Eddie Van Halen only met Pantera counterpart "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott a few weeks before he was shot dead on stage with his band Damageplan on Dec. 8, 2004. But Van Halen’s touching personal tribute, in burying one of his famed guitars with Abbott, demonstrates how close a relationship they’d already built – and suggests how much closer they would have become.

Van Halen” were Dimebag’s last words before a mentally disturbed man named Nathan Gale opened fire at Alrosa Villa, a club in Columbus, Ohio, where Damageplan had just begun their set. The guitarist died instantly with five shots to the head. Two others died and seven were wounded before Gale was killed by a police officer

The message “Van Halen” was an important one between him and brother Vinnie Paul, Damageplan’s drummer. Through their time together in Pantera and before that, it had held special meaning to them. “The last thing that really matters to me is the last thing we said to each other before we went on stage,” Paul said later. “We were warming up on the side of the stage like we always did and we were both really excited… Our code word to let it all hang out and have a good time was ‘Van Halen,’ man! And that’s the last two words we ever said to each other. I said, ‘Van Halen’ and he said ‘Van Halen,’ and we high-fived each other and went on the deck to do our thing... and a minute-and-a-half later I’ll never see him again.”

Dimebag listened to Eddie Van Halen before every show, he’d once reported, adding, “He plays ‘Eruption’ and you go, “Shit, I never heard a guitar sound like that in my life.’ He was to our generation what [Jimi] Hendrix was to his.” Indeed, the fact that both Van Halen and Pantera feature brothers on guitar and drums had led to Dimebag’s band being called the Texan Van Halen.

“We had just seen Van Halen in Midland, Texas, a few weeks earlier, and the was the first time Dime ever got to meed Eddie,” Dime’s girlfriend Rita Haney said later. “They hung out before and after the show. Dime even got to play Eddie’s rig at soundcheck. He was like a kid in a candy store.”

Paul – who died in June 2018 – recalled how the meeting that night had been arranged after Van Halen had sought the drummer out in Texas club a few weeks earlier. “We'd been talking maybe 10 minutes, and he goes, 'You know, man? It's crazy. We've only been talking, like, 10 minutes, but it's unbelievable how much we've got in common — you and your brother, and me and Al[ex Van Halen].' And it was an amazing thing that happened."

He said of the concert night, “Eddie sent a limo to pick us up, which was very cool. And we came in, and he brought us right up on stage and hung out at soundcheck and everything. And the show was amazing. And I'll never forget. We got on the plane, and when we were flying back to Dallas, my brother looked at me, and he goes, 'Man, you know what? If this plane was to go down in a crash right now, I'd be okay with it. I finally got to meet the dude that made me wanna play guitar.' It was really special.” The friendship didn’t have the chance to develop further.

In the days after the horror, Haney spoke with Paul about which guitar should be buried with Dime, who was to be lowered down in a Kiss Kasket, as per his wishes, donated by Kiss leaders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (who later did the same for Paul). At that point Van Halen called. “Dime [had been] ready to cut him a $30,000 check [the night they met] for one of his striped guitars,” Haney said, “but Eddie told him he’d do a special one for him. So I asked him if he’d stripe up a guitar for Darrell. He said, ‘One of the red, white and black ones?’ And I said, ‘No, Darrell always said that the yellow and black was your toughest guitar.’”

On the day of the funeral, Dec. 14, Van Halen arrived with an instrument – but it wasn’t a new one, it was the original one featured on the back of Van Halen II, dating from 1979. He told Haney, “An original should have an original.” But he couldn’t bring himself to view Dime’s body, explaining, “I can’t go in there… I want to remember him like he was that night I met him.” So Haney delivered the gift. Holding up the guitar, complete with rusted strings, Haney told her late lover, “See, baby? You didn’t get a replica – you got the one!” She kissed his forehead as she placed it in his casket.

At the ceremony, Van Halen told the assembly of Dimebag’s friends, family and fans, “I’m here for the same reason as everyone else: to give some love back… This guy was full of life. He lived and breathed rock ’n’ roll.” Then he held his phone to a mic so everyone could heard a message from Dime that he’d kept: “Thank you so much, man, for the most awesome, uplifting, euphoric, spiritual rock ’n’ roll extravaganza ever!”

Speaking in 2014, Haney said, “I think he'd actually be surprised at how many people he touched. He has to be the most tatted guy ever – I'm always seeing people with tattoos of him. Most photographed, too – people are always showing me photos of them with Dime. People just really loved him, and he loved them.”

 

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