Rehearsal room/pub argument number 38: in terms of sound, style of playing and degree of influence, guitarist Eddie Van Halen and his band are probably the last serious true innovators within the genre we call rock.
While you’re chewing that one over, let’s recap. Van Halen, originally Mammoth, was formed in the early ’70s by brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen (drums). Dave Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony joined and their self-titled debut was released in 1978. It’s sold over six million copies to date. While the four subsequent Roth-voiced sets all sold well, it was the sixth album, 1984, that turned them into superstars.
Personality conflicts between Eddie and Roth surfaced, and Roth was fired from the band in 1985. The choice of ex-Montrose singer Sammy Hagar took everyone by surprise but it gave Van Halen the serious rock sound they craved. Since the mid-’90s the band has been dogged by a combination of Eddie Van Halen’s illnesses and alcohol addictions, and the lack of a permanent singer. Rumours abound that Roth is back and a new album is on the way… but nobody is holding their breath.
Through all this, up until being replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang in early 2007, Michael Anthony was the man in the bass chair. Born 20 June 1954, Michael Anthony Sobolewski was the son of Polish immigrants and played trumpet and guitar before turning to bass. While he never received the sort of attention or acclaim afforded to Eddie Van Halen or Roth, he contributed the signature vocal harmonies that characterise much of Van Halen’s material, and his muscular, flowing grooves both underpinned the mayhem and, alongside Alex Van Halen, provided Eddie with the perfect platform for his guitar pyrotechnics. Anthony, Yamaha bass in hand, contributed plenty of melody to the Van Halen sound and often, as on Hot For Teacher (1984), dealt with punishing tempos as if they were a walk in the park.