By Andrew Catania
Back in 1984, I remember seeing a cassette tape at my local music store. It had a funny name on it with someone holding up a guitar, with fire. It said Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force.
From that point on, I was totally blown away by this Swedish born guitar master. Yngwie was born Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbäck in Stockholm, Sweden, the third child of a musically talented family. Malmsteen has stated that Jimi Hendrix had no musical impact on him and did not contribute to his style, but watching the 18 September 1970 TV special where Hendrix smashed and burned his guitar made Malmsteen think, “This is really cool”. To quote his official website, “The day Jimi Hendrix died, the guitar-playing Yngwie was born”.
At the age of 12 he took his mother’s maiden name Malmsteen as his surname, slightly changed it to Malmsteen, and altered his third given name Yngve to “Yngwie”. Malmsteen created his first band “Track on Earth” at the age of 10, consisting of himself and a friend from school on drums. As a teenager, he was heavily influenced by classical music, particularly 19th century violinist composer Niccolò Paganini, and also discovered his most important guitar influence, Ritchie Blackmore. Uli Jon Roth is also cited as a significant influence, as is Brian May. In early 1982 (at the age of 18), Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records, who had heard a demo tape of Malmsteen’s playing from the 1978 titled Demo Powerhouse, brought Malmsteen to the United States. He played briefly with Steeler, part of their 1983 self-titled album, then appeared on Graham Bonnet’s album Alcatrazz, their 1983 debut No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the 1984 live album Live Sentence. Malmsteen released his first solo album Rising Force in 1984, which featured Barrie Barlow of Jethro Tull on drums and keyboard player Jens Johansson. His album was meant to be an instrumental side-project of Alcatrazz, but it contained vocals, and Malmsteen left Alcatrazz soon after the release of Rising Force.
Rising Force won the Guitar Player Magazine’s award for Best Rock Album and was nominated for a Grammy for ‘Best Rock Instrumental’, achieving No. 60 on the Billboard album chart. Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force (as his band was thereafter known) next released Marching Out (1985). Jeff Scott Soto filled vocal duties on these initial albums. They recruited drummer Anders Johansson and bassist Marcel Jacob to record and tour with the band. Marcel left in the middle of a tour and was replaced by Wally Voss. His third album, Trilogy, featuring the vocals of Mark Boals, was released in 1986. Yngwie played the bass on this album himself. In 1987, another singer, former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner joined his band as well as Bob Daisley on bass. That year, Malmsteen was in a serious car accident, smashing his V12 Jaguar E-Type into a tree and putting him in a coma for a week. Nerve damage to his right hand was reported. During this time, Malmsteen’s mother died from cancer. In April 1988 he released his fourth album Odyssey. Odyssey was his biggest album so far, in part due to the success of its first single “Heaven Tonight”. Shows in Russia, Soviet Union, during the Odyssey tour were recorded, and released in 1989 as a fifth album Trial by Fire: Live in Leningrad. The classic Rising Force lineup with Yngwie, Jens and Anders split in 1989 when Jens joined Dio and Anders Blue Murder. Malmsteen’s Neo-classical style of metal became popular among some guitarists during the mid-1980s, with contemporaries such as Jason Becker, Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore becoming prominent. In late 1988, Malmsteen’s signature Fender Stratocaster guitar was released, making him and Eric Clapton the first artists to be honored by Fender. By 1990, Yngwie released Eclipse. Which, would be his last album with Polydor records. Citing creative differences, Yngwie signed with Electra Records. In 1992, he released Fire and Ice.
Despite his early and continuous success in Europe and Asia, by the early 1990s heavy metal styles such as neoclassical metal and shredding had become out of fashion in the US. Yngwie continued to record and release albums under the Japanese record label Pony Canyon, and maintained a devoted following from fans in Europe and Japan and, to a lesser extent, in the USA. In 2000 he signed a contract with a US record label Spitfire, and released his 1990s catalog into the US market for the first time, including what he regards as his masterpiece, Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra, recorded with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague. In 2008 Malmsteen was a special guest on the VH1 Classic show “That Metal Show”. On 10 March 2009, Malmsteen’s label Rising Force has launched his new release Angels of Love, an instrumental album which features acoustic arrangements of some of his best-known ballads. In August 2009, Time magazine named Malmsteen No. 9 on its list of the 10 best electric guitar players of all-time. Malmsteen recently released another album compilation entitled High Impact on 8 December 2009. Malmsteen has released albums since then. Repentless in 2011, Spellbound in 2012, and a live album and DVD in 2014.
Malmsteen currently has an album due out June 1st, titled World on Fire. According to Malmsteen, he’s singing all vocals on this one. Malmsteen reportedly uses a choir and plays the cello on certain songs. A respected musician among both his peers and fans, Yngwie continues to play and compose at a level of mastery that many career musicians only dream of. Like or dislike, Yngwie is one of the greatest guitar players of our time. Check out Yngwie this year in support of his latest album, World on Fire!
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