Vinnie Paul Abbott—best known as one of the founding members of glam-metal-turned-thrash-metal legends Pantera—has died. Working alongside his brother, lead guitarist Darrell “Dimebag Darrell” Abbott, Paul lent his drumming talents to Pantera for decades, with the two brothers charting ever-heavier sounds for the well-known group. Their collaboration continued past the band’s break-up into their work together on Damageplan, until Darrell’s shocking on-stage murder in 2004 forced Vinnie to continue playing on alone.
The Abbott brothers were raised in Texas, the sons of country music songwriter Jerry Abbott, who produced Pantera’s earlier independent albums. (The band later ignored most of these early releases; it was Vinnie, supposedly, who suggested that they forego their glam-friendly spandex in favor of the more casual look that would become the group’s staple style.) After years of troubles settling on a stable singer, the Abbotts (and bassist Rex Brown) finally found New Orleans native Phil Anselmo, solidifying the Pantera that fans of heavier metal came to love.
Anselmo’s rougher vocals heralded a shift in the band’s directions (and its fortunes), but it was the continuing musical push of the Abbotts that helped establish the group in their new identity, as Vinnie and Darrell both pushed themselves toward heavier, darker rhythms on albums like Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display Of Power. They also solidified the band’s hard-partying image, a Lynyrd Skynyrd-inspired “give no fucks” approach to the Southern rock motif. (Famously, a party at Paul’s place once forced the NHL to undergo major repairs on the Stanley Cup, after it got thrown off a balcony during a night of drunken debauchery.)
Pantera began to self-destruct in the mid-1990s, after Anselmo began using heroin, eventually overdosing non-lethally in 1996. In the aftermath, he also began focusing his energies on other projects, including Down and Superjoint Ritual, leading the Abbotts to officially break up the band in 2003. Vinnie and Darrell continued to play and tour as Damageplan until 2004, when a man with a gun climbed onto the stage at a concert in Columbus Ohio, shooting and killing Dimebag Darrell and several others.
Paul spoke many times over the years about the effects of the shooting, which robbed him of both his brother, and his most constant creative partner. In 2014, he told former wrestling star Chris Jericho in an interview that he’d finally come to some kind of peace with the events, but noted that “I don’t wanna remember it, I don’t wanna think about it. It’s hard. It’s hard.”
Unmarried and without children, Paul continued to play and tour for the next several years, largely with his current group, Hellyeah. Although he never seemed to forgive Anselmo for leaving Pantera—reportedly shooting down any suggestions of a reunion with a blunt, flat denial—he continued to make music and enjoy the life of a well-regarded performing player. (It’s not every drummer who can boast headlining sets on multiple Ozzfests and an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.) In 2008, as part of a promo for ddrum, he released a video compiling some of his most beloved drum parts, showing that he hadn’t lost a step in his speed or technical skill.
It’s difficult not to contextualize Paul’s life in the terms of the larger, louder personalities that surrounded him. And yet, he was just as vital to Pantera’s success, and its evolution, as Anselmo or his brother, moving the band away from its lighter roots and toward the style that eventually made it famous with his relentlessly passionate drumming. His death was reported last night on the Pantera Facebook page. He was 54.