Born Lars Johann Yngwie Lannerbach, June 30, 1963, in Stockholm, Sweden; son of an army captain (father) and Rigmor (an artist); youngest of three children; moved to the United States, 1983. Addresses: Record company--Mercury Records, 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019.
Yngwie Malmsteen took the hard rock scene by storm in the 1980s with his lightning-fast, explosive guitar style. He garnered significant attention through his work with such bands as Steeler, Alcatrazz, and his own Rising Force. However, his popularity grew more significantly as a solo artist, performing instrumental pieces and songs with guest vocalists. Despite several personal setbacks, Malmsteen continued recording and performing his own style of neoclassical rock well into the late 1990s.
Malmsteen was born Lars Johann Yngwie Lannerback in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1963. His mother, an artist named Rigmor, and his father, an army captain, divorced not long after Yngwie was born. He was the youngest of three children, including his sister Ann Louise and his brother Bjorn. Yngwie discovered his love for music at a very young age. He took piano and trumpet lessons as a child, and his mother had bought him an acoustic guitar when he was just five years old, but he didn't touch it until he was seven.
On September 18, 1970, seven-year-old Yngwie Lannerback watched a television special on the death of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix. It was on that day that he picked up his guitar. "As a kid, you think it's cool to be a soldier, a policeman, or something, and I thought Jimi Hendrix was my hero type of guy," Malmsteen told Jas Obrecht in Guitar Player . "I took the guitar down off the wall and started playing. I remember playing until my fingers got all sore, and I put Band-Aids on them and kept going."
When he turned ten, Yngwie decided to change his last name to his mother's maiden name, Malmsteen. Around the same time, he skipped school often and focused all of his energy into music and improving his guitar playing. His mother recognized his talent early on, and allowed him to stay home from school with his records and his guitar.
As his passion for guitar playing grew, so did his interest in both rock and classical music. He explored the sounds of bands like Deep Purple and composers like Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, and Beethoven. "Bach is my god," Malmsteen explained to Obrecht. "Classical was the peak of the musical history of man. Music hasn't developed since classical music; it stopped being creative." Malmsteen discovered one of his major influences, Nicolo Paganini, through Russian violinist Gideon Kremer's performance of 24 Caprices . Malmsteen used these influences to combine his love for classical music with rock guitar.
Malmsteen began playing in bands even before he became a teenager. His brother Bjorn played drums in a few of the early bands, such as Burn and Power. By 1976, he settled into a spot with a band called Powerhouse, which lasted two years. Powerhouse focused their music and show around their guitar virtuoso, performing long instrumental breaks. However, their Swedish audiences, used to more pop-flavored bands like ABBA, didn't respond favorably. Malmsteen continued his journey in hard rock with a vengeance. By the age of 15, he had lost all interest in school and quit for good.
Three years later, the Swedish army attempted to recruit Yngwie Malmsteen as an officer, based on his high intelligence test scores. He fought the enlistment by pretending to be crazy. He held a gun to his head and swore that he would kill himself before joining the military. The recruiters believed him and sent him on his way. That same year, the 18-year-old Malmsteen and several of his friends recorded a three-song demo tape for Swedish CBS Records. The tape included the songs "You're Going to Break Them All" and "Horizons." The record company asked Malmsteen to record the songs over again with Swedish lyrics instead of English. The guitarist refused and continued his quest for representation and distribution.
In 1982, Yngwie Malmsteen sent a demo tape to a music executive, Mike Varney, who had a column in Guitar Player magazine and owned his own record label called Shrapnel Music. Varney was impressed by the tape, and not only wrote a favorable review in his column, but invited Malmsteen to Los Angeles, California, to begin recording a solo album. Varney had planned to unite Malmsteen with bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Leonard Haze. Yngwie Malmsteen began making the arrangements to move to the United States when he received an offer to join a band called Steeler, also on the Shrapnel Music label.
He accepted the offer and moved to Los Angeles in February of 1983. Steeler was formed around singer Ron Keel, so Malmsteen couldn't contribute much to the band beyond his guitar solos. But those alone brought him quite a bit of attention in the rock scene. "When I was in Steeler, I turned L.A. totally upside down," Malmsteen told Bill Ebner in Foundations . "Nobody could believe the way I played. They had never heard anything like it."
Malmsteen didn't enjoy being in a band where he couldn't contribute to the songwriting and left the group before their self-titled debut had even reached the stores. From there, he joined forces with singer Graham Bonnett to form another band called Alcatrazz. This time, he had the opportunity to write all the music, while Bonnett wrote all the lyrics. Before the end of 1983, Alcatrazz had released No Parole for Rock & Roll and Live Sentence on Rocshire Records. Still, Yngwie Malmsteen felt stifled. He left Alcatrazz and decided that it would be best for his career to embark on a solo career.
Broke the Speed Barrier
The following year, he released his first solo effort as Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force. The album Rising Force was mostly an instrumental recording. Despite the fact that it received almost no radio airplay, it reached number 60 on the Billboard album charts. The album featured the work of Malmsteen's longtime friend keyboardist Jens Johansson. Malmsteen and Rising Force performed around the world and established Malmsteen's popularity as a guitar virtuoso. Tim Holmes wrote in Rolling Stone , "This kid's obviously very serious about cracking the notes-per-second barrier and doesn't mean to be taken as some heavy-metal clown.'
Yngwie Malmsteen's popularity increased over the next few years with the albums Marching Out and Trilogy . However, his career almost came to an end after a tragic car accident on June 22, 1987. He hit a tree with his Jaguar and broke the steering wheel with his head. He was in a coma for almost a week, then woke up unable to use his right hand. Doctors discovered that he'd suffered a concussion from the ordeal, which damaged the nerves running into his right hand.
Malmsteen refused to give up his career without a fight. He began intensive physical therapy in an effort to regenerate the nerves in his hand. However, he had to fight more than the pain in his body. During the same year, Malmsteen's mother and his main inspiration died of cancer in Sweden. He also discovered that his manager had squandered all of his money, just as he was facing rising medical bills. As he had always done, though, Malmsteen relied on his music to bring him through the tough times.
By 1988, he returned with another album, Odyssey , and the hit single, "Heaven Tonight," featuring former Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner. In February of 1989, Yngwie Malmsteen and Rising Force performed unprecedented sold-out shows in both Moscow and Leningrad. The final performance was recorded and released as the video Live in Leningrad/Trial By Fire and the live album Trial By Fire . Not long after the tour, the band Rising Force decided to disband, and Malmsteen retired the name.
He moved to Miami, Florida, where he recruited a new band of fellow Swedes for the release of his next solo album Eclipse . In March of 1991, he left Polygram Records and signed a deal with Elektra Records. Two months later, on May 8, he married Swedish pop singer Erika Norberg; the marriage lasted less than a year.
In 1992, Malmsteen was able to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams. On the album Fire & Ice, he recorded with a full orchestra. The LP debuted at number one in Japan and sold gold and platinum all across Europe and Asia. However, his popularity in the U.S. had begun to wane.
Faced Challenges and Tragedies
In 1993, Malmsteen faced another year of tragedy. His manager of four years, Nigel Thomas, died of a heart attack in January. Elektra dropped Malmsteen from their label two months later. In July, he broke his right hand in an accident, and in August he was arrested for a false accusation that made international news. His fiancée's mother had called the police and said that Malmsteen was holding her daughter Amberdawn Landin hostage with a gun. Malmsteen claimed Landin's mother made up the story because she didn't want her daughter to marry him. The charges were dropped a month later. By the end of the year, Malmsteen had begun to rebound. His hand healed completely, and he signed a new recording contract with a Japanese label called Pony Canyon Records. On December 26, 1993, he and Landin got married in Stockholm, Sweden.
Malmsteen returned to the studio and released The Seventh Sign in Japan. After the album sold triple platinum there, CMC International Records picked up the distribution rights for Europe and North America. However, Yngwie Malmsteen still didn't resurrect his popularity in the U.S. "I really resent people who say I'm stagnating," Malmsteen told Guitar Player 's Greg Rule. "Think about it like this: Everybody who has a recognizable sound--AC/DC, ZZ Top, whatever--continues to use it. As far as I'm concerned, I've never written better songs or had better arrangements."
Later that year, Malmsteen released two EPs on Pony Canyon, Power and Glory and I Can't Wait , and built a recording studio called Studio 308 in Miami, Florida. "It's a pretty lax vibe, which helps aid in the creativity since there is no `clock' pressure," Malmsteen told Scott Rubin in Musician . "I never played in any studio as well as I do here."
Regained U.S. Opportunities
Malmsteen continued his recording pace with another release in 1995 called Magnum Opus . The following year, he recorded a tribute album of some of his greatest influences, including such bands as Deep Purple, Rainbow, Kansas, Scorpions, Rush, and of course, Jimi Hendrix. Several guest artists such as Joe Lynn Turner, Jeff Scott Soto, David Rosenthal, Marcel Jacob, and Mark Boals joined him on the album. By 1998, he began to receive more recognition in the U.S. He signed another record contract with Mercury Records, a division of his former label Polygram, and released Facing the Animal . However, Malmsteen had yet to garner the notoriety and sales that he received in the 1980s.
"The U.S. doesn't support a wide variety of styles" Malmsteen told Ebner. "If anything, it's extremely trend-oriented. If you're not following what's hot, you're considered old hat. It's not like that overseas. They have a great loyalty for the artists." Whether he gained back his popularity in the U.S. or not, it didn't really matter to Malmsteen. As long as he had the opportunity to record and perform his own music, he claimed that was reward enough.
by Sonya Shelton
Yngwie Malmsteen's Career
Began playing guitar at the age of seven; performed in Swedish bands Burn, Power, and Powerhouse, 1973-78; formed Rising Force, 1978; played in Steeler, 1983; co-founded Alcatrazz, 1983; released Rising Force, Polygram Records, 1984; embarked on a career as a solo artist, 1990; left Polygram Records, 1991; signed contract with Elektra Records, 1991; released Fire & Ice, 1992; dropped from Elektra Records, 1993; signed contract with Pony Canyon Records in Japan, 1994; released two LPs, The Seventh Sign, 1994 and Magnum Opus, 1995; released two EPs on Pony Canyon, Power & Glory, 1993 and I Can't Wait, 1993; released Inspiration on Foundation Records, 1996; signed contract with Mercury/Polygram Records, 1997.
- Selected discography
- Rising Force , Polygram Records, 1984.
- Marching Out , Polygram Records, 1985.
- Trilogy , Polygram Records, 1986.
- Odyssey , Polygram Records, 1988.
- Trial By Fire , Polygram Records, 1989.
- Eclipse , Polygram Records, 1990.
- Fire & Ice , Elektra Records, 1992.
- The Seventh Sign , Pony Canyon/CMC International Records, 1994.
- Magnum Opus , Pony Canyon/Viceroy Records, 1995.
- Inspiration , Foundation Records, 1996.
- Facing the Animal , Mercury Records, 1998.
- Power & Glory , Pony Canyon, 1993.
- I Can't Wait , Pony Canyon, 1993.
July 26, 2005: Malmsteen's album, Unleash the Fury with Rising Force, was released. Source: Billboard.com, /www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/index.jsp, July 29, 2005.
August 2, 2005: Malmsteen's album, Live, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_1/index.jsp, August 9, 2005.
- Audio , August 1998.
- Entertainment Weekly , March 20, 1992.
- Foundations , April 11, 1994.
- Guitar Player , March 1984; May 1985; December 1986; July 1988; August 1994; January 1996.
- Musician , May 1998.
- Rolling Stone , September 12, 1985.
- The Witching Hour Magazine , Winter 1996.
- http://pd.net/yngwie/biography/index.html (September 23, 1998).
- http://www.lewisentertainment.com/yngwie/ (September 23, 1998).