Throughout the early 1990�s, Dimebag Darrell Abbott was mentioned on just about every poll that was published listing great heavy metal guitarists. As the lead player for Pantera, and later Damageplan, Abbott was known for his creative riffs and licks and hard-hitting solos that left fans begging for more. When looking at the groups that have followed and emulated him, it�s obvious that Dimebag�s innovations and creativity are still in evidence today. How did he develop the style that made him an idol of so many? Who were his mentors and guitar heroes? Here are some of the ways that Darrell Abbott became one of the greats.
Darrell�s father, Jerry Abbott, was a guitar player himself, as well as a music producer. As a very young boy, Darrell was exposed to many musicians who came through his dad�s Texas-based music studio where he often watched recording sessions. Even though Jerry was involved mainly with country and blues musicians, he did not object when his son became interested in hard rock as a teenager. He taught Darrell to play the guitar from the time he was big enough to hold the instrument, and encouraged him to enter several music competitions around the state of Texas. Darrell�s exceptional talent soon became evident as he won contest after contest. In fact, by the age of 16 he was barred from entering any more events, because he had already won them all.
His dad gave him one of his all-time favorite guitars, a Dean standard with a cherryburst finish just before he entered one of these local contests. After only a day to practice on it, Darrel won another Dean guitar, this time an ML. It was a kind of cross between an Explorer and a Flying V, and became an instrument which he used steadily throughout his career. Another contest prize that Darrell won was a Randall Amplifier. When he put these two pieces of equipment together, he was able to produce a sound that was recognizable as his signature for years to come. He was one of the most famous of spokesmen for the Dean company for many years.
Darrell�s older brother Vinnie Paul Abbott was also one of his early musical influences. Because Vinnie gravitated to the drums rather than guitar, the two brothers were able to collaborate on musical efforts from the time they were very young. They played together at local dances and concerts where Vinnie began to develop his flair for syncopated rhythms and hard-driving bass parts that became vital to their sound later on.
As a youngster, Darrell was a big fan of KISS and their lead guitar guy Ace Frehley, and even joined the fan club known as the KISS Army. His long-time girlfriend Rita Haney was a member of the club with him and the pair saw KISS in concert at the very first live show that they ever attended. He also idolized Eddie Van Halen, and during his early years, he tried to emulate his two heroes whenever he played.
By 1981, Darrell had adopted the nickname �Dimebag� and formed the group called Pantera along with his brother Vinnie. Rex Brown was their bass player, and Terry Glaze did double duty on rhythm guitar and vocals. Vinnie and Dimebag enlisted their father�s help to form their own record label called Metal Magic. They met with some success and released three albums during the 80�s. Groups like Def Leppard and Judas Priest heavily influenced them. With the benefit of hindsight, it has become obvious that those early releases were not some of the group�s best work, and Vinnie is said to have �disowned� the albums after a few years had passed. But they served the purpose of making the group known to fans of hard rock and metal.
In 1988, the band hit a turning point when vocalist Phil Anselmo replaced Glazer. The album they released that year was called, Power Metal, and featured a much more forceful and aggressive style than their earlier efforts. In 1990, Pantera signed with a major record label: a subsidiary of Atlantic Records called East West, who produced their breakout album Cowboys from Hell. Dimebag�s driving, high-pitched and lightening fast solos were a big reason that fans of groups like Metallica and Black Sabbath began purchasing Pantera�s albums and pushing them to the top of the charts.
Pantera continued riding high throughout the 90�s. Vulgar Display of Power in 1992 and Far Beyond Driven two years later established Pantera as one of the most popular stadium acts of those years. Fans would flock to hear them play, and went crazy during Dimebag�s guitar riffs.  The group was nominated four times for a Grammy in the Heavy Metal Performance category in 1995, �97, �98, and 2001. In 1999 the Dallas Stars hockey team adopted one of DD�s songs as its signature tune. All this happened despite the fact that Pantera was never widely played on the radio and had limited exposure on MTV.
By 1996, Dimebag and Vinny had built their own recording studio in Texas. It was first used to record the album, The Great Southern Trendkill, which showcased some of Darrell�s amazing creativity but did not meet fan�s expectations. Sales of that album were slower than some of the previous releases, but the group remained popular. Both Vinnie and Dimebag gained a reputation of being loyal to their fans. Throughout the nineties, Pantera toured almost nonstop and tried to remain accessible to their admirers. There are many stories of how they would invite young fans backstage and give them tours or front row tickets to their concerts. When asked to explain the great affection that ran both ways from Pantera to the audience and back again, Vinny said, �We never try to be something we aren�t. Our fans see themselves up there when we play. You can never fake that.�
In 2001, Phil Anselmo took some time off from the group because of back pain. As it happened, he never did return to the band and both the Abbott brothers were greatly disappointed in this turn of events. Rumors that Anselmo was a heroin addict swirled around the rock community and there were reports that he became verbally abusive on several occasions. In fact, it is said that Vinnie is not on speaking terms with Anselmo even today, despite the fact that the singer has publicly asked for Vinnie�s forgiveness. Pantera officially disbanded in 2003.
Dimebag Darrell did not stop playing guitar during the time when Pantera was inactive, however. He participated in several interesting projects. One was a country western release that brought him back to his childhood roots called Rebel Meets Rebel. The Abbott brothers used their Pantera bassist Rex Brown, along with country vocalist David Allen Coe to produce the album. Its crossover outlaw country style was a unique sound for the Abbotts, and the mixing and producing was done at Vinnie�s own studio called Big Vin Records.
Darrell participated on some projects with a few of his boyhood idols during this time period as well. In 1997 he and Vinnie both played on one track of an Ace Frehly tribute album titled Return of the Comet. Dimebag was guest soloist on several songs done by the group Anthrax including Riding Shotgun and We�ve Come for You. Frank Bello of that group has been heard to say that Dimebag was actually the sixth member of Anthrax. Darrell enjoyed soloing for some Hollywood projects, too, such as playing for the soundtracks of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Jackie Chan film Supercop.
In 2003 when it became obvious that Phil Anselmo would not be returning to Pantera, DD and his brother decided to from a new group, which they christened Damageplan. They both saw it as a chance to further develop the sound they had captured with the earlier group. Damageplan�s first album was released in 2004 and called New Found Power. The endeavor received a reasonably warm welcome, and the Abbott brothers had another long list of tour dates scheduled to support it. Unfortunately tragedy struck near the beginning of that effort. During the first song of a concert on December 8th in Columbus, Ohio, a crazed fan jumped onto the stage and gunned down four people including Dimebag Darrell. He was declared dead when paramedics arrived on the scene, as were the other four victims. Police shot and killed the gunman when they feared that he was about to murder another person he was holding as a hostage.
Metal fans still mourn the loss of DD, partly because he was a talented and creative musician, but mainly because he was a caring human being. Despite the fact that his long hair, many tattoos and gruff exterior caused parents of kids in the 90�s to discourage their offspring from supporting Pantera, Darrell was a genuine good guy who always had time for his fans. When reading the sentiments that were written after his death, it becomes obvious that the people who knew him best did not value him merely for his musical genius, but for his giving nature.