Former Manager Paul Bassman Remembers 'Dimebag' Darrell: 'There Was Nobody on Planet Earth Like Him'
Today, Paul Bassman is president of Ascend Insurance Brokerage, one of the premier entertainment insurance firms in the business. Ten years ago, Bassman was the manager of Damageplan, the metal powerhouse led by "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and his brother Vinnie Paul, both formerly with Pantera.
Formed in 2003, Damageplan's first album New Found Power on the soon-to-be-dissolved Elektra Records, wasn't exactly blowing up the charts, but the future was bright for Damageplan, with plans to shift to Atlantic as the 2004 tour wound down. On Dec. 8, at the Alrosa Villa rock club in Columbus, Ohio, a deranged man in the audience named Nathan Gale stormed the stage with a 9 mm handgun, killing Dimebag Darrell, tour security Jeff "Mayhem" Thompson, Erin "Stoney" Halk from the venue, and fan Nathan Bray, and wounding tour manager Chris Paluska and drum tech John "Kat" Brooks, before being shot himself by police officer James Niggemeyer. As unlikely as this scene was, this was not Bassman's first brush with rock 'n roll tragedy; Bassman had previously managed Drowning Pool, whose charismatic front man Dave Williams was found dead of heart failure on his tour bus in August of 2002 in Manassas, Va.
On the 10th anniversary of Dimebag Darrell's death, Billboard's Ray Waddell, who was among the first to cover the story back in 2004, spoke with Bassman about Dimebag's legacy, the perspective that a decade brings, and leaving behind his tragedy-marked career in artist management.
How did you come to be managing Damageplan?
I was managing the band Drowning Pool before that, and through that band I met Dimebag and Vinnie. When those guys decided to start their new project Damageplan, they approached me and said, "Do you want to manage us?" I was like, "Are you kidding? Hell, yeah!" What a dream come true, to have guys of that caliber approach you and ask that question. So we met, talked, did the dance, and ended up working together.
Had their final tour been going OK when it hit Columbus?
It was a struggle in the sense that we were signed to Elektra, and I don't think Elektra really wanted the band, necessarily, they just wanted to keep them because of Pantera. They did help with some promotion work: George Cappelini was our head of radio [at Elektra], he did everything he could to make the band happen. It just wasn't much of a priority for Elektra at the time, and part of that was probably because Elektra was going away. In the middle of our album cycle, Elektra was dissolved and all the bands went to Atlantic. Terrible timing. But what did happen at that time -- and who knows what could have happened -- was we ended up aligning ourselves with Andy Karp [former executive VP/A&R chief] at Lava Atlantic, so he was a champion of the project, and very excited for the next record. The record we had out [New Found Power] sold some units, and we did some good tour dates, but I think the next record would have broken the band wide open.
So how did you hear about what happened in Columbus on Dec. 8, 2004?
I was in my home office in Dallas, and someone called me and told me, I can't even remember who. They said Dimebag had been killed and other people were shot. It seems like it was yesterday, it's so weird, I remember where I was and how I felt. I heard that Chris Paluska got shot, he was my right-hand man in management and acting tour manager at the time. They were winding [the tour] down, and brought him out to sort of end the tour. He made it, one of my very good friends, a close colleague. Mayhem was killed, just a sweetheart of a guy, the most gentle giant you'll ever meet in your life. The guy was like 8' 10", 500 lbs., he was enormous, dude. I can't believe [Gale] got him, but he got him.
You said you remember how you felt.
I can't even explain it. It was surreal. Time stopped. Your eyes are wide open and you're just, "I can't believe I'm hearing this."
So what do you do, as a manager and as a person?
[Heavy sigh.] I went in and told my wife. Then I started making phone calls. I probably called our attorney for the band, the label people, let everybody know what was going on. Just keep an eye on the news and put everyone in the loop.
You also talked to me, and I'm sure that wasn't easy. There was talk that the shooting was related to the breakup of Pantera. How did you process that?
I never really did process that, because there was never really a determination of what happened. As far as I know, there was never any documentation at his house, or on his computer, or anywhere, that showed any sort of animosity toward the band, or for Dimebag in general. We don't know what triggered him. There's speculation out the ass, but no concrete information as to why he really did it. Nobody really knows. He had showed up at a gig in another market (Bogart's in Cincinnati) and caused problems, and got ejected from the venue, but it wasn't anything anyone saw coming.
So how did it play out? Were there any lawsuits or anything like that?
If there were, I wasn't directly involved. I think there were some motions to sue Alrosa Villa, but they didn't have insurance. There wasn't an attorney willing to go after the personal assets of the company, or anything like that, I don't think anyone got anywhere with any lawsuits.
The venue didn't have insurance -- that's a little ironic, considering what you do now.
Yeah, I know this better than anyone now. If you don't have insurance, it can keep you from getting sued, however there is no guarantee that an aggressive attorney won't try and move forward and take ownership of your business.
There was talk then and has been since, of unreleased material from Dimebag and Damageplan. Do you know if that exists, or what became of it?
I do recall different conversations that Dime had been working on a lot of new riffs at the time. I don't know where that went -- that's a great question. I'd love to hear it, it would really make me happy, but I don't know how developed it was or if it was to the point that anyone could handle putting it together into any sort of project.
What can you say about what kind of guy Dimebag Darrell was?
He was the best. There was nobody on planet Earth like him. He had a heart of gold. My fondest memories of Dime and Vinnie both were the Christmas parties at Dime's house. I'll never forget this, a room full of all their friends and crew and the craziest metal people you've ever met in your life, all packed in Dime's living room, where the Christmas tree was hung from the ceiling upside down, because there were so many presents they couldn't fit them under the tree. Piles and piles of gifts that Dime and Vinnie personally wrapped, they went out and bought presents for everybody. For hours they would sit there, "Hey, here's one for you," and throw a present to this guy or that girl. And it would be something silly, like a bag of Cheetos, but it would have meaning. "Remember when we had Cheetos on the road? Here's some more." They took so much time to do those little things, it just absolutely floored me to watch that, and to see how generous and thoughtful they were. Christmas with Dime was something else.
How did you end up in that scene to begin with?
(Laughs) I was in the music business working with Vertical Horizon and Jackopierce. Jackopierce broke up and Vertical Horizon got signed and went to a New York manager, because we were kind of small time. I needed something to do, so I went to work for this indie label called Last Beat Records, and Chris Paluska was this kid that worked there, and all he listened to was metal. I'd sit in his office with him, I had no real bearings on metal at all. I liked Judas Priest and Iron Maiden when I was younger, but the nu metal I had never listened to. So I'd sit in his office, and he's blaring Slipknot, Nothingface, Meshuggah, all these obscenely crazy metal bands, and I kinda started to like it. I started to get a feel for what it was all about, certain things I liked and things I didn't. Then I heard Drowning Pool on a KEGL radio show that this guy Chaz Knight used to host, and I was sold on [late vocalist] Dave Williams from Day 1.
Are you in touch with Chris or Vinnie or any of the others that were there that night in Columbus?
Chris and I still talk, I still consider him a good friend and always will. I haven't spoken to Vinnie in a while. I miss him. He's off doing his Hellyeah stuff and I'm in the insurance business, so we don't really cross paths.
Did you get out of the management game after this tragedy?
Yeah. I couldn't do it anymore.
Too hard. Losing Dave Williams from Drowning Pool was super hard. That was crazy, to lose one client like that, and to lose another, I just couldn't go on. I couldn't imagine approaching a new band and asking them to let me manage them. And, frankly, I couldn't stand looking at any bands that weren't as good as Dimebag and Vinnie. Dimebag was so good at what he did, he was so in another dimension over any other artist that I'd ever conceived of working with, so to continue on after that I felt was almost an insult to his memory. It really pained me.
To have two such tragedies as a manager, what are the odds?
Yeah, it was hard for me to live with for a while. It took me a while to get that through my head. I looked at [New York-based management firm] Q Prime, they've had their fair share of tragedies, which helped me cope. But Q Prime is immensely larger than my company was, they've had decades of experience. For me and my short career, for the two key artists in my two key bands both die, it was too hard to continue on.
Did you go right into insurance?
No, it took me a while. I took the LSAT, I was going to go to law school, and I got a good enough score to get into a school like SMU [in Dallas], so I got an application. Question one was "Why do you want to be a lawyer?" I toiled over that for two days, and at the end of the two days I realized that I don't want to be a lawyer, and I couldn't possibly answer that question without lying. So I started looking in other directions. I connected with James Chippendale, the CEO of our company. He was working with a little company that had just formed called C3 Presents. He was just getting into music and he brought me on to bolster that, and the rest is history. We're one of the dominant players in entertainment insurance.
Did your experiences as a manager play a role in what you ended up doing professionally?
It has everything to do with my success. My clients absolutely love that I know their business. I get it, I can talk their language, I feel their pain, I know how insurance is an afterthought. For me, when I was in management, insurance was a line item on a budget that I questioned. I remember clearly talking to my business managers going, "What's this insurance thing, do we really need this? What could possibly happen?" I've been there, I know what it's like when you're trying to save bucks on the road. I can empathize with my clients from that perspective of not really liking, or getting it. But, at the same time, I know damn well what can happen, and I can talk to them about it. I say, "Guys, protect your assets." That's the one thing I didn't do. I don't sell life insurance, so it's not like I'm out there trying to convince managers to buy life insurance policies on their artists. But they should, first of all. It's just really a matter of looking at your business and asking, "What are my assets and what could happen that would crush me?" and then protecting yourself from that, whether it's contractually, whether it's co-signing checks, whatever it may be, but looking at insurance as well, and most people don't do that.
Ten years down the line, have you come to any conclusions as to what Dimebag's death says about gun control, mental illness, concert safety, or rock 'n' roll?
I've never really thought of it in that regard. The guy had a handgun, I don't think there's anything gun control could do to stop it, it wasn't like some automatic AK-47. He was just someone with a gun. I haven't really thought about things like maybe people should check for mental illness before they sell someone a gun. I guess I thought they did already, but maybe not, because I think the guy was certifiably insane. But maybe he got the gun from his parents, for all we know.
I know it's not a pleasant topic, we appreciate you revisiting it.
It's a horrible topic, but it's a relevant thing to talk about. It comes up a lot, it's part of my life. I don't try to run from it. Hopefully people can learn from my mistakes, not that I could have done anything about what happened to Dimebag, but as far as salvaging a career. I'm extremely happy where I'm at now.
Well, what could you have done differently? You have a mountain man security, you think you're safe in a concert venue. It's really about as bizarre an incident that has ever happened in rock 'n roll.
Pretty much, yeah.
At least anniversaries such as this get people talking about Dimebag again, which is a good thing.
I think about him all the time, I miss him terribly. I have pictures of him up on the wall and he's still very much a part of my life. I think he's a big part of a lot of people's lives. His legacy has only grown since his death, and I think people will remember him forever. He needs to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, without a doubt, and hopefully that will happen for him.