Slipknot’s co-founder and first bassist Paul Gray played on four of the band’s studio albums before his untimely death in 2010. His friend Jeremy Wagner of the band Broken Hope pays tribute.
For many Slipknot fans, one of the most iconic members of the band was always #2, ‘The Pig’ - an unidentifiable figure behind the porcine mask he wore since the Iowa group began wearing them back in the mid-90s, when no-one had heard of them outside Des Moines.
Once fame came along with Slipknot’s first album in 1999, however, the Pig became a hero to the fanbase, headbanging like some kind of possessed farmyard demon on his left-handed Warwicks - and unknown to many, the writer of many of the band’s songs, on both guitar and bass.
To his friends, though, the Pig was just Paul Gray, a normal, affable guy. Someone who knew him better than most was Jeremy Wagner, leader of the band Broken Hope, novelist and collector of music memorabilia. Broken Hope, an influential death metal band who made an impact on Gray and his bandmates in the 90s, which led to their first meeting. Asked how he first met Gray, Wagner explains:
“Slipknot had always talked about how much they liked Broken Hope, and so I went down and met them when they played in Milwaukee on the Tattoo The Earth tour on 29 July, 2000. I was hanging out backstage, looking for them - which was difficult because I didn’t know what they looked like without their masks on - and then suddenly Paul and Mick and Joey came up to me and said ‘Holy shit, you’re Jeremy Wagner of Broken Hope!’ They introduced themselves, and Paul and I exchanged numbers and kept in touch.”
What kind of guy was Gray, we ask? “Paul was as cool as hell,” replies Wagner. “He was one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever met. Over the years we’d to meet up whenever he came through town, and as soon as I’d see him, he’d jump up and give me a hug and we’d have a drink and talk about life in our bands. He told me about his pre-Slipknot band Body Pit, and how he listened to Broken Hope through high school before finally seeing us play in Des Moines, Iowa in 1994 along with Joey and Mick. Paul and I had a great connection.”
Sadly, Gray succumbed to an overdose in 2010, aged only 38; his death was made doubly tragic by the fact that his wife Brenna was pregnant with Gray’s daughter at the time - a child who he never got to meet. Slipknot’s bass parts are now held down respectfully and with huge competence by Alessandro Venturella, but the sadness still lingers for those who knew his predecessor.
“When he passed away, I couldn’t believe it,” says Wagner. “It was a real tragedy, especially as he never got to meet his baby daughter. I wrote a eulogy for him and it was used at his service.”
In 2016, Brenna put many of Gray’s possessions up for auction to raise funds for his daughter’s future, and Wagner was immediately interested. “I signed up, hoping to buy one of his platinum albums,” he recalls. “By the time it was over, though, I’d bought 62 items that belonged to him, including bass guitars, amps, his stagewear, backstage passes and all this other crazy stuff. It’s a lot of things, I know, but I only buy stuff that has sentimental meaning to me, and I had a deep connection with Paul, which is why I wanted these things. I treasured our friendship and admired him as a songwriter. I have a building in Chicago with a room dedicated to him, and I hope his wife and daughter will come and see it some day.”
Some of the items of Paul Gray’s gear, preserved for posterity
World Domination Tour jumpsuit
The blue jumpsuit Gray wore on Slipknot’s World Domination Tour in 2000, with the barcode number from the demo album Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat as an embroidered graphic and his number 2 on the left arm.
Warwick 1998 Thumb, serial number L 054882-98
Gray’s second Warwick bass, which he toured for almost seven years. He broke the neck clean off this instrument. It was taped up but for all intents and purposes, it rendered the guitar unplayable.
Warwick 2002 Streamer Stage I
Gray’s first Warwick five-string. Before 2002, he exclusively used four-string bass guitars but was persuaded by this natural oil-finish bass. He used this bass on the road, as well as in the studio.
Tour Road Case, 2004
Used on the Vol. 3 world tour and containing 10 rackmount items: a Furman PL-Plus Power Conditioner and Light Module, a Peavey QF 131 graphic equaliaer used by singer Corey Taylor, three Peavey QF 215 graphic equalisers used Chris Fehn, Sid Wilson and Joey Jordison, two Peavey PV 2600 Pro Stereo power amplifiers and three Peavey CS 4000 Professional power amplifiers. A larger case with 14 units was also used in 2008.
Ampeg PR-810H cab, 2001
Used during the recording of the Slipknot albums Iowa and Vol. 3, featuring eight 10” speakers for a combined output of 1200 watts and weighing a mighty 212 lbs (96 kg).
Peavey QW Stage Monitor, 2007
Used in the All Hope Is Gone tour and featuring a 15” Pro Rider woofer, along with a compression driver and a conical directivity horn, to handle 1000 watts.
Tech 21 SansAmp PSA-1 preamp
Used by Paul Gray on various Slipknot tours in the 2000s.