Michael Anthony: Why Live At Leeds is one of the best live albums of all time

Michael Anthony onstage next to an image of the Who album Live At Leeds
(Image credit: Getty/Scott Dudelson)

Michael Anthony has been inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, sold in excess of 80 million records with Van Halen, and taken the classic rock world by storm with Chickenfoot – a supergroup featuring ex-Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar, guitarist Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. “The great thing about Chickenfoot is that we were able to keep it going for as long as we did. A lot of times after a band like Van Halen is over, you don’t find something like that again.” 

Although he’s been asked many times about his influences, Anthony was happy to run us through the live album that helped mould him into the monstrous bass player that he is today. "To me, Live At Leeds by The Who is one of the best albums of all time. ‘Young Man Blues’ is just a great jam and that’s what really made me want to play in a band with guitar, bass and drums."

The original version of Live At Leeds came out in 1970 and featured just 6 songs, but Entwistle's solo in 'My Generation' alone was enough to inspire a whole generation of bass players. "John Entwistle was one of the first guys that I listened to that really stepped out," says Anthony.

"John Paul Jones I admired because he kept it really rhythmic, which is pretty much the style that I choose to play – only because all the guitar players that I play with are so nuts – but when Entwistle would go off on some of these jams, the way he would riff through them was amazing." 

The Who perform on stage at the Fete de l'Humanite music festival, Paris, 9th September 1972, L-R Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon.

(Image credit: Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Originally a trumpet and French horn player with the school orchestra, John Entwistle took up the bass aged 14, and later became renowned his progressive approach to the bass guitar. "Pete Townshend did play some leads but he did a lot of rhythmic stuff," says Anthony. "So it gave Entwistle a lot of room to step out and to be able to do his thing."

When Live At Leeds was recorded no-one anywhere was playing the bass like John Entwistle. In fact, bass guitar solos were totally unheard of in pop songs. The Beatles had riff-based songs like 'Day Tripper', but 'My Generation' was the first time people actually stood up and took notice of the quiet guy stood at the back of the stage.

At a time when everyone was playing with a plectrum or with their thumb, Entwistle would tap the strings with a kind of quick pushing motion – a technique that finally made people sit up and take notice of the bass player. 

Interestingly enough, the first recorded version of 'My Generation' didn’t have a bass solo, but the band’s manager Kit Lambert thought it would be good to incorporate something to showcase Entwistle’s playing – and the rest is history.

Culled from a Valentine’s Day concert at Leeds University in England, and presented in nothing more than a stark, yellow sleeve bearing the band’s name (a direct nod to the look of late-1960s LP bootlegs), Live at Leeds still remains one of the most revered live rock albums to date. John Entwistle had reached a new peak in his playing and his definitive bass sound had never been better.

"At the NAMM shows one year, I went outside to take a little break and he was standing there drinking a margarita with one of his techs," says Michael Anthony. "He’d just gotten back from Cabo San Lucas where he had actually met Sammy [Hagar] and jammed with him, which I didn’t actually know until he told me. 

"He was still actually in that ‘Cabo’ moment, drinking tequila, and it was funny because I could really only understand every second or third word he was saying, but he was the coolest guy.

"I actually remember the day, or the evening, that he died. I was on my way to play a show with Hagar, so I dedicated my whole show to him that night. It was a great loss losing a guy like that, because he was such a great bass player."

The Who perform on stage, USA, September 1979, L-R John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey.

(Image credit: Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

While the original version of Live At Leeds offered just 6 songs, the 1995 CD reissue is fleshed out with a full 14 tracks.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.