20 Years Ago, PANTERA redefined metal when Atco Records released COWBOYS FROM HELL, the legendary album that opened the “Cemetery Gates” and introduced a legion of metal fans to the true “Art of Shredding.” With their unmistakable brand of Texas groove-metal, PANTERA quickly became of the biggest acts in heavy music.
With the long-awaited reissue of CFH taking place this coming Tuesday, I caught up with REX BROWN, bassist for PANTERA and current supplier of low-end rumble to DOWN for a casual conversation about the forthcoming reissue, and a look back at the legacy of the band. After playing phone tag for a bit, what follows below is that conversation transcribed, with Brown speaking from his Texas home.
JAMES ZAHN: Hey Rex, good to hear from you!
REX BROWN/PANTERA: James! How are ya, buddy?
ZAHN: Good, I’m actually putting the finishing touches on our PANTERA contest right now.
BROWN: Have you listened to the reissue yet?
ZAHN: I have. They sent the 3-Disc, and it’s excellent.
BROWN: Glad to hear you’re digging it!
ZAHN: I wanted to talk to you about the record a bit. There are a lot of listeners out there that aren’t really aware that PANTERA existed in a different form pre-COWBOYS FROM HELL, and for many years it was kind of a grey area for you as a band – not really talking too much about it [Note: PANTERA has long-considered CFH the first true Pantera record, as do most diehard fans]. What was the catalyst for the turning point you had as a band, to move beyond your early career and into the “groove metal” we’ve all come to know and love?
BROWN: We’d been trying to do that for about two years before writing COWBOYS. Basically, we got Phil [Anselmo, vocalist] in the band and we started writing material for the POWER METAL record – which has never been released majorly in the ‘States – but we toured on that in the Southwest Region and were always trying to get heavier and heavier. At the time, that’s where our influences were coming from. I think that Phil joined the band toward the end of ’86, so that gave us more than two years before we did the demo for COWBOYS and it was a natural progression. We got Phil in the band and he brought this more hardcore element, and Vinnie [Paul, Drummer] had a working studio alongside his old man for a long time, so even on those old Pantera records, he had a really firm idea of what they should sound like. So, when we did COWBOYS, those old demos aren’t that far removed from Terry [Date, producer]’s stuff even though you can tell the differences between the subtleties of doing it on your own and then re-doing it with a major label and having a lot more money to do it with.
ZAHN: Listening to the demos myself, I noticed that the biggest differences seemed to be in the arrangements of the songs. “Cemetery Gates” is a big difference for example, with the intro riff completely omitted from the early version.
BROWN: Right. Dime [Darrell Abbott, Guitarist] and I wrote that while Vinnie was going over something. I had this big orange pumpkin bass from Kramer that they had put out – it was acoustic – and Dime and I were just sitting in the back of the office one day during the recording of that [with Terry], and started jamming and thought it was pretty cool and we could just take it and make a little diddy out of it. That’s what it turned out to be – the intro to “Cemetery Gates.” We just went right in and recorded it and had it all planned out and the whole bit. It was pretty cool that in just downtime, just me and Dime with the acoustic guitars started coming up with that stuff. In fact, I play acoustic on the actual piece, and I play piano on that as well.
ZAHN: Right on. Was that the way a lot of your songs spawned – just sitting around jamming new riffs acoustically?
BROWN: No, that was just one time where we were looking for an intro for a song that didn’t even have lyrics over the top of it. So we wrote that little piece and showed it to the other guys and they were like “Oh yeah, this is going on it!” and after we jumped into recording it right away, we went back in and overdubbed with the additional guitar parts, and the end result is on the record.
ZAHN: This new 20th Anniversary set is very extensive, so it begs me to ask if you’ll be putting together similar collections for the albums that came after CFH…
BROWN: Of course. VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER is next, I guess in about a year and a half. It came out in 1992, so we’re not that far off. We’re just gonna put these things back into stores so that they have some shelf life again. Steve Harris [IRON MAIDEN bassist] once said when someone asked why they kept re-releasing all of their stuff, that “it’s the best thing to do to keep your music on shelves and get it restocked to keep yourself out there.”
ZAHN: It’s pretty much a given that you’ll gain new listeners with each reissue since new people will discover the band for the first time.
BROWN: I think a lot of these people after Dime died… (pauses)
I never really thought of this before, until maybe the past couple of days… a lot of people didn’t know PANTERA until Dime fell victim to that tragic situation. It’s kind of like it brought attention to the band from this new-found group of people.
ZAHN: I can agree with that. When I first discovered PANTERA it was during the VULGAR era, and being a teenager at the time, that’s when I started going to shows and first met you guys out in Iowa. Even though you had a huge fanbase in the Midwest, a lot of people just weren’t in-tune to what PANTERA was all about until the Dime (pictured right) incident, and that was a decade later.
BROWN: I’d never thought of that before, and then I started seeing all these new tattoos from kids that couldn’t be more than 16 or so, and I was like “shit, you weren’t even alive when we were doing this.” I think a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon with a big misery trip. Morbid curiosity fueled that for some people.
We’re putting these back out number one for the fans, the ones that bought the record the first time around – and number two for the new offspring of kids that might be experiencing something old for the first time.
ZAHN: Exactly. Speaking of experiencing things for the first time, when you were touring heavily and releasing those VULGAR VIDEOS, I know that there’s a lot of footage out there that no one has ever seen.
BROWN: Oh there’s tons.
ZAHN: What really comes to mind is the FAR BEYOND DRIVEN Tour. I’d seen you a few times on that one, and know that you were filming every show. Is there any chance we might get to see that sometime?
BROWN: I would hope so. We just need to get someone to go down there and start going through hundreds of hours’ worth of footage. That’ll be a part of the next little “box set” we’d like to do. I think that the next priority is to get a VULGAR VIDEO IV out there or something like that.
ZAHN: I think there are a lot of people that would really dig that. Maybe put the first ones together on a Blu-Ray as you did on DVD a while back?
BROWN: We’d do it both ways, a new one on Blu-ray and DVD and then the originals on Blu-ray as well.
ZAHN: What’s up in the world of DOWN these days? Still working on the new record?
ZAHN: What about the live DVD that was supposed to be out a while back?
BROWN: Comes out October 5th.
ZAHN: I know that shifted release dates quite a bit, and a lot of people have been asking us for details.
BROWN: Yeah, it was just politics between the labels and stuff. You know, at first Warner’s said “Go ahead and do what you want, we don’t want it,” and then as soon as we go to put it out they step in an pull the plug on us. So now, Roadrunner is doing it with us. They’ll be putting it out over here and overseas. It’s really good.
ZAHN: Getting back to PANTERA, is there anything you’ve never gotten to get out there through all these years of doing press?
BROWN: It was all very memorable, but you’ve gotta remember that it was also a big blur. We’d just gotten signed, yet we still had to play clubs and do what we had to do to make some money… there was a lot of hunger there… a lot of fire there. I remember that CFH demo more than anything, and every day in the life of PANTERA there was something fuckin’ crazy going on.
PANTERA – COWBOYS FROM HELL 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION will be released on September 14th in a variety of configurations, followed by an “Ultimate” box set this November. DOWN – DIARY OF A MAD BAND will be released as a CD/DVD combo on October 5th. Get your PANTERA fix below, and be sure to pre-order your copies of both CFH and the new DOWN.
For more on what Rex is up to, visit http://rexbrown.net/