Testament's Alex Skolnick on 'Dimebag' Darrell: He 'Never Stopped Being A Music Fan'

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Alex Skolnick of Testament performs on stage during day 2 of Bloodstock Open Air 2012 at Catton Hall on August 11, 2012 in Derby, United Kingdom.

Ten years after the onstage shooting of Pantera legend “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, Billboard spoke with the guitar god’s friends, family and fellow rock icons about the hole the 38-year-old shredder’s death left in metal and in their lives. Here, Testament's Alex Skolnick credits Dimebag's passion for his instrument as being key to his talent.

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You contributed an electric guitar solo to the 2011 Rodrigo y Gabriela song “Atman,” which they dedicated to Dimebag. From a composition standpoint, what were they trying to express with the song?

We structured the solo so that it would have some of the signatures that Dime had, particularly long notes in the beginning. A track like Pantera’s "This Love" had these really long-lasting, sustained notes, which was a little bit different in metal at that time because it was a time where there was so much speed and technique in music. Not that Darrell didn't have technique, he definitely did. He really made a lot of use of these long durations of notes, so I tried to do that and I tried to give it some of the feel, some of the vibrato that he had.

(Watch a performance of the song below as part of a medley during a 2011 performance in Avignon, France.)

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What was it about Dimebag's playing that set him apart from other guitarists?

He was very passionate about the instrument. He was one of these artists that I think he was always a fan. He never stopped being a fan. He would get excited meeting his favorite guitar players and guitar players he admired.

It also was a time where [guitarists were] trying to be more and more outrageous, get more attention. Dimebag never seemed caught up in that. Technically he was a good guitar player, especially where guitar went in the '90s, as the interest in technique in guitar seemed to wane in hard rock. He would obviously stand out as somebody with really good technique, but he was never over the top and never tried to prove his technique. I think he never lost [the vibe of] the bar band, it's Saturday night in Houston, and he's having a great time.

In a statement you wrote after Dimebag died, you recalled that when you first met him, he asked you about some of the solos you played and he wanted to know if he was playing them right.

Yeah, that's true. He knew my parts and he'd been trying to learn this one thing, and he had figured it out a certain way. I forget if it was exactly right, but whatever he did, it was fine. It worked. Maybe it was a different position, but guitar's one of these instruments you can interpret things, you can play things different ways and they'll sound the same. I remember it sounded good. I remember being impressed with how close he got.

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In your opinion, what made Pantera so important in its day?

They almost were a bridge to what happened with alternative music. It still had the chops and the energy of hard rock and metal. But it was in between. They had been this glam rock band. Everything sort of '90s rock was supposedly rallying against, they had been that. They had successfully done this makeover, which they wore really well. I think had they succeeded as a glam band, they would have ran with that and it would have been great. But I think when they changed their image they were really sealing it, so I think they captured some of the bombast and what was exciting about good hard rock in the '80s as far as the technical ability, and brought that with the angst and the rawness.

A lot of the thrash bands, we all wrestled with production. It's very hard music to produce. There's so much going on. Layers of guitar, and everything's loud, and getting it recorded clearly is really tough. Pantera definitely had a foot in thrash, but they really had the production thing together. They captured it so well.

Do you think Pantera was the last metal band that all fans could agree on?

That's a good question. There are things that all metal fans can agree on, and they are very few and far between. [Laughs.] Like everybody can agree that Black Sabbath was the first bona-fide metal band. I can't think of anybody that came after Pantera [that] would have that kind of consensus. There have been some good bands that have come after, but it is very rare.

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What do you think Dimebag's ultimate legacy is?

He was true to himself. He never said, "OK, we need to get a turntable player in this band now.” (Laughs) “We need a rapper. We need to go emo.” I didn't know him that well, but I get the sense that he was always true to himself and his brother, Vinnie; they were a team. Those guys were always true to themselves. I think that showed and that's why he was able to play great riffs and great melodic passages and played great songs. I think that's why the music's going to last. It's very hard to create music that's going to last, but I believe decades from now people will still be talking about Pantera, and they'll still be talking about Dime.

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