fill and then softens the vibe by playing a rim click groove for the first verse. Notice the nice thirty-second note embellishment at the end of the last measure to set up the hi-hat opening. Try using a right hand double for the thirty-second notes.

“Star”

“Star” uses another tasty fill to introduce the groove that he revisits throughout the track. For this one a sticking of RL LR R RLRLRL will work well. The groove is slow and powerful for this section of the song.

“Waging War”

This song kicks some serious butt. The drums enter with a quick thirty-second note fill and ends with a syncopated crash on the ah of 4. It sounds like the hi-hat is played with the snare hits for the blast beat style groove he plays between the fills.

Jerry Montano and Chad Gray

How To Catch A Drummer

By Diane Gershuny

It was an innocent question posed to bassist Jerry Montano – why Vinnie?

“A few names were thrown around,” he recalls, “and that’s when I started thinking, ‘If we’re going to get a drummer, we might as well get the baddest one out there.’ So I said, ‘I’m gonna call Vince.’ And it gelled from there. We’d been friends for a lot of years. I played with him and Darrell in the band Gasoline in 2001, and we toured together during Ozzfest 2000. We always had a good time playing together.”

But it took a bit of convincing to get Paul to sign on. “Vince had only played with Darrell,” Montano explains. “They’d played together since they were kids, so given the circumstances of how everything ended, playing drums wasn’t something that he was looking to do – or ready to do. At first, he respectfully declined, so we left it at that. I gave him a call again a few weeks later, and we got into it. He was like, ‘F**k it, let’s see how it goes.’”

“It was a little intimidating at first,” laughs Mudvayne singer Chad Gray. “I was a huge Pantera fan. Jerry brought up the idea of Vin and his persistence was ridiculous. Jerry called and said he thought Vin was going to do it but wanted to talk to everybody. So I called him. It was really strange because we had a great rapport from the first call. The best thing about this band – and it’s something I didn’t expect – is there was no egos. He played so tastefully; he doesn’t play for Vinnie Paul, he plays for the song.”

“The chemistry’s really cool,” adds Montano. “At first everybody was on good behavior, but once they realized Vinnie was like us, the writing flowed. It was one of those things where they say the stars align and magical things happen – it was 150 percent what happened.”

Paul’s Kit

Drums: Pearl MRX Masters Series (Custom Vinnie Paul Snakeskin Wrap)

1 24″ x 20″ Bass Drum 2 14″ x 8″ Vinnie Paul Signature Snare Drum 3 14″ x 14″ Tom 4 15″ x 15″ Tom 5 18″ x 16″ Floor Tom

Cymbals: Sabian

A 14″ AA Rock Hi-Hats B 19″ AA Rock Crash C 18″ AA Chinese D 18″ Hand Hammered Rock Crash E 12″ Ice Bell F 22″ Hand Hammered Power Bell Ride G 20″ AA Chinese

Vinnie Paul also uses Pearl hardware, Evans heads, and Vic Firth sticks.