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.
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.
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.’”