American photojournalist Joe Giron first saw Pantera in 1982, when they were just another big-haired glam metal cover band in Dallas, but even back then, they made one hell of an impression. “They were playing versions of Kiss songs and Judas Priest songs and Def Leppard songs better than Kiss, Judas Priest or Def Leppard,” Giron recalls. “They were just phenomenal.” The young photographer could hardly have known at that time that he was witnessing the birth of one the most important bands in modern metal.
The ensuing years would see Giron forge a tight relationship with the Texan band, capturing their small club gigs around Dallas and shooting their early publicity photos. With the entrance of Phil Anselmo came a revolutionary new sound and a big label deal, followed by tours, albums and all of the trappings of rock and roll superstardom and Giron was there to capture it all. “Both of our careers were heading upward in the rock industry, which worked out really well,” he says with a chuckle.
Enjoying virtually unrestricted access to the band, Giron toured with Pantera, partied with the guys and even went on vacation with some of them between tours. Consequently, his Pantera photos offer more than just a gallery of eye-popping rock photography, but a spontaneous and unguarded chronicle of how four kids from the South became one of the biggest bands in American metal, from their lean and hungry origins in Dallas, to playing in front of half a million screaming Russians in Moscow, to their final tour.
Giron is now releasing A Vulgar Display Of Pantera - the first authorised photo book of the band’s history between 1983 and 2003, which features never-before-seen photos, personal insights and anecdotes from both Rex Brown and Vinnie Paul. Here are Giron’s favourite shots in the book.
In a medal-worthy showcase of cartwheeling stage acrobatics, Giron captured Dimebag vaulting off of a riser and firing guitar picks between his legs into the audience after a show. “We’d make eye contact when he was right about to do that to try to get the most amazing shot possible.” Mission accomplished.
To pass time on the road, Dime videotaped himself creating various characters, such as this ZZ Top-inspired playboy he called “Local Yokel.” Not many musicians would pose with a guitar like that nowadays, but as Giron explains, “he’s playing to his Texas roots by having his Cadillac in there with the longhorns in the front. It was just one of the ways Dime liked to have fun.”
Slayer supported Pantera on their 2001 tour and Dime would summon Kerry King out to do a shot and to play Walk. “Here, Dime caught my eye and then tapped Kerry on the shoulder and said, ‘Look over there.’” This shot is also historic for another reason- it marked Pantera’s final US show.
An otherwise standard publicity shot from backstage in Phoenix, 2001, Giron explains, “I liked the way that Rex was hanging on and mugging with Dime. It really encompassed how much they loved having fun and joking around and the smile on Dime’s face perfectly captures his personality.”
Dimebag in Pantera’s early days. “This was their element,” Giron says, “a small, hot and sweaty club, playing in front of a bunch of kids and sweating right along with them.”
It’s easy to envision 80,000 roaring metalheads behind the photographer, but this was taken circa 1987 in a modest venue outside of Dallas. “It sounds clichéd, but it didn’t matter how small the venue was, they played it like an arena,” Giron says. “You could tell they were destined for bigger things, even back then.”
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Taken in 1992 on their first Japanese tour, it is entirely unsurprising that Pantera’s favourite discovery in this new country was neither the food nor the landmarks, but the Sapporo beer. Giron recalls, “Another band gave them the Japanese headbands and Rex is holding the setlist like, ‘Here we go again…’”
Giron enjoyed unparalleled access during shows, and here, you can practically smell the Jack Daniels in Dimebag’s sweat. “Sometimes Dime would give me a little nod to walk up to him during the show. I was right there right in front of him with a wide angle lens while he’s jamming his ass off.”
“This was taken in Cleveland in 1993. They wouldn’t have me take this shot unless they thought the crowd was really good so you can tell that Cleveland earned the band’s seal of approval. The crowd were amazing that night” And there you have it, Cleveland – you really do rock.
Joe Giron’s book, A Vulgar Display Of Pantera, is published in September 2016 via Lesser Gods