Talking Pantera With Author Neil DanielsWednesday, 18th September 2013
Pantera may forever bear the mark of “unfinished business,” which is why it’s so easy to talk about them. The Cold War between Phil Anselmo and Vinnie Paul has generated enough storylines to last a decade (the band officially split in 2003), but the proverbial “what-if” that hangs over the band is what gets most people talking. As in: What if Dimebag wasn’t killed in 2004? What if the band replaced Phil Anselmo during the tour cycle for Reinventing the Steel? What if they got back together? Endless questions abound for a band that to these ears and many other, is the last great, big-time, mega-metal band to come through our scene.
U.K.-based author Neil Daniels has taken a stab at telling the Pantera story, and since we fancy a little back-and-forth as much as the next guy, we sent him a round of questions related to his book, Reinventing Metal: The True Story of Pantera and Tragic Death of Dimebag Darrell. Here’s the scoop:
Dead Rhetoric: With the exception of Rex Brown’s book, there is a noticeable lack of Pantera-related books. Is that when you decided to step in and write one yourself?
Neil Daniels: Absolutely. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a serious critical biography of this important American metal band. I pitched it to a number of publishers that I’d worked with before but only Backbeat, who I’d never worked with, saw potential in the book and after a long process the book was finally commissioned.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that we’re ten years past the band’s split, they’re as popular as ever. Why do you think that is?
Daniels: If you look at the band from Cowboys from Hell onwards you see a short body of work that is vital to the progression and growth of modern American metal. They made a huge splash on the scene and throughout the 1990s with Slayer they were the two bands that kept the flag flying for metal. Dime was also an incredibly gifted guitarist and obviously, became one of the greatest in metal.
Dead Rhetoric: In my view, they’re the last universally-accepted metal band of immense popularity. Do you think we’ll ever see a band like this again?
Daniels: I certainly hope so. Metal has changed. The industry has changed. Metal is no longer as popular with kids as it was in the 1980s when Pantera first started. But I’m sure there are a bunch of kids out there playing in garages and at high schools that could make the sort of impact Pantera made on the metal scene.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it easier to put the book together knowing that there is no chance of a reunion?
Daniels: I don’t think it had much impact if I’m honest. I think the fact that Pantera remain popular helped make the book work.
Dead Rhetoric: How long did it take to put together?
Daniels: It took a year – about six months of research and interviews and then six months to get the book into shape. First I started with a chronology of the band’s history and then I build the research into it and the word count subsequently grows to the 80,000 that it was contracted for. It then took several months in post production with edits, proofs etc.
Dead Rhetoric: You were able to snag many important members of the band’s management and road crew. Were they difficult to get a hold of? And, who was the most fun to chat with? Walter O’Brien?
Daniels: Thankfully a majority of people are on Facebook. That’s the modern world, I guess. Some friends from childhood didn’t reply to my messages, but many did. I also got in touch with some producers and record label people; some refused my requests for interviews, others didn’t. That happens especially with a band whose history is as complicated as Pantera’s. Some interviews were done by email; many were done on the phone. Stuart Taylor, Dime’s best buddy, was a massive help. I also spoke with ex singers Terry Glaze, Donny Hart and Dave Peacock and they were great.
Dead Rhetoric: Which band member did you find to be the most interesting? My vote is for Anselmo; it seemed like he was always at odds with the Abbott brothers…
Daniels: Anselmo is certainly a complex man with a difficult past. I’m looking forward to reading his book. He’s a fascinating individual. I didn’t speak to any members of the band but rather ex-members, producers, roadies, friends. I think it gives the book an objective slant.
Dead Rhetoric: You depict the touring cycle for Far Beyond Driven as to be the most exhaustive time for the band. Do you think that was their apex?
Daniels: Absolutely. I think they had peaked by this point. They continued to make some excellent music and tour the world but Far Beyond Driven is their master opus. What makes Pantera stand out is that they never made a bad album. They reached the top without the aid of MTV or mass raido play etc. They did it on their own terms and Atco Records were right behind them, supporting them all the way.
Dead Rhetoric: When combing through their very early hair days, what was your take on it? The music is average at best, but, you could tell something special was evident with Dimebag’s playing…
Daniels: They made fun party pop metal. Don’t forget they were just kids self releasing their own music. Their live shows went down a storm and they were hugely popular on the Texas club scene. Dime – then known as Diamond Darrell – proved his worth very early on.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s always debate over who is responsible for the band’s breakup. In your estimation, who’s the most guilty party? Anselmo?
Daniels: It takes two to tango. I think everyone had their own part to play but of course everyone has their own side of the story. The second Down album killed it for the band – Rex and Anselmo were concentrating on Down and Pantera was coming to an end. It was a nasty break up but most band break ups usually are. But I don’t think one individual can be blamed.
Dead Rhetoric: During the 2002-2003 period, the total lack of communication doomed the band. Was there really anyone that could have stepped in and brought Phil and the Abbotts together? Or was it a lost cause?
Daniels: I think it would have been a lost cause – too much ego, arrogance and disinterest from some members. Too much bitterness between some members. If Dime were alive I’m sure there’d be a reunion. There’d be too much money involved and most bands get back together for the cash.
Dead Rhetoric: Had Pantera made it into the mid-00’s, what do you think they would have sounded like?
Daniels: Louder, heavier but fundamentally the same band. Better. Tighter.
Dead Rhetoric: Finally, where do you think this book ranks among the ones you’ve put together? Up there with the Maiden or Journey book?
Daniels: I’m proud of this one – it’s definitely one of my best books along with Journey and my forthcoming UFO biog. Check out neildanielsbooks.wordpress.com for details.