Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on


Celebrating 20 Years of Cowboys From Hell: A conversation with Philip Anselmo

I'm pleased to welcome ATV friend Chris Akin back for another post, this time featuring a conversation recorded this past week with Pantera vocalist Philip Anselmo. With the pending release of the 20th anniversary deluxe edition of Cowboys From Hell, the opportunity to speak with Anselmo came around and I knew that Chris would enjoy the chance to sit down with Phil again.

During the 10+ years that Chris and I spent doing a metal radio show together, we spoke with Pantera many times for conversations that were always memorable and highly quotable.  Our interviews were often with Anselmo himself and we spoke with him many times beyond that during his stints with both Down and Superjoint Ritual. Listening to the interview audio, it's very obvious that Anselmo is in a much better (and lucid) state of mind these days.  Here are the results of that conversation for your enjoyment.

It's been twenty years since Pantera burst onto the scenes with their instant classic "debut" release, Cowboys From Hell. In that time, the Texas foursome redefined what people considered to be American Heavy Metal. Yet, surprisingly when considering how amazingly successful this band became, their history has been equally as turbulent. Drug addictions, band breakups, a band member's murder and the ultimate blame on frontman Philip Anselmo this murder by surviving drummer Vinnie Paul has made these twenty years both memorable and forgettable for the surviving players in the band. For vocalist Philip Anselmo, the two decades that took him to the highest of highs have been bittersweet to say the least. Catching up with Addicted To Vinyl, Anselmo reflected on the good times as a hardworking unsigned band went from the smallest of clubs to the biggest stages in the world on the strength of their blood, sweat and tears.

Philip, what's going on man?

What's happening, big brotha!

When they pitched this project to you, I'm sure you probably thought the same thing that I did, like "damn, has it already been 20 years since this record came out?"

Yeah man, I'm feeling it, don't think I'm not. It's unreal! This may be as generic as it gets, but when people say, when all of them old timers say "life goes by so fast," man, they ain't joking - they're not lying to you.

I would say that the 20 years since this album came out have probably been the highest points of your life and also the lowest points of your life - is that a fair assessment?

Very accurate.

When you look back, what was it that you guys were going for and what did you think was going to happen to the record, compared to where it actually went to?

Man, you're asking the ultimate pessimist when it comes to all of that kind of stuff. I always doubted any fruits of the labor [laughs], I really did. When Cowboys From Hell came out, back in the day especially, it was like you tripped over a landmine, the fact that you got signed to a major label, it was huge, you know? It was like this kickstart to your career, but then you realize that you're starting all over again, it's just at a different level. You've got to earn the trust of the national audience, not just the regional audience, and then you've got to earn the trust of rest of the world. So honestly man, I had no idea, I had no frikkin clue. All I knew was that we as a band were great - I knew that we were great. There was greatness in us, I just did not know if it would transfer from the live act to record. I had no clue.

The interesting thing for me, people almost certainly did not know this, at least people outside of Texas did not know this, but Cowboys From Hell, especially for you specifically as the vocalist was a very transitional record. I think for the musician part of it, it was kind of the direction that it was going to. But for you, it was really a transition record between doing the more Rob Halfordesque vocal to being a more harder edged vocalist. When you look back, do you see it as a very different person from where you eventually went as a vocalist?

Download audio of this answer

No, not at all. Vocally, I like to think that I'm flexible - I can sing hard and then I can "sing" sing when I want to. In the case of Pantera, I guess progressively for sure I got more extreme as time went on because that's where my mindset was, and I can't help that necessarily. Really, when you're stuck in the rut of having to play the club scene, I guess there's no "having to," but if you want to play to a wider audience - I joined Pantera, you know? I walked into the job where they were playing clubs, and in order to play clubs, you had to look the part and you had to play semi-popular music, and definitely Judas Priest was gigantic in the '80s. Not like they're not huge now, but point being is that, I had to learn to sing like that. It was in my heart as well, don't get me wrong, I love Judas Priest.

To be able to even sing like Rob Halford like I could at such a young age, it made you feel on top of the world. However, when consensus is looked at, you see the popular bands back then, top of the chart bands, Motley Crue and then comes the Poisons and all of the glam bands, which dictated the club's image policy. Man, I ain't never owned a Poison record in my life, you understand what I'm saying? I was the kid next to the other kid buying the Slayer records, Agnostic Front records, Motorhead records and you name it - that whole wave. If it looked heavy metal, I bought it at the time - I saved up my money and bought it. So no way was I ever into this. As far as Cowboys from Hell, we wrote most of those songs in 1988/1989, and recorded them in '89. Take this for what it's worth - the last song that we wrote for that record was "Primal Concrete Sledge," definitely one of the more attacking tracks off of Cowboys From Hell. You see the direction that we were going to or heading to, going into Vulgar Display of Power. You know what I'm saying, man?


Well then take it!

When you look back then, I was living in California at the time and I remember that you guys used to cruise through every three or four months. Even as a small or unknown band at the time, you guys were making the rounds long before you probably had tour support, weren't you?

Yeah man, well look - we knew and I think the record label was pretty sure we were not going to be one of these bands that were going to be very popular on the radio initially. Think about it - the most commercial song off of Cowboys From Hell and a favorite would be "Cemetery Gates," but that sucker is over six minutes long, so it's definitely not aimed for the radio, it just ended up being a song on the record. We knew it would have appeal, because we knew we had variety, but either way, we did a lot of touring and it was purposeful. Because we knew that the more we played, the more visible we were and the more we killed, every single time that we played, no matter who we played with - people would come back. Honestly, all of that extra touring - the 300 gigs a year touring that we did for three years straight, paid off.

Right around the same time you guys came out with Cowboys From Hell is also when Metallica hit with The Black Album. The Black Album almost single-handedly took heavier music...

I like The Black Album.

Do you think that Metallica "lightening up" just a little bit, opened the door for a band like Pantera to just charge through and take it up to the next level?

I think personally when you look at the two bands, when you look at us cosmetically - you go to see a Metallica show and you go to see a Pantera show, that's two different bands. That is completely two different bands. I think that's where the mental aspect of it is, live with us. If you sit down and listen to the bands, absolutely. Don't get me wrong, Dimebag loved Hetfield's right hand - he loved Metallica, all of us loved Metallica. [We were] definitely influenced by Metallica, no doubt about it. I'm not sure if your analogy is a fair one because of the previous question that you asked me and that was about all of the touring we had done. So to me, Pantera ended up being this visual, accessible [band], people could come see us because like you say, we would come through often. So when people would hear the records, they could visualize it as well, man. I think that really, and our live show and touring, really sold our records. We knew that's where it was coming from. So I don't know, man - that's an interesting point to bring up, but I like the Black record. It's a heavy record - guitar tone heavy, you can tell Metallica had been listening to their Melvins records and I appreciated that. They had some good slow and heavy tunes on that record, man. As far as us and Metallica at that specific time, I think there was room for a Pantera - I'm not quite sure that it was because Metallica "softened up," because I don't really hear a softening up on that record - not that record.

The deluxe 20th anniversary edition of Cowboys From Hell will be in stores on September 14th, available as an "expanded" 2 CD edition and also as a deluxe 3 CD package.  An additional "Ultimate Edition" 3 CD package will be in stores on November 22nd.

Disc One – Ultimate, Deluxe, and Expanded Editions
1.    “Cowboys From Hell”
2.    “Primal Concrete Sledge”
3.    “Psycho Holiday”
4.    “Heresy”
5.    “Cemetery Gates”
6.    “Domination”
7.    “Shattered”
8.    “Clash With Reality”
9.    “Medicine Man”
10.  “Message In Blood”
11.  “The Sleep”
12.  “The Art Of Shredding”

Disc Two – Ultimate, Deluxe, and Expanded Editions
(Tracks 1-7 Recorded Live at Foundations Forum, Los Angeles, CA 9/15/90)
(Tracks 8-12 Recorded at For Those About to Rock: Monsters in Moscow, 1991)
1.    “Domination” – Live*
2.    “Psycho Holiday” – Live*
3.    “The Art Of Shredding” – Live*
4.    “Cowboys From Hell” – Live*
5.    “Cemetery Gates” – Live*
6.    “Primal Concrete Sledge” – Live*
7.    “Heresy” – Live*
8.    “Domination” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†
9.    “Primal Concrete Sledge” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†
10.  “Cowboys From Hell” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†
11.  “Heresy” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†
12.  “Psycho Holiday” – Live, Alive And Hostile EP†

Disc Three – Ultimate and Deluxe Editions Only
1.    “The Will To Survive”*
2.    “Shattered” – Demo*
3.    “Cowboys From Hell” – Demo*
4.    “Heresy” – Demo*
5.    “Cemetery Gates” – Demo*
6.    “Psycho Holiday” – Demo*
7.    “Medicine Man” – Demo*
8.    “Message In Blood” – Demo*
9.    “Domination” – Demo*
10.  “The Sleep” – Demo*
11.  “The Art Of Shredding” – Demo*

* Previously Unreleased
† Unreleased in the U.S
(Cowboys From Hell originally released on July 24, 1990)

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