Sabo was born on September 16, 1964, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He grew up in Sayreville, down the street from Jon Bon Jovi. His mother, Dorothy, or "Mama Snake" as she is known, raised him and his brothers on her own. Influenced heavily by the rock n' roll music of the era, including some Motown, he found himself listening to the likes of Kiss, Aerosmith, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, and Van Halen. From an early age, Snake was a gifted athlete, even having scouts coming out to see him play. At the age of 13 he saw Kiss, which acted a catalyst for Snake to give up sports and focus his time on music and learning guitar. His mother had bought his brother a $40 guitar which he soon lost interest in, paving the way for Dave to take up the instrument at the age of 14. He was the original lead guitar player of Bon Jovi, playing several local shows with them before guitarist Richie Sambora replaced him in 1983.
Skid Row was formed in New Jersey in 1986 by Bolan and Sabo. The pair added guitarist Scotti Hill, drummer Rob Affuso, and vocalist Matt Fallon who was later replaced by Sebastian Bach in 1987. The band began playing shows in clubs throughout the eastern United States.