|Crossroads: Yngwie Malmsteen|
Pivotal moments in musicians' careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
Some people may make some cosmic connection because Yngwie Malmsteen was enthralled at a young age by watching a documentary about Jim Hendrix shortly after the guitar legend's death. While Jimi may have had an initial influence on the youthful Swede, a lot of other people had equally important effects, some that are unexpected in the world of rock and roll - names like Stradivarius, Paganini and Bach. Seemingly strange bedfellows but not to someone who was about to preside over the first real marriage of the words "guitar" and "virtuoso." After traveling to the States in the early 80's and playing in the bands Steeler and Alcatraz, Yngwie exploded onto the music scene with his own band Rising Force. Surviving adversities and flip flopping musical trends, the guitarist has inked himself into the history books as one of the more prolific and innovative ax slingers in rock androll. Perhaps it is only fitting that now, over two decades after Rising Force began its first assault on the music community that he has joined a prestigious tour with two of the other most respected shredders around.
"At the beginning, I learned how to play from listening to Ritchie Blackmore," Yngwie recalls. "After a while, I realized that most guitar players had sort of the same way of playing, and were limited to that blues-based sound. So I started infusing classical influences, mostly baroque and romantic influences like Tchaikovsky & Paganini into my playing, Violin was a larger influence on my guitar playing than anything else. I was deliberately trying to do something different." Yngwie's teen years in Sweden were spent not as much in schools as they were working hard with bands that he fronted, his indelible guitar stylings already developing into something that had an obvious unique quality. "It was mostly natural, and I didn't know anybody that was doing what I was trying to do and what I wanted to do. I created the style that I wanted to hear, but didn't learn it from anybody else. The classical masters were a huge influence, but obviously they weren't playing metal. So the fusion of classical melodies and scales and arpeggios through a live Marshall, that became my style." With his prowess on the six string burgeoning, Yngwie needed a break to get his name out. Sweden was not exactly a hot bed for rockmusicians unless you sounded like ABBA, and even though he didn't plan on going to America at first, a bit of fate perhaps helped him in that direction. He submitted a demo tape to Guitar Player Magazine in an attempt to land some magazine coverage by one of the columnists. "Then suddenly I received all of these phone calls telling me I had to come to L.A., and it happened very strangely and very quickly. There was no real planning on it, but there was nothing to do in Sweden. There was no music scene at all at the time." The writer who penned the column at Guitar Player was Mike Varney, and the founder of Shrapnel Records. Mike paid for a ticket to bring Yngwie to L.A., and Yngwie ended up joining the band Steeler with Ron Keel, later moving onto Alcatraz with Graham Bonnett. The bands helped get Yngwie's name out to the public, but still were a bit limiting to his true goals. "I always had my own bands from the very beginning, always the songwriter, always the leader. When I came to the States and joined Steeler, I wasn't the leader. I wasn't very fond of that style of music but I realized the value of being in that band and playing around town was a good thing after all. But I figured I would go back to my original vision to front my own band."
In 1984, Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force was created, and the first album "Rising Force" was released on Polydor Records. The album went to number sixty on the charts, and everywhere the band went they played to packed houses with enthusiastic fans. The follow up album "Marching Out" went to number fifty-six, continuing to establish Yngwie as one of rock's hot new guitarists. Yngwie then hit some tough times as he was severely injured in a traffic accident in 1987, with his mother dying soon after his recovery from that. He recovered from those adversities to release two more albums on Polygram before moving onto Elektra for 1991's "Fire and Ice," generally considered oneof his best works.Then his manager passed on in 1993, the same year that he broke a hand and Electra dropped him from their roster. Despite these setbacks, Yngwie has persevered, continuing to create music in a way that is not necessarily formulamatic, but following a credo that keeps the music fresh and his loyal fans happy. "With me I never compromised, I just did what I felt was the right thing, and I meant what I was doing. It translates to people understanding what you are doing and it helps keep you going. Beyond the guitar playing a lot of people get into the songs I do. They don't care as much about the technicality of it, they just hear the song and it grabs them, whether it's musically, lyrically or whatever. But what I do is real, and I think that is what people dig about the music and it's kept them loyal."
Fan loyalty and his general ideals on music have kept Yngwie as a respected name in music into the twenty-first century. His songwriting philosophy perhaps explains best why his music always seems to have such an innovative feel to it. "Improvisation is the genesis of composition. If you improvise, something will happen and that will trigger something else. If I have to I can sit down and decide to write something and then do it, and sometimes the songs come out good. Lately I've been concentrating more about writing lyrics." Improvisation and pure musical talent perhaps helped lead to Yngwie getting a call from Joe Satriani's manager in 2003. Yngwie was asked to be the third "G" on the G3 Tour, the brainchild of Satch and Steve Vai that over the years have also included Eric Johnson and Dream Theater's John Petrucci. "It's been really interesting and cool, it's a lot of fun. I think that a lot of people have been getting excited about this because guitar music has been rather quiet for the last ten years or so in the states. I think this can open up some eyes and ears for all three of us."After the G3 tour winds down, Yngwie is taking his band back on the road for a tour supporting the U.S. release of his album "Attack" in January of 2004. He is having a lot of fun doing what he is doing, and even with the innovations he has brought to the realm of rock guitar, some people may be surprised that he does not have any real set in stone plan in regard to his musical career. Of course that is sort of the same way a demo tape submission brought him to the States and widespread acclaim over twenty years ago. "I'm absolutely enjoying myself as much if not more than ever right now. And I've never really planned out anything, I go with the flow and it sort of happens itself. I had a dream for a long time to compose with an orchestra and I have done that. To me it's always interesting, intriguing and satisfying to do what I do now, and I don't wander around wondering what I'm going to do next. There's already such a great satisfaction to what I do."
Yngwie's advice for musicians: "If you are really honest with what you do and don't fake it or try to be trendy, and make music that really means something from the bottom of your heart, that will transcend everything. If you go more towards what is in fashion for the moment, that will not be around forever and you'll go with it. Sometimes to get your foot in the door you can't be too much oddball, but once you get your foot there in order to keep it there, don't fix it if it isn't broke. People that change all the time, that very often isn't good for you. You have to have a vision and stay with it and be honest with it. Don't fake it and be real."