Rock Hits
Pantera’s ‘Cowboys From Hell’: 9 Facts Only Superfans Would Know

Pantera’s ‘Cowboys From Hell’: 9 Facts Only Superfans Would Know

Texas metalheads Pantera had released three albums with Terry Glaze as their vocalist and one with Philip Anselmo by the end of the 1980s. They had started off as a glam band and remained unsigned until after the release of 1988's Power Metal. 

When it came time to record Cowboys From Hell, Anselmo, the Abbott brothers — Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell — and Rex Brown decided it was time for a change. The result put them on the map as one of the strongest forces in metal throughout the remainder of the '90s.

Cowboys From Hell was released July 24, 1990, and became the group's first album to chart on the Billboard 200. They still had a little ways to go, but they were now on the right path. In honor of its 30th anniversary, check out 9 facts you might not have known about the album below.

1. They shifted their focus from image to music.

When it came time to write the follow-up to Power Metal, the band decided to prioritize the music over the image and scrap the glam. They drew inspiration from several different areas, mostly Slayer and thrash, and other bands such as Soundgarden, Black Flag and Faith No More. This shift in sound led to the Pantera we think of today.

2. Dimebag almost joined Megadeth.

Darrell — who had been referred to as "Diamond Darrell" up to that point — was offered the position as guitarist in Megadeth by Dave Mustaine. However, he was only going to take it if Paul was able to join, too, and they already had a drummer. So he stayed in Pantera, and the rest was history.

3. Rex Brown wrote the phrase "psycho holiday" because of Anselmo.

The band noticed that Anselmo had a short temper during their demo sessions, so he went home to New Orleans for a weekend to refresh and see his family and friends. "So I was sitting there and I wrote on a pad 'Psycho Holiday' because he was psycho and he was going on a holiday," Brown explained to Classic Rock Magazine.

"When I came back to the house, I looked next to the telephone and written on this pad is 'Psycho Holiday' scribbled out with all these flight times," Anselmo added. "It was Rex trying to get my ass out of fucking town. I was the psycho. It became an inside joke, and Vinnie Paul said, 'Man, that’s a great fucking song title.'”

4. It was their major label debut.

Though Cowboys was actually Pantera's fifth album, it was their debut effort on a major label. Paul explained how they got signed to writer Jon Wiederhorn.

Derek Shulman at PolyGram had his eyes on the group, but he was too busy with other bands at the time. When Mark Ross, an A&R rep below him, was on a flight to North Carolina to see a different band they had signed, the plane had to land in Dallas to avoid Hurricane Hugo. While in Dallas, he went out to see Pantera at a birthday party.

Ross left the party a few songs in, and the guys in Pantera thought that another opportunity to get signed had just been blown. "Four songs later, Mark comes back in, and as soon as we get done, he comes walking over to me and I said, 'What’d you think, dude?' And he said, 'I loved it. It was incredible.' And I said, 'Well, why’d you leave?' And he said, 'I went out to the car to call Derek and tell him we’re signing you guys.'”

5. Their original producer bailed because he was given a better offer by another band.

The band really wanted to work with producer Max Norman, because they were big fans of Ozzy Osbourne's Diary of a Madman. 

"So he flew to Houston to see a gig and he loved us. We were all ready to go. But our recording budget only allowed for $30,000 for the producer," Paul told Wiederhorn. "About two days before we were supposed to start recording, Max got offered $50,000 to do Lynch Mob. So he calls us up and said, 'Guys, I need the money. I’m out.' We were like, 'What the fuck?'”

They ended up working with Terry Date instead, who produced for Soundgarden and Overkill.

6. "The Will to Survive" was left off the original set.

"The Will to Survive" was a song recorded along with the rest of the Cowboys tracks, but left off of the album mostly due to how differently it sounded from the rest. It was more melodic and featured Anselmo singing much more smoothly than the sound he was going for on the rest of the album. The demo was included in the 20th anniversary edition, which was released in July of 2010 by Rhino Records.

"You listen to that song and you can tell it was written before I was in the band," Anselmo told Rock Radio's Paul Anthony. "We performed it early in the days of me being there. It didn't really fit the previous lineup who recorded the Power Metal album. So it sure as hell wasn't going to rest well with the tracks on Cowboys From Hell. It was kind of a sore thumb sticking out. It showed we had a willingness for diversity – but there was no way any one of us was going to replace that song with any of the new ones."

7. Anselmo broke a chair while recording "Cemetery Gates."

And it wasn't on accident. "That was just my second time in the studio, and I fuckin’ hated it," he confessed to Classic Rock. "There’s one note that comes up twice in 'Cemetery Gates' that I could not do for hours. I broke a chair, I was so goddamn frustrated."

Date then told the singer that Chris Cornell typically drank port wine prior while recording because it warms the throat. "So I’m sitting there drinking all this sweet fuckin’ wine trying to catch a little buzz. I still don’t know if that helped me hit that fucking note, but I finally did it," Anselmo admitted.

8. The album art depicts a saloon in Colorado.

The background of the photo on the cover is the inside of the Cosmopolitan Saloon in Telluride, Colorado. The original photo is from 1910, and the band members were pasted over it for the cover. See a photo of the saloon from the 1870s below.

Cosmopolitan Saloon
Sepia Times
Atco Records
Atco Records

9. They toured over 300 dates to support it.

Following the release of Cowboys, Pantera embarked on an extensive tour, spanning over 300 dates. They hit the road with bands like Exodus and Suicidal Tendencies. They eventually caught the attention of Rob Halford, who performed onstage with them once in 1991 and led to them opening for Judas Priest in Europe.

The Best Metal Album of Each Year Since 1970