15 Years Ago: Vinnie Paul Triumphs Over Grief With ‘Hellyeah’
Vinnie Paul thought he would never play music again after the death of his brother and bandmate, "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, on Dec. 8, 2004.
The Abbott brothers formed Damageplan following the dissolution of Pantera, which they founded in 1981 and led to global metal stardom in the '90s. Damageplan got off to an impressive start with their 2004 debut New Found Power, but their tenure was cut tragically short when a mentally ill fan shot Dimebag dead onstage at the Alrosa Villa nightclub in Columbus, Ohio.
Following Dimebag's death, Paul started his own label, Big Vin Records, and retreated from performing for roughly a year and a half. But in mid-2006, the drummer accepted an invitation to jam with a burgeoning alt-metal supergroup consisting of Mudvayne singer Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett, and Nothingface bassist Jerry Montano and guitarist Tom Maxwell.
Montano had been label mates with Paul in the '90s when his former band, the Deadlights, and Pantera were both on Elektra Records. The bassist tried several times to hook the drummer, who was initially reluctant to get back behind the kit. "Finally, after seven or eight calls, he caught me one night when I'd been drinking and listening to some old Kiss," Paul told the Dallas Morning News in 2007. "I just loved everybody's attitude. Everybody was so gung-ho, everybody's head was in the right place."
With Paul onboard, the newly minted Hellyeah wrote and recorded their self-titled debut album in Dimebag's Chasin' Jason home studio in Arlington, Tex. "It was very tough at first," Paul told Billboard in 2007. "But once we got in there it felt like the dark cloud that was there went away, and it really felt like Dime was watching over us and guiding us. Everybody just really had nothing but positive energy from the get-go. That’s what made it work."
Watch Hellyeah's 'Alcohaulin' Ass' Video
The resulting 12-song album delivered a smorgasbord of whiskey-soaked party metal anthems, bursting with down-tuned riffs, scorched-earth screams and Paul's characteristically pulverizing breakdowns. Unsubtle barnburners like "GodDamn," "Alcohaulin' Ass" and album opener "Hellyeah" exemplified the band's groove-metal wallop and bad-boys-havin'-a-good-time ethos.
"It's rebellious," Gray told the Dallas Morning News of Hellyeah's sound. "It means late teens, keggers and chicks and AC/DC and Metallica. That's what I think when I hear these songs. It's a very youthful, making-bad-decisions-and-learning-from-them record. To me, it's summertime when I was 19 years old."
Paul was similarly enthusiastic about the project, which he credited with restoring his drive to play music. "After the events of Dec. 8, 2004, I didn't really know if I was ever going to play again," he told Maximum Ink in 2007 (via Blabbermouth). "I just told myself if I was, it was going to have been the ultimate situation and fall into my lap. That's what happened [with Hellyeah]. Everybody had their head in the right place and that let's-tear-the-world-a-new-ass attitude. It was just a great record to make. We feel like it is really going to set some standards this year."
Hellyeah released their self-titled album on April 10, 2007. It debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 and sold 45,000 copies in its first week. The band toured rigorously and released four more Top 20 albums — 2010's Stampede, 2012's Band of Brothers, 2014's Blood for Blood and 2016's Unden!able — before Paul's death on June 22, 2018. Hellyeah released one more album, 2019's Welcome Home, before announcing their hiatus in 2021.
Gray paid tribute to his fallen bandmate in an emotional Facebook post after his death. "I just want to say thank you, Vinnie Paul!" the singer wrote. "For saving my life, for your music, for your endless generosity, for accepting me into your life, for creating our music that touched people, for being proud to be in Hellyeah and for always treating me like a brother and more importantly for treating me like a friend. … And for all of those things you will live forever in my heart. And I will never let you go!!! I will always love you and go to the end of the earth to carry the torch for you and Dime's legacy."