PHIL DEMMEL Names Three Guitarists Who 'Would Absolutely Nail' Playing DIMEBAG's Parts In Reformed PANTERA

May 5, 2024

During an appearance on The Metal Forge podcast, former MACHINE HEAD and VIO-LENCE guitarist Phil Demmel spoke about his reputation as something of an in-demand session man for veteran metal outfits, having previously filled in for musicians in SLAYER, LAMB OF GOD, OVERKILL and TESTAMENT, among other bands. He said in part (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "There are gigs that I can't do. When Kiko [Loureiro] was gone [from MEGADETH last fall] and everybody's, like, 'Oh, there's a spot for Demmel,' and blah, blah, blah. And it's, like, no way. And it's not a [Dave] Mustaine thing at all, 'cause I get along great with Dave. Him and I have got a cool mutual respect thing and he's always treated me really well. I'm just not capable of doing that gig. There's just solos that I just physically could not pull off under all those judging eyes. The PANTERA thing is another thing where my name was popping up just as people [were saying], just, 'Oh, blah, blah, blah.' I couldn't do that gig. There's no way that I would do that gig. They got the right guy for that gig. Too many judging eyes. And it doesn't matter who it was gonna be, but in my eyes, and I can only speak for myself, I am 100 percent accepting of that. I haven't seen it. I'm hoping that it's a big celebration and a tribute to the brothers [late PANTERA drummer Vincent 'Vinnie Paul' Abbott and guitarist 'Dimebag' Darrell Abbott]. They're playing arenas."

Elaborating on PANTERA's decision to hire Zakk Wylde (OZZY OSBOURNE, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY) to play Dimebag's parts on the reformed band's ongoing tour, Phil said: "I get asked, who do I think could play this stuff? And there's three guys that I think would absolutely nail it playing it, and that's Ola [Englund, THE HAUNTED] and it's Wes Hauch [GLASS CASKET, THE FACELESS] and it's Reece Scruggs, who's now playing in MACHINE HEAD, but he's from HAVOK. And those three guys, they can play it, but does an arena full of PANTERA fans wanna watch that person play that, though? Or do they wanna see our reigning Thor of guitar, which is Zakk Wylde, our torchbearer for this generation, in my eyes. That's what I wanna see."

Demmel went on to say that criticism leveled at Wylde for not reproducing Dimebag's parts perfectly is unwarranted. "He's catching some stuff for, 'Oh, he's not muting this the way this is,' and 'He's not doing…' It's, like, man, give the dude a break," he said. "Enjoy the tribute and enjoy the celebration. Phil [Anselmo, PANTERA frontman] isn't singing like he was back in the day. Rex [Brown, PANTERA bassist] isn't playing like he was back in the day, but this is who we are now at 60 years old, and enjoy this celebration and be part of it, man."

Two months ago, Wylde spoke to Australia's Heavy about his approach to playing the parts originally written and recorded by Dimebag. The 57-year-old musician, who was close friends with the PANTERA guitarist, said: "You play the songs. I mean, obviously I'm gonna play how I play, but you stay faithful to the songs. If Dime was doing the same thing for me, if he was filling in for Ozzy and Dime was playing the solo to 'No More Tears', no matter what, if he played it note for note, it would still have Dime's touch and Dime's feel on his tone. So, yeah, it'd be the same thing. It's no different than when we were doing Ozzy stuff, when I'm playing 'Mr. Crowley', you stay faithful to what [Randy] Rhoads wrote. The same thing when I do Jake's [E. Lee] stuff, I stay faithful to Jake's solo in 'Bark At The Moon' and everything like that."

Demmel stepped in for SLAYER guitarist Gary Holt for four European shows in the fall of 2018 after Gary returned home to be with his dying father. Demmel also subbed for Dave Linsk at OVERKILL's November 13, 2021 concert at The Wellmont Theater in Montclair, New Jersey and on the band's spring 2022 U.S. tour. More recently, Phil stepped in for Willie Adler on a number of international LAMB OF GOD shows. He also filled in for LAMB OF GOD's John Campbell when the bassist had to miss a couple of shows on "The Metal Tour Of The Year" in order to "take care a family matter back home." Last year, Demmel filled in for TESTAMENT's regular lead guitarist Alex Skolnick, who sat out some of the band's spring/summer 2023 European tour dates in order to tend to a family emergency.

In a February 2022 interview with BLABBERMOUTH.NET, Demmel discussed how he became such an in-demand hired gun. "The SLAYER thing happened within 24 hours of me quitting MACHINE HEAD," he said. "I think [SLAYER drummer] Paul Bostaph's girlfriend knew that MACHINE HEAD was done and knew that I was home, so they reached out for that. As the urban legend goes [laughs], I had three hours to learn 19 songs. It was pretty successful; a fill-in trip, one of the higher-profile things you can imagine — SLAYER on their final world tour. I filled in for my buddies in NONPOINT, too. The OVERKILL gig was more about me and Bobby [Ellsworth, vocals] doing the BPMD record together [2020's 'American Made']. We're familiar and I got the rep of being able to learn songs pretty quick. The METAL ALLEGIANCE, guys, too. I'll play 25 songs with them in a night. It's one of those quirky things where I can learn songs pretty quickly and I can pick them up pretty quick."

Demmel was then asked whether his nerves for the LAMB OF GOD and OVERKILL gigs were on the same level as playing with SLAYER. "I was pretty confident with the OVERKILL songs," he said. "We had three good rehearsals. I didn't rehearse with SLAYER at all. I played two songs at a soundcheck. [Laughs] 'Okay, we're good!' It's like, 'Fuck!' OVERKILL, we had a couple of days of rehearsal. I had two and a half, three weeks to prepare for that. I felt pretty strong with that.

"The LAMB OF GOD gig, that was a big deal. They had approached me before their MEGADETH States tour last summer and wanted me to learn both parts, Mark [Morton] and Willie's, just in case one got sick, they didn't want to cancel their tour. That's where I am: I'm their bullpen guy when one of them can't make the shows, I'm ready to go. It's such a high-profile band. I didn't want to go out there and blow it. I wanted the band to sound good. I wanted to keep that pride in what they are and not have a drop-off. Willie and I play differently. There's different vibrato in our left hand and pinkies. I didn't want there to be a drop-off. I wanted people to be not bummed that he wasn't there. And that's not a slag on Willie. If I went to see one of my favorite bands, let's say QUEENSRŸCHE. I want to see [Chris] DeGarmo, I want to see Michael Wilton. No slight against the other dudes, but they better fucking bring it if they're not going to be out there."

Photo credit: Jim Louvau

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