DIMEBAG's Longtime Guitar Tech On ZAKK WYLDE Playing With PANTERA: 'He's Out There Representing His Brother'

June 27, 2023

Grady Champion, who was "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott's guitar tech throughout his career with PANTERA, spoke to Guitar World magazine about his decision to sign on for the band's current tour.

When Grady announced he was joining the crew for the PANTERA celebration shows last August, he said that he would be in charge of helping the team dial in Dimebag's effects and sounds, ensuring the PANTERA shows are as "true to tone" as possible.

"I got a little worried when I made that Facebook post about me going out — and it almost immediately hit Blabbermouth and all that shit," Grady told Guitar World. "I was, like, 'What the fuck, dude? You don't have anything better to write about?' It made me a little uneasy, but I guess it's a thing and I'm incredibly humbled that people think I add credibility to it. I'm sure my name adds more than my guitar-tech wizardry does, though; I'm no Drew Foppe [DEFTONES, SHINEDOWN tech], that's for sure."

Last July, it was announced that PANTERA's surviving members Philip Anselmo (vocals) and Rex Brown (bass) would unite with guitarist Zakk Wylde (OZZY OSBOURNE, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY) and drummer Charlie Benante (ANTHRAX) for a world tour under the PANTERA banner.

Anselmo and Brown, along with Wylde and Benante, are headlining a number of major festivals across North America and Europe and staging some of their own headline concerts. They will also support METALLICA on a massive stadium tour in 2023 and 2024.

The lineup has been given a green light by the estates of the band's founders, drummer Vincent "Vinnie Paul" Abbott and Dimebag, as well as Brown, who in 2021 said Wylde wouldn't tour with PANTERA if a reunion were to happen. It's unclear what changed his mind.

Regarding Zakk's motivation for doing the PANTERA tour, Grady told Guitar World: "You can see it in his face and the way he does stuff. You can see his passion, his 'want' to be there, and his deep love and respect for Darrell — and that's the reason I'm there too. It's really refreshing to know why Zakk's there. He comes in every single day, laser focused, ready to work with a 'Let's do this, let's kill this' attitude. It's amazing to me; there's no wavering with the guy. He comes walking up to the stage, we hug, I put the Ultimate Warrior next to Godzilla, we all high-five and then, man, he just goes to work. He's having fun while giving it everything he's got and then some. Zakk's an awesome, all-around dude and I'm so thankful I've had the opportunity to do this again.”

Elaborating on Wylde's approach to playing the guitar parts originally written and recorded by Dimebag, Grady said: "You always know exactly where you stand with Zakk. It's black or white — there's no gray area with the dude. That's one of the many reasons I love him. We did add a few things to his signal chain, but when all's said and done, Zakk's out there to represent Dime and his music, and not be a Dime clone, 'cause he's not. He's Zakk, and he's out there on that stage representing his brother, paying homage to the brothers, and giving it 333 percent. That's all that matters to me, and it couldn't be cooler.

"I hate all those Internet 'experts' expecting Zakk to clone Dime note for note, sound exactly like him, use his guitars, blah, blah, blah. So many people think that's the way to go, but it's not. That's not what this celebration is all about. It's having fun, playing PANTERA's music to a crowd and doing it your way. People have to understand it's a tribute, it's a celebration, and he's there for the brothers.

"Zakk's got enough fame and he's also got a bunch of other irons in the fire. The fact he's put it all on hold to do PANTERA is an amazing tribute to Dime and Vinnie. He's doing what he wants to do and it's totally genuine. There isn't anyone Dime would rather have doing this, either. And he'd want Zakk to play like Zakk because of the mutual respect those two had for each other as players and as people.

"What's funny is the few people I've seen who can supposedly do Dime note for note still miss the mark for me. Even if you're nailing every riff and solo note for note, in time and at the right tempo, I can always tell. People think they've got it nailed, and I'm like, 'Yeah, it's good, but it's not Darrell.'

"Zakk's made other sacrifices to do this too, like when it comes to me doing stuff for him while he's playing. He's always done all his effects switching; he's never had anybody controlling anything. So for him to have me switching and changing stuff back there, that's a huge adjustment for him. He's just gotta have complete faith and go, 'Hey, I'm out here jamming — I hope Grady gets it!'"

Up until his passing, Vinnie remained on non-speaking terms with Anselmo, whom the drummer indirectly blamed for Dimebag's death.

Vinnie Paul and Dimebag co-founded PANTERA. When PANTERA broke up in 2003, they formed DAMAGEPLAN. On December 8, 2004, while performing with DAMAGEPLAN at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio, Dimebag was shot and killed onstage by a troubled schizophrenic who believed that the members of PANTERA were stealing his thoughts.

Vinnie passed away on June 22, 2018 at his other home in Las Vegas at the age of 54. He died of dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart, as well as severe coronary artery disease. His death was the result of chronic weakening of the heart muscle — basically meaning his heart couldn't pump blood as well as a healthy heart.

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