He was as much of a fixture at local shows as the stage the band was playing on, the big man with the even bigger appetite for rock ’n’ roll.
Vinnie Paul Abbott was everywhere, it seemed.
Before the metal great passed away from heart failure in June 2018 at age 54, it didn’t matter if it was a rock dive with 100 people in the house or a sold-out arena gig, Vinnie Paul was there, easy to spot in his trademark black cowboy hat, frequently donning matching shades, his mood as light as his attire was dark.
The Texas native, whose love of practical jokes, backyard barbecues and hitting the town were as outsize as his native state, bought a place in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas more than a decade ago, quickly becoming the de facto ambassador of the city’s rock scene.
“Nobody supported all rock bands like him,” says Vegas-based producer Kevin Churko, who tracked three albums with Paul’s band Hellyeah at his Hideout Recording Studios in Henderson. “Didn’t matter what band, where they were playing. He’d go to a little club, he’d go to a big concert hall, he’d go to see a band that was selling 100 records, he’d go to a Metallica show.”
He became such a ubiquitous presence locally, it’s hard to find a veteran of Vegas rock circles who doesn’t have a Vinnie Paul story to share.
“He was such a part of the Vegas scene,” says Jason Green, manager of Vegas rockers the Sin City Sinners, whom Paul performed with on numerous occasions. “I never saw a guy who lived so much. There wasn’t a night of the week that that guy just sat around. He went to see every band. This big rock star, you saw him more than you saw most of your friends, in all honesty.”
Now, nearly a year after his death, Abbott will be remembered Saturday at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay with “Hellyeah: Celebrating the Life of Vinnie Paul Abbott,” which will be Hellyeah’s first performance since their bandmate died. Stone Stour drummer Roy Mayorga will sit in for Abbott.
Heavy metal man about town
One of Abbott’s favorite local haunts was rock club Count’s Vamp’d, where he had his own table and where framed pictures of him still adorn the walls.
“He went everywhere in town where there was great rock ’n’ roll, and he always included Vamp’d,” says Korie Koker, who runs and owns the venue with husband Danny Koker. “Every time that there were bands playing and they found out that Vinnie Paul was there, they were just so excited. He always took photos with everybody, just the nicest, sweetest soul.”
Accessibility was Abbott’s thing: He may have been a rock star, but he seldom carried himself like one.
“He had this personality that cut through fame,” Green says. “If you were starstruck, it wasn’t for long, because he was having a drink with you. Everyone got to talk to him. Everyone got to feel special.”
Local musician Frank Cusenza was among Vinnie Paul’s many local fans turned friend.
A bassist in bands such as The Crashers and The Droids, Cusenza first encountered Abbott at a gig by comedy rockers Metal Skool, who’d later become Steel Panther, at the now-shuttered Empire Ballroom in 2009.
After Cusenza bought Paul a round of shots, the two would become running buddies, with Cusenza serving as Paul’s driver from time to time, house-sitting for him while he was on tour and traveling with him to Los Angeles last year to see the Golden Knights sweep the Kings.
He’d frequently be at Abbott’s side as he made his nightly rounds throughout the city, hitting favorite spots such as The Golden Tiki, where Abbott was honored with a shrunken head in his likeness; the Carnaval Court; or the South Point to catch Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns, cramming in as many shows as he could, sometimes four or five a night.
“He was a fan till the day he died,” Cusenza says. “He just loved music. I’d ask him to shows and sometimes I’d be nervous, thinking that he wouldn’t like it, but he was open to anything. I took him to see Cher. We went and saw Olivia Newton-John with his dad. He was up for anything.”
‘Our main guy, our main rock star’
In addition to his passion for music, Abbott was known for his generosity.
“He never stopped giving me gifts,” Churko remembers of Paul, who initially came to fame in the ’90s with metallers Pantera. “He’d just randomly show up with something. He once brought me a Pantera platinum plaque, and I said, ‘Vinnie, I love this, thank you so much, but I can’t put it up, I didn’t do anything on that record.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, just tell them you worked with me.’ That’s the kind of guy that he was.”
Cusenza recalls once sharing a story with Abbott about performing at a high school talent show when he was a teenager, playing a Motley Crue song on a Dean Z guitar, just like Abbott’s brother, Dimebag Darrell Abbott, used to play before he was murdered onstage at a show by the Abbotts’ post-Pantera band Damageplan in Columbus, Ohio, in December 2004.
Later, Abbott surprised Cusenza by giving him that same model of guitar for Christmas.
“I just started crying,” he says.
And so when news of Paul’s passing began to circulate last June 23, after Paul died in his home the night before, many in the local music scene were predictably devastated.
“It was the biggest shock,” Koker recalls. “I will never forget that night as long as I live. It was just awful. I felt like it was an end of an era, that he was the biggest living legend in our rock community. He was our main guy, our main rock star.”
Green remembers calling Paul’s cellphone, even though he knew he’d get no answer.
“I just wanted to hear his voicemail one last time,” he says. “I remember recording it, because his voicemail was him playing a practical joke. Leave that to Vinnie. It just didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t.”
For Green, Vinnie Paul lives as on as example of getting the most out of life.
“He might have died young, but believe me, in the time that he lived, he outlived everybody,” Green says. “We should all take a lesson from him and live.”
Who: “Hellyeah: Celebrating the Life of Vinnie Paul Abbott”
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Tickets: $39 and up (702-632-7600)