In some ways, what Michael Anthony Sobolewski was to Van Halen – the former John Baldwin was to Led Zeppelin – i.e. the band’s so called “secret weapon.”
Though John Paul Jones also brought his formidable keyboard skills and his production / studio expertise to his ensemble, both bassists anchored the hard rock icons of their generation with passages that were both supportive and inventive.
And in Michael’s case, his remarkable contributions as a backing vocalist afforded his band a unique harmonic identity – much like The Beach Boys and other vocal groups of the classic pop era of the 1960s.
Akin to Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Jimmy Page; Eddie Van Halen’s emergence was a rock and roll game changer. Guitarists of my generation will tell you exactly where they were when they first heard EVH.
An extraordinary performer, “Diamond” David Weave Roth, oft derided for his vocal chops or lack thereof, brought the “attitude” and humor that also set VH apart from the metal motley. And Alex was among finest hard rock drummers of his era who also had a knack for playing to the song.
Which brings us to Anthony’s underrated musical dexterity. Simultaneously supporting a guitar god and larger-than-life lead singer (ditto Sammy Hagar) is/was a daunting task. Michael outlined the changes as Eddie furthered the sonic scope of his instrument and DLR/SH entertained the masses. Dig deep into the VH catalog and focus on Anthony – his gritty tone, the subtle movement in his motifs ala early Sir Paul, and the occasional note flourishes and riffage were proof beyond a reasonable doubt that this cat can play!
In keeping with the over-the-top modus operandi of his bandmates and the 80s, Anthony’s mid-concert bass solo was more of an exercise in cacophony – however it was entertaining, and gave his mates a chance to leave the stage and engage in “extraneous” activities. Whatta bandmember!
A barbecue sauce entrepreneur (“it’s so hot you’ll need two assholes”) and lefty who plays right-handed, among Anthony’s idols include the aforementioned Zep bassist, along with studio ace Harvey Brooks, and Jack Bruce: all of whom, it must be noted, were exemplary song players.
A collector of basses, among Anthony’s arsenal include his signature Schecter series, Yamaha, MusicMan Stingray, and his infamous Yamaha Jack Daniels custom bass which now resides in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sadly, the demise and “rebirth” of Van Halen is the stuff of soap operas. In his post-VH projects with Sammy: Chickenfoot, The Circle – Anthony gets better with age, he still hits the high notes, and remains a master of the hard rock pocket. Young bassists would be advised to listen to VH with the treble rolled off!