Long Before They Were Cowboys From Hell: The Time Pantera Played My Prom
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when you could still find 8-track tape players in cars, the Internet was science-fiction, and Marvel was only doing comics I experienced one of those moments you don’t recognize at the time but that ultimately stay with you your whole life. To be exact it was early 1983, I was a junior in high school, and for some unknown reason was part of our class activities committee. This meant we planned the dances, which seems stupid now but was big deal then.
For our Sweetheart Dance that February (apparently Catholic schools don’t like the word Valentine’s, perhaps offended at the co-opting of yet another Saint’s day) we decided to forgo the usual DJ and actually find a live band. Unfortunately, we were all 16 and 17 years old and had no clue how to do this in those days before the Internet made everything simple. It really was harder to get things done back then than anyone under 30 will ever realize.
By a serendipitous stroke of luck, one of our classmates (a stoner skater before it was cool named Gerry) just happened to be the only roadie for a local band. He said they would do the gig for next to nothing, which was what we could afford; he set a time for us to go to the house where they lived and audition them.
“What’s their name?” one of the girls on the committee asked.
“Pantera,” Gerry replied.
Cool name indeed, and one that you have likely heard many times before now. At this point let me say that since my memory of things from almost 40 years ago is not always crystal clear, I had to consult the band’s Wikipedia page to confirm where they lived when we went for the audition. I definitely remember a house in Bedford, TX. An old friend says it was Haltom City. Wikipedia assures me it was Arlington. The band was from Arlington, yes, but I don’t think that’s where we first saw them. Anyway.
We met them, they played, we booked the gig. They were kids just like us; guitarist Darrell Abbott (who went by Diamond Darrell then; Dimebag came later) was seven months younger than me. The other three members — Terry Glaze on vocals, Rex Brown on bass, and Darrell’s brother Vinnie Paul Abbott on drums — were only two years older. And as has been true since the first caveman grew his hair long and beat on a rock with a brontosaurus bone, the girls were instantly in love with them.
The dance went off with no problems. If this surprises you, it shouldn’t. Pantera was still in their early glam-metal phase and not yet the bad boys they would become. They played mostly covers of bands like KISS, Loverboy, and Van Halen. We decided to go the safe route and booked them to play our Junior/Senior Prom in May.
We’re only talking a few months later, but there was a palpable change when they took the stage in the main ballroom of the Arlington Hilton. Maybe because their first album, Metal Magic, would drop on June 10th, they didn’t feel like that garage band we first met. When Darrell launched into Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin Bout Love,” it was harder somehow than it had been in February. They also played some original songs that night. I wish I had paid closer attention, but the band isn’t the first thing on a teenage boy’s mind on prom night.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I learned we had seen the start of something big, the first step from garage band to professional rockers. That’s because after all of us kids took off to do those things you do after prom officially ends, the boys from Pantera (and I assume our classmate Gerry) completely destroyed the Hilton ballroom. Cowboys from Hell indeed.
I didn’t think much about seeing the band at this nascent stage of their career, even after they exploded in 1990 with the album Cowboys from Hell. After all, every artist starts somewhere (Springsteen playing CYO dances with the Castilles, the Beatles at the Cavern Club, etc.) and obviously someone was there to see them. Then, while in the Army in 1992 I told this story to a fellow soldier who happened to be playing “Cowboys from Hell.” If I had told him I personally rolled the stone away from the tomb so Jesus could get out he would not have been more awestruck.
Since then, I tell the story to every headbanger I meet. It never fails to amaze them that an old geezer could ever have done something so cool. The connection also gives me implicit permission to preach to them about the saving power of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Rest in power chord bliss Darrell and Vinnie, and thanks for the memories.