The Early Years
Lars Johann Yngwie Lannerback was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on the last day of June, 1963. That same year, the Beatles had just emerged from Liverpool, England, soon to make their mark on music history. But it would be another twenty years before a lanky, tousel-haired Swede with hungry eyes would stand the music world on its head once again. The intervening years before the day in February 1983 when Yngwie J. Malmsteen stepped off the plane in Los Angeles provided an environment ripe for the development of a musical prodigy.
The marriage between Yngwie's army captain father and artistic free spirit mother ended in divorce not long after Yngwie was born. The youngest child in a permissive household that included his mother Rigmor, sister Ann Louise, and brother Bjorn, Yngwie (named, his mother claimed, for an old boyfriend) was wild and unruly, and delighted in "anything that had a lot of violence in it." Music, especially guitar playing, was reserved for wimps, and young Yngwie would have none of it. Early attempts at piano and trumpet lessons failed to take hold, and the acoustic guitar his mother bought him at age 5 hung untouched on the wall. It wasn't until September 18, 1970, when Yngwie saw a TV special on the death of guitar iconoclast Jimi Hendrix, that a flame ignited in his mind. Seven-year-old Yngwie watched with awe as Hendrix blasted the audience with torrents of feedback and sacrificed his guitar in flames. The day Jimi Hendrix died, the guitar-playing Yngwie was born.
Applying his intense curiosity and tenacity to first an old Mosrite and then a cheap Stratocaster, Yngwie immersed himself in the music of such bands as Deep Purple and spent long hours unlocking the secrets of both the instrument and the music. His admiration for Ritchie Blackmore's classically influenced playing led him, through his sister's direction, back to the source: Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Mozart. As Yngwie absorbed the classical structures of the masters, his prodigious style began to take shape. He continued playing for hours each day, often falling asleep draped over his guitar.
By age 10, he had taken his mother's maiden name of Malmsteen, focused all his energies into music, and largely stopped going to school. At school he was often branded a trouble-maker, getting into frequent fights with people "who behaved stupidly," and excelling in the two classes that interested him, English and Art. His mother, who recognized his unique musical gifts, allowed him to stay home with his records and his guitar, where his mastery of the instrument progressed unobstructed. The missing link, however, between the formal structures of classical music and the flamboyant performance of Hendrix was supplied by the music of another virtuoso, 19th century violinist Niccolo Paganini. Watching Russian violinist Gideon Kremer perform Paganini's 24 Caprices on television, Yngwie understood at last how to marry his love of classical music with his burgeoning guitar skills and onstage charisma.
Yngwie's Trademark Style Begins to Emerge
By age 15, pulling off such antics as riding his motorbike through the school hallway, it was clear that school had no place for him, and he left for good. He worked for a time as a luthier in a guitar repair shop, putting his woodworking skills to good use. It was here that he encountered a scalloped neck for the first time when a 17th century lute came into the shop. The wood of the neck was carved out so that the peaks formed the frets. Intrigued, Yngwie scalloped the neck of an old guitar in similar fashion and was impressed enough with the results to try it on his better guitars. The scalloped fretboard was somewhat more difficult to play than a normal neck, but his control over the strings was so improved that Yngwie immediately adopted it as a permanent alteration to his equipment.
About this time, Malmsteen began playing in a number of bands built around his explosive guitar style, with long instrumental explorations that tried both the ears and the patience of a Swedish listening public more used to the pop anthems of ABBA. When he turned 18, the army tried to recruit him as officer material, based on his high intelligence test scores. Appearing possessed as only Yngwie can do, he held a gun to his temple and vowed he'd rather die than serve in the military. Convinced, the recruiters sent him packing. Yngwie returned to his music in earnest. In an early incarnation of Rising Force, Yngwie and several friends recorded a demo set of three songs for Swedish CBS, but the cuts were never released. Frustrated, Yngwie knew he would have to leave Sweden to get anywhere, and he began sending demo tapes to record companies and music contacts abroad. One such tape found its way into the hands of Guitar Player contributor and Shrapnel Music founder Mike Varney. Yngwie was invited to Los Angeles to join Shrapnel's new band Steeler--and the rest, as they say, is history.
Yngwie Immigrates to America
Built around Ron Keel, Steeler's debut album proved to be a typical heavy metal grinder memorable mainly for Yngwie's now-legendary unaccompanied solo intro to "Hot On Your Heels." By the time the album became a cult favorite, Yngwie had already moved on to Alcatrazz, a Rainbow-style band founded by singer Graham Bonnett. Although Alcatrazz produced some of Yngwie's most incendiary solo flights, including "Kree Nakoorie," "Jet to Jet," and "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," it also proved to be too limiting, and the only clear course was to go solo.
Yngwie's first solo album, Rising Force (now considered the bible for neoclassical rock) made it to #60 on the Billboard charts, an impressive feat for a mostly instrumental guitar album with no commercial airplay. The album also gained Yngwie a Grammy nomination for best rock instrumental performance. Soon the honors came rolling in: He was voted Best New Talent in several reader's polls, Best Rock Guitarist the year after, and Rising Force became Album of the Year. Powered by the jaw-dropping guitar/ keyboard duals of Yngwie and longtime friend Jens Johansson, the band Rising Force blazed a trail on the concert circuit that established Yngwie as one of rock guitar's brightest new stars and added a new genre to the music lexicon: neoclassical rock.
Yngwie's neo-classical compositions reached new heights in the 1986 album Trilogy. To this day, it remains one of his favorites, both in lyrical content and musical performance. At this point, Yngwie's influence on guitar technique and composition was undeniable, although hoards of clones and Malmsteen wannabes tried to copy his style without understanding his unique musical vision. Lacking Yngwie's musicality, the clones merely sounded like proficient typists, ultimately casting a negative light on the neoclassical approach.
In the following year, on June 22, 1987, just shy of his 24th birthday, Yngwie wrapped his Jaguar around a tree, breaking the steering wheel with his head. The resulting concussion caused a blood clot in his brain that damaged the nerves running to his right hand. After lying unconscious in a coma for nearly a week, Yngwie pulled through, only to find his picking hand totally useless. Afraid that his career might be over, he painfully began therapy to bring the hand back to life, impatiently waiting for the damaged nerves to regenerate. Not long out of danger himself, he learned that his mother, the main inspiration of his life, had died in Sweden of cancer. To further complicate things, financial problems left him virtually penniless in the face of mounting medical bills. Rather than completely giving up as many people would have done, Yngwie pulled himself together and turned once again to music for his salvation.
The result was Odyssey, not one of Yngwie's favorites, but highly acclaimed for its accessibility and broader audience appeal. The hit single and video, "Heaven Tonight," gave Yngwie his first taste of heavy rotation airplay and pushed album sales just short of gold status in the U.S. With ex-Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner as frontman, the Odyssey tour brought Yngwie in contact with a new audience not made up exclusively of aspiring guitarists. By February 1989, the show rolled into the Soviet Union for a groundbreaking series of sold-out concerts in both Moscow and Leningrad (preceding Bon Jovi's Moscow Peace Festival by nearly six months). After the final performance, which resulted in the gold-selling home video Live in Leningrad / Trial By Fire, the band members went their separate ways and the name Rising Force was retired for good.
Yngwie Moves to Miami and Forms a New Band
Beginning a new phase of his career, Yngwie moved to Miami, Florida, and recruited a new band consisting of fellow Swedes. Anchoring the lead vocalist slot was ex-John Norum singer Goran Edman, whose versatile tenor adapted easily to Yngwie's demanding melodies. Other positions were filled with musicians who were not well known outside Sweden but whose musical talents were exceptional: symphony orchestra bassist Svante Henryson, experienced studio keyboardist and arranger Mats Olausson, and drummer Michael von Knorring. The new lineup's first album, Eclipse, recorded and mixed at Miami's Criteria Studios, proved that Yngwie could write radio-ready accessible material without sacrificing his classical style. Poor promotion by troubled record company Polygram stunted sales in the U.S., but gold and platinum status in Japan and Europe vindicated Yngwie's decision to leave Rising Force behind.
In mounting frustration, Yngwie made the decision to leave Polygram in what was to be a less than amicable parting. As Yngwie has often said, his life always seems to be "fire and ice, either really good or really bad with no in-between." Once the negative situation with Polygram had been eliminated, things began to look up. New manager Nigel Thomas was hard at work on Yngwie's behalf, and by March of 1991 Yngwie had signed with Elektra Records.
Yngwie's debut for Elektra, Fire & Ice, reached back to the noncommercial perfection of his best compositions. The album burned with his personal emotions while showcasing the classical structures of the Baroque composers who are his heros. With this album, Yngwie was finally able to accomplish a lifelong desire to record with an orchestra; this occurs in his arrangement of Bach's "Badinerie" from Orchestral Suite No. 2, which is embedded in "No Mercy," and in the classical-inspired solo break for "Cry No More." Critically acclaimed for composition and performance, Fire & Ice debuted in Japan at #1 ("Ichi-ban") and sold over 100,000 copies on the day of its release. The album reached gold and platinum status across Europe and Asia. By June 1992, Yngwie returned to Miami to rest and eventually begin work on new compositions.
Unfortunately, development of the new album was hampered by a devastating series of events. Hurricane Andrew flattened much of Miami in August 1992, then Nigel Thomas, Yngwie's manager for 4 years, died of a heart attack in January, 1993, and in March Yngwie learned that Elektra had dropped him from their roster. In July, 1993, Yngwie broke his right hand in a freak accident, and in August he was the victim of a false arrest which made international news.
In September, all charges against Yngwie were dropped, and by October his hand had healed completely. A contract was signed with Japan's Pony Canyon label, and serious recording got underway with new singer Michael Vescera (ex-Loudness), drummer Mike Terrana (ex-Tony McAlpine), keyboardist Mats Olausson, and Yngwie on bass. Barry Sparks from L.A. was later chosen as the tour bassist.
Yngwie Signs with Pony Canyon and Begins a New Phase of His Career
On Feb. 3 the new band lineup began rehearsals for the upcoming world tour. The new album, The Seventh Sign, was released in Japan on Feb. 18, 1994. The raw, aggressive power of the album brought immediate comparison to one of his earliest works, Marching Out. It quickly reached #1 on the International charts and was certified triple platinum in Japan. CMC International Records picked up the distribution rights for Europe and America, and worked vigorously to promote the new album worldwide. Yngwie's 7th Sign tour played to sold out audiences in Japan, followed by club appearances in Europe and the U.S. New label CMC worked vigorously to rebuild Yngwie's core audience and get the new album played on the airwaves. Although the U.S. still proved to be a difficult market due to the current popularity of "grunge" music, The Seventh Sign outsold all other Yngwie albums in Japan and Asia.
In September and October, Pony Canyon released two mini-albums, Power and Glory (with Yngwie's theme for Japanese wrestling champion Takada) and I Can't Wait (with two previously unreleased tracks and several live tracks from Yngwie's concert at Tokyo's Budokan). A Japanese version of the Budokan show was released as a concert video, with worldwide distribution to be handled through CMC. After nearly a year on the road, Yngwie ended the tour in November 1994, and the band went home for a much needed break.
In December 1994, construction began on Yngwie's own recording studio in Miami, with state-of-the-art mixing board, tape drives, and monitoring equipment. Work also began on Yngwie's next album, Magnum Opus, with a target release date of June, 1995, from Pony Canyon. Yngwie and his manager agreed to part ways with CMC due to lack of distribution capability, and negotiations for a new European/USA label deal began as soon as the master tapes were shipped to Pony Canyon.
The Magnum Opus tour got underway in September 1995 in Japan, covering an unprecedented 17 cities and drawing his largest crowds ever. From there, the band headed to England and Europe for two months. Midway through the tour, Michael Vescera developed bronchitis from a cold and had to drop out of the tour for 5 shows. The concerts went on as scheduled, however, with Yngwie himself stepping into the singer's role, although songs that were not in his range had to be eliminated from the playlist. Mike rejoined the band in Germany, taking part in a festival minitour with 4 other bands, including metal veterans Saxon. At year's end, Yngwie and the band flew home to the U.S. on Christmas Eve, for a well-deserved rest.
Yngwie Records His First Album in Studio 308
Beginning in January, Yngwie put his Studio 308 to good use, flying in several old friends and musicians-- including Joe Lynn Turner, Jeff Scott Soto, David Rosenthal, Marcel Jacob, and Mark Boals--to work on a new project. For many years, Yngwie kept in the back of his mind the desire to record some of the songs he grew up with that influenced both the way he plays and the way he writes songs. Of course, that meant the music of Deep Purple, Rainbow, U.K., Kansas, Scorpions, Rush, and Jimi Hendrix. With old pals the Johansson brothers providing drum tracks and some of the keyboards, the "Inspiration" album began to take shape. By mid-April, the tapes were mastered and cover artwork was commissioned: a painting by Japanese artist Asari Yoda, featuring visual elements representing the bands covered on the album. With the Magnum Opus lineup disbanded and most of those players moving on to other projects, Yngwie assembled a touring band that proved to be as tight and powerful as any he's worked with: Mats Olausson continuing to anchor the keyboards slot, Live in Leningrad veteran Barry Dunaway on bass, Trilogy vocalist Mark Boals, and drummer extraordinaire Tommy Aldridge of such bands as Ozzy, Whitesnake, and Pat Travers. South America was the first site of attack for the new lineup, with crowds of delirious Brazilians and Agentinians packing the large concert halls each night. The tour continued unabated into the U.S., Japan, and Europe, proving that Yngwie's turbo-charged brand of melodic hard rock was not only NOT dead, it had found new life.
Yngwie concluded the "Inspiration" tour in December '96 with nearly a dozen guitar clinics held in England and Europe. Fan response to these intimate sessions with their hero was so positive that Yngwie promised to try to do more such appearances in the future. After a brief stay in England, hanging out with long-time friend Uli Jon Roth, Yngwie returned home to Miami to begin work on his next studio album as well as his much-anticipated work for electric guitar and orchestra.
The Orchestral Work Fans Have Been Waiting for Becomes a Reality
After months of intensive work sequestered in his Miami Studio 308, Yngwie produced his first completely classical work, Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra in Eb minor, Op. 1. In June of 1997, Yngwie flew to Prague for a date with the prestigious Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which had recently celebrated the 100th year since its founding. In three intensive days of recording, with Atlanta Symphony conductor Yoel Levi wielding the baton, Yngwie's dream to record a work of his own with a full symphony orchestra had become reality. Anxious fans would have to wait until 1998 to hear the astonishing results, but they didn't mind... many of them had been waiting for this since Yngwie's debut album in 1984!
Not one to rest on his triumphs, Yngwie returned to Miami to put the finishing touches on his 1998 studio album, Facing the Animal, featuring none other than Cozy Powell behind the drums. Fueled with passion and a dark brooding intensity, Facing the Animal was highly regarded by both critics and the majority of fans as one of the Maestro's strongest offerings in years. Distributed outside Japan on the Mercury label, Yngwie was able to get initial promotional support and gave numerous press interviews for the album.
Fatherhood and Other Life Changes
On March 6, 1998, one of the most momentous events in Yngwie's life occurred: his first child, Antonio Yngwie Johann Malmsteen, was born in Miami, Florida. Yngwie and his wife April hardly had time to get used to their new role as parents, however, because tour dates booked long in advance now had to be honored. So at age three weeks, tiny Antonio obtained his first passport! Luckily for April and Yngwie, he turned out to be a real road dog like his dad, and he was happiest throughout the tour whenever they were moving in planes, trains, buses, and taxis.
However, while Yngwie was celebrating the birth of his son, he also suddenly had to cope with a tragic loss. Just as he was preparing to take the Facing the Animal Tour on the road, a horrific nighttime car accident in England claimed the life of Cozy Powell. Shaken, but determined to carry on, Yngwie hired Jonas Ostman as tour drummer, and the crew set out for Japan, South America, and selected dates in Europe and the U.K. During several sold-out shows in Brazil, a new concert video and CD were recorded, called simply Yngwie Malmsteen LIVE!! Unfortunately for fans, the U.S. and Canadian leg of the tour had to be scrapped due to poor response from promoters and the loss of record company support, because of the sale of Mercury/Polygram to Seagram/Universal. Thus, Yngwie returned home to Miami with his family, and settled down for the rest of the year, getting used to his new role as father.
By early 1999, he had begun work on his next rock album, Alchemy. Released in September 1999, this album gave many of Yngwie's hardcore fans something they'd been hoping for: a return to his heaviest roots and themes. Of this album, Yngwie said, "I wanted to make an album where my playing was as extreme as possible, with no thought to its commercial value. I wrote all the lyrics, using topics that are most interesting to me, such as Leonardo da Vinci." Yngwie explains, "I chose this title because 'alchemy' is where science and magic meet - the science of the recording process meshed with the magic of the music." For this return to the "Rising Force" sound and approach, Yngwie chose Trilogy singer Mark Boals, who outdid himself on the demanding, often operatic vocals Yngwie crafted for Alchemy. The album also featured the stunning graphic design of Ioannis of Vivid Images, which departed from the usual "photobook" CD liner design for a total design concept that incorporated a separately illustrated panel for each song. Alchemy was heralded as Yngwie's "guitar manifesto" for the new Millennium, once again blazing a trail for others to follow in a "quantum leap" forward into the next phase of his career.
Goodbye Lewis Entertainment, Hello Spitfire
Early in the year 2000, Yngwie hired new management, replacing Lewis Entertainment which had not been able to advance his career satisfactorily in the USA. His new manager, Miami businessman Michael Spitzer, brokered Yngwie's contract with Spitfire Records, which released Yngwie's album War to End All Wars in November 2000, as well as his entire Japanese back catalog. Spitfire backed a media publicity blitz in the USA, resulting in Yngwie's best selling album in the USA in years.
Yngwie's life has been a continual series of ups and downs, and the beginning of the new Millennium was no exception. The successful launch of Yngwie on a new, aggressive USA label got underway with a "guest artist" slot on label-mate Dio's Magica Tour. Following this highly visible month of touring, Yngwie launched his own headlining ambitious 45-date American tour in March 2001. For the first month of the tour, rave reviews from fans poured into the Fan Club and across the Internet. But this success was short-lived, when two band members quit the band in mid-tour, leaving Yngwie with no way to continue the tour and forcing the cancellation of over a dozen remaining USA dates.
Fans were devastated, and the Internet became saturated with rumors of who said and did whatever to ruin the tour. But with typical Malmsteen determination, Yngwie put these setbacks behind him and immediately began auditioning new band members to take on the overseas portion of his 2001 WAR tour, with the hope of rescheduling the lost USA dates after his return from Japan.
In addition to rock touring dates in Europe, Asia, UK, and South America, the second half of 2001 also brought Yngwie his first opportunity to perform his critically acclaimed Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar , with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo. The DVD/CD/VHS package of this groundbreaking performance became Yngwie's first release of the year in January 2002, with numerous offers to play the Concerto Suite for other orchestras around the world.