One of the most influential bass players for myself and countless others has been none other than Rex Brown from the mighty Pantera. The minute I heard “Cowboys From Hell,” “Domination,” “Primal Concrete Sledge” and “Cemetery Gates” back in 1990, I knew that I had struck audio gold. I needed to see this band live! I wound up seeing them perform many times throughout the years, and I’ve even gotten my ass kicked in the mosh pits of their concerts. I didn’t care, though, because I got to witness four of the most talented metal gods on the planet command a room for 90 minutes at a time. While the late “Dimebag” Darrell was such an amazing guitar player to watch live, my focus, because I’m a bass player, was always drawn to the attitude, groove, and bass tones of Rex Brown. He played bass like nobody’s business and the attitude and grooves that he laid it down with can be matched by no other bass player. His tone is a sound that every metal bass player has tried to replicate because of its balls and punchiness. Unfortunately for Pantera fans around the world, the band was officially broken up in 2003, mainly because of a war on words between singer Phil Anselmo and the Abbott brothers (Dimebag and Vinnie Paul), which Rex smartly stayed out of.
In 1999, Phil Anselmo’s side project, Down, needed a replacement for the recently departed Todd Strange. Wanting someone familiar by his side, Anselmo tapped Rex to play bass, and he made his debut on the band’s second CD, Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow. In 2009, Rex had to sit out the Down tour due to acute pancreatitis, which would lead to the removal of his gallbladder and polyps on his pancreas. At the end of January 2010, Rex fully recovered from his fight with pancreatitis and was sober for three years. It was announced that Rex would not be returning to the band in June 2011 and he actually gave his blessing for Crowbar bassist, Pat Bruders, to take his place.
Earlier in 2011, Rex had already begun talking to legendary drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio) about a new project he’d been working on with guitarist Mark Zavon (Ratt, W.A.S.P.) and singer Dewey Bragg (Pissing Razors). That project would become Kill Devil Hill and Rex wanted in after hearing a few demos. The band recently released their self-titled debut CD, which includes songs like “War Machine,” “Voodoo Doll” and “Rise From The Shadows.” Fans of Alice In Chains, Black Sabbath, and Black Label Society will love this group! Bragg is amazing and the musicianship within this band is simply epic. Rex, Vinny, and the boys will be taking to the road to promote their new release, and they’ll be making stops at Dingbatz in Clifton, NJ, on Aug. 26, and Long Island, at Ollie’s Point in Amityville, on Sept. 1. Needless to say, I was pumped to get a phone call from my bass playing hero, Rex Brown, to talk about Kill Devil Hill just before he left for the tour. Here’s what he had to say:
First off, I just got a copy of Kill Devil Hill and simply put, it’s awesome!
Yeah, in fact, I saw that you mentioned that on your Facebook post last night, and I’m glad you were doing homework…
How did this collaboration with Vinny, Mark, and Dewey happen?
I was just sittin’ around, and Down was basically not doing anything. I had some health problems that I had to deal with in 2010. Basically, they opened me up and took some stones out of my pancreas and filleted that son of a bitch, so it’s taken a while. I couldn’t be back on the road with the guys and the whole bit. That’s all in the past. Dude, I feel like, 300 percent better than I did five years ago. So that kind of took me away from Down, and then Vinny gave me a call and said “What are you doin?” and I said, “Really, not anything!” I wanted to start jamming.
Actually, I was working on another project that I was just finishing, and I was like, “Why don’t you come down and let’s hang out?” He flew down from California and jammed with this project I had for a movie and soundtrack kind of deal. It was pretty cool, but not necessarily metal or anything like that. I wanted to get away and do something with a melody.
So Vinny played me these tracks, and I was like, “Oh, Jesus!” If I put my stamp on that with me and him playing together, it could be pretty amazing. The way I put it; I’ve been blessed three times with three great drummers, and that’s a bass player’s dream! If you can lock into a pocket with a powerhouse like Vin, it’s just amazing! He’s a legend and he’s also a very good friend. We’ve been friends for 20 odd years. He had his gig with Sabbath and mine with Pantera and in the process of the Down deal, but we would always run into each other. I know his brother Carmine really well, too. I call them the Apaches because they can’t figure their fuckin’ names out, so I gave them a new one!
Now, how does that work out? A cowboy from hell and an Apache in the band?
Shit, that’s just cowboys and indians, son (laughs).
Have you guys ever jammed prior to this project?
Well, I got him down here for this little thing. We were looking for a drummer and I was like, “Should I call Vinny and see what’s going on?” He’d already sent me a couple of songs that he wanted me to play on, but I thought he’d only be down for a couple of days, which turned into a week or week and a half. He just stayed at my house to hang out and my next door neighbor works for Pixar and Nickelodeon and all that kind of shit. He’s a brilliant engineer, and he’s got a half a million dollars worth of gear in his place. I said, “Mike, do you have a couple of hours? I’d like to lay some stuff down?”
So, Mark Zavon, the guitar player, would send these tracks down that they needed bass on, and I wanted to put my little taste on it. So the first song that I did was “War Machine.” I love that song! Once I figured out the tuning, I swear to God, I ran through that song on 10 minutes. It was just one of those stompers. I sent it back to the guys and they were just like, “Holy shit!” That was just one of those good days, where you just plug in and everything happens magically. That’s pretty much what happened with the whole band to start with.
I know it sounds cliché as shit, but everythuing just naturally clicked. I wanted a solid, heavy band behind some melodic vocals, and Dewey is exceptional at that. You have to remember, I would fly from Texas to California every three weeks, and we would go at these songs and really put them together. We played our first gig in April 2011 at the Key Club and a bunch of dates in August. It was like starting from scratch again and it was kind of invigorating for me, and having Vinny behind me, I’m just like “Wow! This is too cool!” I just wanted to put my stamp on this.
And you did! Now, where did you guys find Bragg? Was he already part of this project before you got in the band?
He was actually what kind of sold me on this project. I think Mark had jammed with him at one point or another and turned him onto Vinny, and Vinny was like, “That’s the dude!” Then they got me in the band, and predominantly, a lot of this stuff was already written before I got in the band.
Is the songwriting for Kill Devil Hill a collaborative effort?
Absolutely! In fact, we have six new songs in the can already, which is nice! Every time that I fly out to California, I just stay at Mark’s house. He’s got a full studio there and we just bounce ideas off each other. He’ll come up with something and I’ll come up with something and we’ll just incorporate it and we’ll just lay it down on tape.
How is the relationship with you and the guys in Down?
Everything is cool, man! The whole thing was Crowbar was playing South By Southwest last year with Helmet, so I wanted to see the show and I just basically walked in the door, knocked some people down at the very front of the stage right in front of Kirk [Windstein, guitarist], and I was checking out how Pat [Bruders] was playing. He’s a really good bass player.
I took him aside after then show, and told him, “Man, you have my blessing! Go for it!” That pretty much sums it up. I don’t have to talk to anybody else about it. To me, it’s just a musical expansion of what I’ve done and I needed the change. 24 years with Philip [Anselmo] was wonderful! So there’s no animosity, whatsoever. Everything is fine. He’s my brother and I’ve known him for more than half my life. We can’t take that out of the equation. Vinnie [Paul] is another subject altogether. You can read my book on November 27 when it comes out.
You’re writing a biography?
Yup! I’m still kind of working on it, but it’s going to be called Pantera: 101 Proof, 100 Percent Truth—The Inside Story Of Pantera By Rex Brown. It took me a year and a half to write this thing! I never knew that writing a book would be so fuckin’ hard. The memories that came up were just unbelievable! I miss Dime every day, but this is one of those things in life that you have to deal with. Tragedy strikes and there’s nothing that you can do. I spent a couple of years looking out of a bottle asking myself “Why?” but his brother is another topic altogether, so…
Kill Devil Hill will be playing at Dingbatz on Aug. 26 and at Ollie’s Point on Sept. 1. Is it going to be an adjustment for you to go from bigger venues to smaller ones?
It’s enjoyable to do this, especially in smaller venues, because it really puts you in touch with the fans when they’re right there in your face. This is going to be the first tour that we’re gonna go out on in August and September. Though, we’ve been out on these other tours, but there was no product to put out. We just did those to tie the band up and the whole bit and now it’s a fuckin’ machine! I haven’t felt this good about a band in a long time! We’re going to get off stage, take 15 minutes to dry off, and then we’ll come out and sign everybody’s shit. That’s what it’s all about.
Has there been any talk of a Kill Devil Hill and Hellyeah tour? Or even a Kill Devil Hill and Down tour?
I would do the Down thing. That would be cool. I don’t think that we would fit with Hellyeah because it’s not the kind of crowd that I want to go for.
One last question and I’ll let you go, Rex. What are your thoughts on Vinnie’s decision to put out the previously unreleased Pantera song “Piss,” and did he need yours and Phil’s permission?
Oh, yeah! We might not agree on a lot of things, but we’re still a partnership when it comes to Pantera. The funny thing is I wrote that son of a bitch 20 years ago. I was just dickin’ around in the studio, and I think Dime had the intro to it, but the bridge and the verses and all, that was all mine. It was one of those tracks that just didn’t fit the record. It was kind of one of those slower Sabbathy kind of things where the whole rest of the record was full of energy, so it went on the back burner, but then we ended up using that riff on “Use My Third Arm” on Far Beyond Driven. Now it comes out and when I first heard it, I thought, “Oh, my God! I forgot the way the original arrangement was of that.” Anyway, it’s cool the second time around. We’ve sold more singles of this more than we’ve sold of singles off of anything! It exploded!
Kill Devil Hill will be at Dingbatz in Clifton, NJ, on Aug. 26. They’ll also be at Ollie’s Point in Amityville, NY, on Sept. 1. For more information, go to killdevilhillmusic.com.