1955 – Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony is born in Chicago.
Michael Anthony Sobolewski (born June 20, 1954) is an American musician. He is best known as the former bassist and a founding member of the hard rock band Van Halen. Anthony joined the band in 1974 and was their official recording and performing bassist for most of their career until he was replaced by Wolfgang Van Halen, son of fellow founding member Eddie Van Halen, after the band’s 2004 tour.
Anthony is known for his stage antics, his effects-laden live solos, and his number of custom-made bass guitars including a Jack Daniel’s model shaped like a whiskey bottle. He also has a signature Yamaha bass guitar series. In total, Anthony is known to have in excess of 150 bass guitars. In addition to his musical career with Van Halen and other acts, Anthony markets a line of hot sauces and related products named Mad Anthony.
Anthony has been married to his wife Sue since 1981 and they have two daughters: Taylor (born 1991) and Elisha (born 1985). Anthony now lives in Glendora, California and can be frequently seen driving his prized hot rods.
Early life (1954–1966)
Anthony was born in Chicago, Illinois, USA to Polish immigrant parents, and was one of five siblings (Nancy, Michael, Steve, Robert and Dennis). He later moved to California where he attended Arcadia High School, graduating in 1972. He developed his interest in music in childhood, playing the trumpet. He became interested in playing mainly rock, blues, and jazz, taking after his father Walter.
Musical career begins (1967–1974)
While Anthony was a promising catcher in baseball, he also competed on the Dana Junior High School track team (long jump) and played in the marching band there from 1967–1969. He took an interest in guitar as a teenager, but picked up the bass instead since most of his other friends already played guitar or drums. Anthony’s friend Mike Hershey gave him a Fender Mustang electric guitar that Anthony converted by removing its top two strings and playing it as a bass guitar. Eventually, his father bought him a Victoria copy of a Fender Precision Bass and a Gibson amplifier. Anthony modeled his bass playing after Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones mostly, but also admired Jack Bruce of Cream, and Harvey Brooks of Electric Flag. His main interest in life was music once he left high school. His first band was called Poverty’s Children. Other bands he played in included Black Opal, Balls and Snake. Although Anthony is naturally left-handed, he plays right-handed.
Snake, a three-piece group featuring Anthony on lead vocals and bass guitar, was the last band Mike played in before joining Van Halen. Snake played covers of ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Foghat, along with some original songs. They played a lot of the same types of gigs as did the Van Halen brothers’ band Mammoth. Snake even opened for Mammoth at a show at Pasadena High School one night. Mammoth’s PA failed that night, so Anthony lent them Snake’s PA.
While attending Pasadena City College, Mike pursued a degree in music. Alex Van Halen took classes there too and they would often see each other on campus. During this time, Mark Stone was kicked out of Mammoth and the Van Halens decided to audition Anthony to be their new bassist. Anthony was impressed by their skill during subsequent jam sessions even though he had seen the brothers play before. After the session, the Van Halen brothers asked Anthony to join the their band. He said he had to think about it and consulted Snake guitarist Tony Codgen who advised Anthony to go ahead with joining Van Halen. However, according to Michael Anthony’s web site, when asked if he wanted to join Van Halen, Anthony immediately said yes, that there was no consulting with anyone.
Van Halen (1974–1996)
Main article: Van Halen
In 1974, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen along with David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony became known as Van Halen, dropping the name Mammoth because they discovered that another local band was using that moniker. They were signed to Warner Brothers in 1977 and released their self titled debut album on February 8, 1978. Anthony’s bass lines and high vocal harmonies became a distinctive part of the Van Halen sound. The band released a total of ten studio albums from 1978–1995, along with a live album and a compilation CD in 1996 that featured two previously unreleased songs. Despite the Van Halen brothers falling out with both their vocalists frequently (David Lee Roth in 1985, 1996, 2000 and 2001 and Sammy Hagar in both 1996 and 2004), Anthony maintained positive relationships with all of the musicians.
Diminishing role with Van Halen and side projects (1996–2003)
As early as 1996, rumors periodically surfaced that Anthony had been fired from Van Halen. Despite claims to the contrary and his continued work with the band, these persisted until his final departure.
Anthony’s involvement in the 1998 album Van Halen III was less than for previous albums. Anthony performed on only three songs; Eddie Van Halen recorded the others. Anthony is credited as a songwriter for the album along with the rest of the band as is always the case for Van Halen albums. Anthony performed with the band for the 1998 tour, and was credited for messages from the band thereafter. He participated in the band’s three reunion attempts with David Lee Roth from 2000 through 2001. Anthony’s name was also credited in a few band newsletters during this time, and he appeared in band interviews. Sometime after this, however, Anthony disappeared from public view until the 2004 reunion.
In interviews, Eddie and Alex Van Halen suggested they were jamming and writing/recording new material during this time period but appeared to be working without Anthony.
Anthony began periodic appearances with Sammy Hagar during his solo tours. He usually played as part of The Waboritas, Hagar’s band. During 2002’s David Lee Roth/Sammy Hagar tour, both Michael Anthony and ex-Van Halen vocalist Gary Cherone make guest appearances at concerts, sometimes together. Anthony never performed during Roth’s segment however.
In 2002, Anthony, Hagar, Neal Schon, Deen Castronovo, and Joe Satriani formed the “supergroup” Planet Us and Anthony began making more frequent performances at Sammy Hagar concerts. Planet US recorded two songs, one of which was intended for the Spider-Man soundtrack but ultimately did not make the album. The band did perform the unreleased song Vertigo on the Internet radio show RockLine.
Van Halen reunion (2003–2005)
Initially when Eddie and Alex asked Hagar to rejoin at the end of 2003 for a 2004 tour, the plan was not to invite Anthony back. Hagar, however, refused to perform if Anthony did not rejoin, and Anthony agreed to play but on a reduced royalties contract. The contract drawn up was for the duration of the tour only, with his role within the band resting in the hands of the Van Halen brothers thereafter. Throughout this time, and during the Van Halen III period, the public was unaware of Anthony’s tenuous status within the band and was led to believe that he was still a full-time member.
In 2004, Van Halen released the compilation album The Best of Both Worlds which included three new songs. Anthony did not participate in the writing and recording of the new songs and was not credited on the album for the new material.
Anthony now states in media interviews that he has not spoken to the Van Halen brothers since the 2004 tour. He has also speculated that since the brothers were not pleased with Hagar’s commercial ventures such as the Cabo Wabo product line, their similar displeasure with Anthony’s hot sauce brand may have caused the rift that ultimately separated Hagar and Anthony from the band.
Departure from Van Halen and recent projects (2006–present)
Anthony spent the Summer of 2006 touring as a member of The Other Half during a segment of the Sammy Hagar and the Waboritas tour. The Other Half featured Anthony and Hagar performing classic Van Halen songs from both the Roth and Hagar periods.
On September 8, 2006, Eddie Van Halen announced that his son, Wolfgang, was replacing Michael Anthony as Van Halen’s bass player. On February 2, 2007, it was announced that Van Halen was reuniting for a tour with original vocalist David Lee Roth. The tour began on September 27, 2007. Anthony commented that he heard about his replacement “on the Internet” and stated, “I’m a little miffed that they’re calling it a Van Halen reunion. If I was dead and they needed someone to play, that’s one thing, but to me this is not a reunion.”
Anthony surprised his former bandmate and good friend Sammy Hagar on live national TV on February 25, 2007. During a pre-race performance for the California race on FOX television, the bassist jumped onstage and joined Sammy Hagar during a performance of “I Can’t Drive 55”. Hagar could only respond “Michael Anthony’s in the house.”
Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar were the only members, former or current, to appear at Van Halen’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 12, 2007. Eddie Van Halen was in rehab at the time, and Alex Van Halen and David Lee Roth declined to appear.
Anthony is currently developing a side project called “Chickenfoot” with Sammy Hagar, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and guitarist Joe Satriani, which will include a yet unnamed studio album release. He has also recently established a band named the Mad Anthony Xpress that will tour with Hagar in 2007 and 2008.