Black Tooth Grin // The High Life, Good Times and Tragic End of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott
By Zac Crain
Much of the general public took note of Darrell Abbott’s passing because of the bizarre circumstances of his death. The former Pantera guitarist was murdered on stage at a Columbus, Ohio nightclub with three others, during a performance with his band Damageplan.
But to Abbott’s fans – the ones that called him “Dimebag” or simply “Dime” – the shock of his death was enormous. One fellow musician called it “the 9/11 of heavy metal.”
Abbott’s almost preternatural guitar talents had a lot to do with this, but it wasn’t the only reason for the success of Pantera, the band he rode to fame with his brother Vinnie, or the loss his fans felt.
“Dimebag” never stopped being a fan of the music he played.
He collected “all access” backstage passes for bands like KISS, Judas Priest and Van Halen with the fervor of a teenager –– even as he shared the stage with them. At the height of his success, he asked KISS guitarist Ace Frehley to autograph his chest. A few hours later, he’d made the signature permanent – at a tattoo parlor.
When he died, he was buried in a “Kiss Kasket” with one of Eddie Van Halen’s guitars.
As Zac Crain’s excellent biography reveals, this fandom was never far from Abbott’s mind when he engaged his own fans; thousands would turn out for his memorial service.
They came because of a person, not a rock star. Writes Crain, who talked to many at the gathering: “Everyone, it seemed, had shared a joke with Darrell, done a shot, something.
Abbott’s father was a country music writer and producer who never imposed his tastes on Darrell and Vinnie. Writes Crain, “had he taught Darrell what he knew how to play rather than what he wanted to learn, Darrell’s life might have gone in a different direction.”
Instead, his father learned the notes to “Smoke on the Water” so he could teach them to his son.
There is a lot of partying in “Black Tooth Grin” – the title comes from Abbott’s favorite cocktail, a double shot of whiskey with a splash of Coke. Anyone who came within Dime’s orbit was expected to keep up. “If you were in the Dimebag cyclone, chances are you had to drink with him someplace,” said one fellow rocker. If you didn’t have an AA chip, you’d better have a shot glass, said another.
Crain is bemused but seldom judgmental about Abbott’s excesses. “Most everyone who knew him stops short of referring to his behavior in alcoholic terms,” he writes. “No, he wasn’t an alcoholic, they say. He was a pro.”
All of that was overshadowed when Dimebag strapped on a guitar and started playing. “He won so many guitar contests the organizers stopped letting him enter; he became a judge before he was out of his teens,” writes Crain. He went on to win reader’s polls “in every extant guitar-related magazine.”
Despite those accolades, Darrell Abbott “constantly extolled the virtues of other guitar players like a starstruck fan, as though he hadn’t already reached or surpassed their level.”
Crain pulls of a difficult task. While “Black Tooth Grin” is essential reading for any fan of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott or his band, it’s not a “meatheads only” book. It will reach anyone who’s ever heard a killer riff and thought, “God, I want to play like that.”