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Yngwie Malmsteen was largely responsible for the development of the style of guitar playing known as "shredding" that was so popular in the 1980’s. Shred guitar solos are lightning fast riffs that depend more on their speed than their musicality to enhance a song. Guitar enthusiasts have admired and respected the musicians who could produce such breathtaking licks, and Yngwie Malmsteen is always mentioned as one of the best.
In his early years, Malmsteen joined several rock bands around Stockholm. I didn’t take long before he became frustrated with their lack of willingness to take musical risks. Audiences that seemed to prefer lightweight pop sounds to the hard rock songs filled with instrumental solos that he enjoyed also disillusioned him. He made a demo tape which he distributed to as many record companies outside of his home country as he could find. Finally, the founder of California-based Shrapnel Music, Mike Varney, heard his efforts. Yngwie was invited to record with a new band in the US called Steeler, and he was on the road to fame as a guitar shredder.
Steeler released a self-titled album in 1983, which grabbed some attention because of Malmsteen’s frenetic guitar solos. He was not happy with the quality of the other musicians in the group, however, and soon joined a band called Alcatrazz. The new group released an album (No Parole for Rock and Roll) and played a concert tour. Still dissatisfied, Yngwie decided that he would have more artistic license if he became the leader of his own band. In 1984 he gathered some musicians to form the group Rising Force, which included his friend from Sweden, Jens Johansson on keyboards.
The album Rising Force was first released in Japan and created such a buzz that it was soon distributed around the globe. It was nominated for a Grammy and hit the Billboard Top 60. More importantly, it set the standard for an instrumental guitar album and single-handedly originated the “Neo Classical Metal” genre of music. It remains one of the best selling instrumental albums ever produced.
The group released Marching Out and Trilogy in rapid succession and both were well received. The two albums were not only demonstrations of Malmsteen’s skill as a guitarist, but established his reputation as a composer, as well. In 1987, however, he nearly lost his life when he crashed his fast moving Jaguar into a tree. He developed a blood clot in his brain, which could have been fatal, and he was in a coma for seven days. He also sustained significant nerve damage in his right hand that left it virtually paralyzed. To add to the trauma, he regained consciousness to discover that his mother had died. He was determined to persevere, however, and worked diligently to recover the use of his hand and regain his health.
With the release of Odyssey in 1988, the music world realized that Malmsteen was truly back at work. It was his most commercially successful album, especially the single “Heaven Tonight.” He took his band on a worldwide tour and the group had the honor of being one of the first groups to play in the former Soviet Union. Late that year Fender released the first Malmsteen signature Stratocaster. During the early 90’s, a string of albums came from Yngwie’s fertile mind and talented fingers including Fire and Ice, Eclipse, and The Seventh Sign.
In 1997 Yngwie proved to the world that he is much more than just a shredder. He wrote and recorded a completely classical work that he considers his masterpiece. With the lofty title Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra in Eb Minor Op. 1, the album pleased critics and serious musicians around the globe. It was recorded with the highly acclaimed orchestra from Prague, the Czech Philharmonic and its famous conductor Yoel Levi. A few years later, Malmsteen was invited to perform the work before a live audience in Tokyo with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. The DVD recording of the concert was released in 2002.
The next year, many guitar fans rushed to attend the concerts in the famous G3 series which featured the three men most aficionados considered to be the Dream Team of guitarists: Malmsteen, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani. The audio CD’s and DVD releases of the live concerts were instant best sellers in 2003.
Yngwie has continued to tour and record music throughout the decade of the ‘00’s. In ’07 he was featured on the popular video game “Guitar Hero II” (X-box Version). Players of the game can achieve the “Yngwie Malmsteen Award” as a bonus if they can accurately hit at least 1000 notes in a row.
With all his flamboyant showmanship and incredible skill on the guitar, Yngwie continues to impress audiences in the US, Europe and Asia. He is a truly creative musician who has managed to successfully combine two very different forms of music into one completely original style. The world will probably not see another guitarist like Yngwie, but he has made, and will continue to make his mark on the modern music scene.
Check out Total Guitar’s lesson "Play Like Yngwie".