Metal legends talk about the iconic 12/8 theme song for sluggers and strippers alike
Metal entered its awkward phase in 1992. The rise of Nirvana and grunge had made the genre seem passé to radio programmers, scene leaders Metallica had traded thrash sensibilities for the commercial sound of the previous year's "Black Album," and death and black metal were not quite ready for prime time. Somehow, a young, hungry band from Texas called Pantera emerged with their second major-label album, Vulgar Display of Power, featuring a sound that could both thrash and groove without sacrificing heaviness — it would go on to sell over two million copies with no U.S. radio support whatsoever.
Much of the credit for its success goes to word-of-mouth praise for the single "Walk." From the swinging riff (played in the very un-metal time signature of 12/8) to the quasi-rapped, puffed-chest bravado of the chorus — "RE! SPECT! WALK!" — it was a potent dose of reality compared to Metallica's lyrics about Never Never Land. The band captured the same discontentment Nirvana was singing about; but unlike, say, the hazy dissatisfaction of "In Bloom," lead singer Philip Anselmo responded with blunt, menacing threats. "There was something about the lyrical message and the militaristic grind of it," says drummer Vinnie Paul. "It's heavy as fuck, but it's not fast. It just has a groove to it. It made the fans move."
"Walk" inspired bands like Sepultura and Machine Head to add a grooving lilt to their sound, and ultimately spawned full-on demon children in Avenged Sevenfold and Lamb of God. Sadly, its influence has long outlasted the life of the group. Pantera split up bitterly in 2003, when Paul and his brother, guitar hero Dimebag Darrell, grew weary of hearing Anselmo (in the midst of a nasty drug addiction) bad-mouthing the band with a seemingly endless series of side projects. The brothers formed a new band, Damageplan, which continued to play "Walk" until a crazed fan shot and killed Darrell onstage at a concert in December 2004.
Regardless, the estranged bandmates still work together to keep Pantera's legacy alive. This year, they have put out a remastered 20th anniversary edition of Vulgar, complete with an unreleased song and a live DVD. You can still hear "Walk" motivating the players on the Madden NFL 2010 video game, on the occasional episode of CSI: NY, and blaring at any sporting event where people want to get rowdy. Not to mention other, far seedier places that the surviving members of Pantera were kind enough to detail below.
What do you remember about writing "Walk"?
Rex Brown, bassist: If my memory serves me correctly, "Walk" came from a riff Darrell had at a soundcheck on the tour for [1990's] Cowboys From Hell.
Philip Anselmo, vocalist: I remember all of us pretty much falling in love with the riff.
Vinnie Paul, drummer: It had a shuffle groove to it, which we'd never really messed around with, other than when we did cover tunes. I think the groove had a lot to do with our Southern roots, growing up listening to ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
What inspired the lyrics?
Anselmo: We had basically conquered the Dallas–Fort Worth local scene in Texas. Eventually, Pantera got signed to a major label, and we went out and did some touring. When we came home, our friends started treating us a little different because they thought it had gone to our heads, like we've got this rock-star thing embroidered across our faces. But I felt like I was always the same guy. When I wrote "Walk," I had just a handful of those people in mind. And basically, my message is, "Take your fucking attitude and take a fuckin' walk with that. Keep that shit away from me." At the time, I took it to heart, big-time. I was just defending my own un-rock-star-ism, or however the fuck you want to put it.
How did shooting the live video go?
Paul: We shot it in Chicago at the Riviera Theatre. The fans were really into it and sang along to it. It was kind of a bummer for us, actually, because they had to bring in a bunch of dimly lit white lights that had to be left on for the whole performance. You could see everybody in the crowd the whole time. I remember we were all happy to finish the show.
Anselmo: You couldn't have asked for a better audience. I guess we ended up playing "Walk" about four times that night. [Laughs]
Some versions of the "Walk" single featured a remix by JG Thirlwell of industrial band Foetus. How did that happen?
JG Thirlwell: I had done some high-profile remixes — EMF, etc. — but the tipping point was one I did for Prong's "Prove You Wrong." That was kind of a hit, and Prong even started playing the remix arrangement live. That was the first time anyone had really remixed a metal song, and it led to me getting offered a lot of projects — Megadeth, Danzig, etc. Those jobs kept coming. An A&R guy must have asked me to do Pantera. I had heard them before, and I thought it was an interesting choice of a single because of the shuffle-type beat. The challenge was working with the different sections and editing them together, as they didn't play to a click track, and they sped up during the song, so I added parts. I never met the band or even heard what they thought of the remix I did.
Paul: Ugh. There was a lot of mixed feelings about that. It was right at the time that computerized music was starting to come in and become popular; Ministry and Nine Inch Nails were coming onto the scene. When we heard it the first time, all of us probably just dropped our jaw and said, "Fuck it. Never again, man." We could see the artistic value in it and that was different. But we were just like, "Okay, that's kind of weird."
Brown: I dug it. Absolutely.
In recent years, "Walk" has gotten a lot of play at baseball and football games.
Anselmo: It was on Monday Night Football this year when they introduced the defense for the starting unit.
Brown: We couldn't get radio play with that song back in the day to save our lives, and now you hear it at every stadium. It's kind of crazy. I've heard it at Texas Stadium, where the Cowboys play.
Paul: Every time I go to a hockey game, I hear it. It's all over the place. I heard it at a baseball game the other night when the Rangers were playing the Cubs. Hell, they used to play it for [Mark] Teixeira at Rangers games every time he would walk. And it had nothing to do with baseball; it just had the word walk in it. I think it's really cool.
Anselmo: I am born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. So whenever I attend a Saints game, I hear it cranking through the huge Superdome speakers. Being in your own stadium for your own football team and having it played over the big PA, you can't beat it, man.
Where is the oddest place you've heard the song?
Anselmo: I knew this boxer named Yuri Foreman, who is now a rabbi. But he used to come out to "Walk." I believe he won a world title. He's a real good kid.
Brown: You'll hear it in a strip club sometimes.
What kind of a stripper dance goes to "Walk"?
Brown: I have no idea. I guess you don't. I guess you just kind of stand there and look stupid. [Laughs]
Paul: Any kind of dance. Even though it's heavy and hard and all that, it's also got a sexy edge to it with the groove.
Do any cover versions of the song stand out to you?
Brown: It's probably one of the most covered songs in our catalog. I know for sure that Avenged Sevenfold did it. Jesus Christ, everybody in the book has covered that song, just because it's a really good anthem. So it's flattering.
But do you like any?
Brown: [Pauses] No. I like our version better. [Laughs]
Paul: I appreciate everybody that's ever done it. But you ain't gonna top the original, man. [Laughs]
Vinnie, what do you remember about the last time you played that song with your brother in Damageplan?
Paul: The last night we ever got to play together was in Buffalo, New York, with these two guys who showed up. They were from a Pantera cover band. It was hilarious: One of them was a guitar player and one of them was a drummer, and they looked pretty much like me and my brother. And we let them get up and play the song that night. And we stood up onstage and waved towels at them like they were smokin' hot. And we sang backup vocals. It was actually a really, really cool time.
When was the last time you played "Walk"?
Brown: I'll get up and jam with a band from time to time, and they'll go, "Hey man, you wanna play 'Walk'?" And I go, "No, but I will." It's just one of those things, after 12 years of playing that song, you just play it. It's just one of those things you have to get motivated for. It's a part of show business, bud. Gotta give the kids what they want.
Paul: I've played it with just about every band that will come through Dallas. I've played it with Disturbed, Anthrax, Avenged Sevenfold. I played it with Steel Panther the other night in L.A. It's still fun to play those songs from time to time.
Phil, earlier this year you played "Walk" in its entirety for the first time since Pantera's last show, jamming with members of Megadeth, Anthrax, and Adrenaline Mob. How did it feel to revisit it?
Anselmo: Very brief. It felt too short, so I guess it felt great. I can't lie. The whole show was fun. Just to be up on that stage with those guys who I have so much friggin' respect for. I've known 'em for so long, and I've toured with these bands, and we have our little inside jokes that are still funny after 20 years. The camaraderie up there is like having a fantastic reunion. Figuring that Dimebag is not with us anymore and the fact that he had this extreme respect for all the same guys we're talking about — and this is borderline wishful thinking in my head — but I think that, for lack of better words, Dimebag would approve. Completely.
Why does "Walk" hold up 20 years later?
Paul: Well, a great song will last forever.
Brown: We've played it so many times that, after all these years, it's one of those songs that you want to forget playing. If you're playing 250 dates a year, and that song would come up every night, you would try to make the best of it. But I think it's great that it's still played and revered 20 years later. There's not a whole lot of records that are.
Paul: Our fans will never let that band die. I think the band is bigger now than it was in our heyday. I'll go walking through the mall and these 12-year-old kids will come blowing up to me with Pantera T-shirts on.
Anselmo: It's a mega, mega-anthem that pounds into your head. It's just one of those memorable, simple, straight-to-the-point, impactive songs. It's amazing to have written a song like that, and humbling and empowering at the same time. It just feels fantastic.