Alice in Chains Guitarist Jerry Cantrell Remembers 'Dimebag' Darrell: 'He Was an Amazing Guitarist -- and an Even Better Person'

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Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains performs during 2013 Rock On The Range at Columbus Crew Stadium on May 19, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. 

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, Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell remembers his friend.

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How did you meet Dime?

I had already heard about him before I met him. I had heard stories about this fucking kid who was so badass that he kept winning this contest [in Texas] they had every year for the best new guitar player. He won it so many times they fucking kicked him out and made him a judge. Then I graduated in ‘84 and was going to winter semester of college, and then got the bright idea to put school off for a year and try to put a band together with a bunch of buddies of mine. So we drove to Dallas in a van and got jobs. We jammed and went to clubs at night. One of the clubs we went to was a place called Cardi’s in Houston. They had rock bands all the time -- I saw Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, Talas, all sorts of cool fucking bands. Pantera was one of the bands I saw there. I remember talking to Dime after the show, just about gear and about how much I enjoyed how he played. I thought he was an amazing guitarist and he turned out to be an even better person. That started a long, long friendship.

Even at that very early stage there was something special about him.

Yeah. That’s why I went up to talk to him. I remember talking to [Pantera bassist] Rex [Brown] and [Dimebag’s older brother] Vinnie [Paul] that night, too. There are certain guys that you run into and you just know -- you just know that guy’s going someplace. And he should be going someplace, because he damn well deserves it. [Alice in Chains frontman] Layne [Staley] was one of those guys for me as well.

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Was Dime’s personality fairly consistent with what we saw as fans?

Sure. He wasn’t any different in the center of the room with you or the center of an arena with thousands of people. He was a really genuine person. He was fun to be around. I had so many good times with him. And I had some bad times, too, where it would be about picking each other up. I’d get to see him really regularly out on the road. The arcs of our careers were fairly similar: Cowboys from Hell came out in ’90, Facelift came out in ‘90; Vulgar was ‘92, Dirt was ‘92.

How did you hear that he had been murdered?

I don’t remember that exact moment, but I know I got on a plane immediately. All of us, [Alice in Chains drummer] Sean [Kinney], [Alice in Chains bassist] Mike [Inez] and me went straight to Dallas to be with Vinnie and support him. We’d been through losing somebody -- losing Layne -- two years earlier, so we had kinda been there. It was one of the most godawful things you’ve ever heard of happening to somebody who was one of the nicest people you ever knew in your life and your friend. It’s still unbelievable.

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Do you still hear Dime’s sound and influence in bands today?

Absolutely. Totally. He echoes fucking loudly. As he should, man. As he should.