Fond memories for the jazz-trained metal legend. Pic: Getty

Hey Rex, there’s a video of Pantera playing ‘All Over Tonight’ from 1984 on Youtube, recorded when you were still a hair-metal band.

I haven’t seen that video in years! I was playing a Hamer Explorer in it, I think. That was before we really defined the later Pantera tone and what we were going after. We didn’t know what direction we were going in – dude, we were playing clubs six nights a week, three sets a night, playing covers.

Was your playing a bit more elaborate back then?

There were some moving parts around there, and you could actually hear it, ha ha! But then we got to that crushing power groove – and it’s not like I forgot how to play melodically, it just it didn’t need to happen.

You played Spector basses for ages.

I probably have the largest collection of Spector basses in the world, because they punch through. Dimebag’s guitar tone was so heavy back in the Pantera days that it was really hard to get the bass to punch through anywhere. Really, there wasn’t a place where we could do it, without it sounding really overloaded and overblown. Those Spectors had that really good mid punch to ’em, and by the time we recorded Reinventing The Steel in 2000, finally you could hear every note I played. Darrell’s guitar took up the whole spectrum because it was so huge!

A big part of Pantera’s trademark sound was the staccato riff-plus-kick-drum trick. Was it tough having to play with such extreme precision?

Oh dude, me and Dime would sit and play under the microscope – that was what we used to call it. We’d take the drums out and everything and I’d play right with Dime’s guitar track. It was a pain in the ass, but at the same time it was what made that ‘Pantera sound’. During solos and whatever, I’d play along with [drummer] Vinnie Paul, but otherwise I pretty much played along with Dime.

The bass was very low in the mix on Pantera’s albums, too.

Well, because there was so much reverb on the snare, there was no place for the bass to really fit in. The guitar was the main deal, so what were you gonna do? You gotta sacrifice something, and we didn’t want to do that, because we were making crushing records. If we’d added more bass, we would have lost a lot of the low end off of the guitars, which was Dime’s trademark.

It must have been great playing for so many years with a drummer of Vinnie Paul’s caliber.

I knew what he was gonna do like the back of my hand. I knew where he was going, and if you listen to those records, you can tell – and that was the magic of it.

You once toured with Heaven & Hell. What was it like touring with Geezer Butler?

Oh, dude – he blew me away every night. We played a bunch of shows in Canada and then did some shows with them in Australia, and we were around them constantly, on a plane all the time. You know something? When Tony Iommi’s doing a solo, Geezer’s dipping his fingers in a bowl of iced water! He’s got to, because he’s all over the place with both hands. The way he moves his hand, I’m surprised after all these years he can even move his wrist – because he kind of slaps at it.

Who were your influences on bass?

My ears opened about 1974, but my sister was 17 years older than me, so I had the whole Beatles catalog. Of course, Paul McCartney revolutionized everything that anybody’s playing now – he was the guy as far as melody went. Sometimes he went a little too far. If you listen to Frank Sinatra’s version of ‘Something’, there’s none of that melodic bass – and it makes the whole song. I think it was McCartney’s ego that really broke everything up. I don’t think they’ll ever come out and say it, but you still have to give him the thumbs-up because the cat was just amazing.

Did you ever play pointy-headed Charvels and Jacksons in the 80s?

I had those! The first two records I played one of those. I still have them. I had a Charvel and then a Jackson, and I played Music Man for a while. 

Do you play fretless?

Yes. I usually play with a pick, but I do like playing with my fingers and I’ve been doing some fretless lately, which is a good switch to make after all the stuff that I’ve done. You can get all over the place with it and make different tones, within the context of the songs. I’ve got a couple of beautiful Spector fretlesses.

Do you get into five- and six-string basses?

I used a five on The Great Southern Trendkill (1996) and on Far Beyond Driven (1994), but [Rex's later band] Down was all four-string. I got tired of that fifth string, I just do a drop-D so I don’t have to worry about it. 

Why do you wear tape on your fingers when you play?

Dude, I have to. In 1992, my dog ripped into my ring finger and took the nerve endings out. To this day I have to tape it up, because it’s like someone sticking me with a pin or a knife. When I’m done with a show, there’s barely any tape left because of all the slides and bends I do. When you’re doing a slide all the way from the first fret to the top, unless you’ve got really good calluses – which I do – you can tell how much skin would come off, if it takes that much athletic tape off.

Do you have a lot of basses?

I’ve got tons. Probably 40-plus basses. Some are with the gear, and some I keep as personal – but I should sell ’em in one big lot, really. Not that I need the cash, but somebody might get enjoyment out of playing one of those. But whenever I sell stuff, I want it back straight away...