Why Yngwie is still interesting in a Post-Shred World

I have to admit that I was a hardcore 80's rock guy. I had all of the Ratt, Great White, Crue, et al tapes, and listened to them non-stop in my cool 1984 Z28. I think it was a natural extension of the KISS phenomenon -- guitar-based rock music played by guys in "costume". Warren Dimartini of Ratt was probably my favorite "hair" guitarist; that is probably an unfair characterization, but he was there during the day. His phrasing was, and is great -- very tasty.

Also during this time, a fellow named Yngwie Malmsteen turned-up with a band call Steeler. Ron Keel, the lead singer for the band was from the Nashville-area. The pre-Yngwie Steeler played around Nashville, and always put on a production more familiar to the West Coast crowd than to Middle Tennessee. You know the deal -- lots of spandex, goons, and backstage passes. I remember back about 1981 this guy I had been in a band with competed against Steeler in a battle of the bands in Crossville, Tennessee. As I remember it Ron and Company smoked everybody, and all the locals were kind of bitter. Anyway, Steeler made the move to L.A. to be part of the happening 80's metal scene.

Dude...they were rockin! Yngwie J. Malmsteen rocking with Ron Keel (center) and unidentified "picker" in Steeler.  Ron Keel, Metal God, is still playing, I believe, in Iron Horse

Yngwie J. Malmsteen joined up with Steeler in L.A.   Interestingly, through this connection, Yngwie became part of the local lore in Middle Tennessee. The story among the rock crowd was that "this Swedish guy playing with Ron Keel stole Mike Simmons' licks"! Mike Simmons was a local rocker who played around Nashville with his brother in a variety of different bands. I recall seeing them with Mike "something or other" singing lead and a very cool, rocking British bass player. They had the goods to be big time 80's arena rockers, but never quite got the break, I suppose. Mike was the first guy I ever saw using a Kramer guitar with a Floyd Rose setup -- very killer. However, Mike, in my humble opinion, was not playing guitar in the same league as Yngwie.

Against this backdrop I developed an opinion of Yngwie that he was a kind of an "ego problem" not worthy of my money. "Oh…he's a noodler -- lots of notes, no emotion…", blah, blah, blah. You've all heard it, and probably said it before. Remember -- this is before I refined my powers of analysis.

I remember the first time I really sit down and listened to Yngwie's Rising Force. The album had been out for a couple of years, but I really hadn't devoted any time to it. It was Korea in 1987, and my buddy Ken sent me a copy of the first two Yngwie albums in a CARE package. I have to admit it really blew my mind. I thought that it had been sped up in the studio.

My reaction to those tapes was similar to the one I had the first time I heard Eruption and the intro to Mean Streets. The tone was awesome, and I was just staring at the speakers in disbelief -- I really liked his percussive attack. How could someone do that? Also during this time I was listening to Tony MacAlpine. I thought he was a very musical player, but he didn't have that "gawk in disbelief" quality -- that was probably because he was so good and so refined!

I had taken classical guitar, but I'd never contemplated the complete marriage of the forms; specifically, classical violin stuff through really loud amps. I had listened to a lot of Al DiMeola when I was in high school, and while I thought Al was more musical, Yngwie was just shocking -- that technique! I saw the Dregs when I was a senior in high school (ulp…. 1979), and Steve Morse really confused my thoughts on guitar also. He was so versatile: he played country licks then shredded the next minute. I particularly liked the song "Cruise Control". I saw him again in the summer of 1996, and he was still killer. However, Yngwie was just so outrageous -- more of a bludgeoning than the musicality of Steve Morse.

When I moved to Germany in the summer of 1999, I went through all of my old cassettes. I knew I was going to deploy to Kosovo, so I had to get some music ready for the deployment. I found a copy of Rising Force (a Korean bootleg), and it was a really good breath of fresh air against the Euro-Disco beat and post- Grunge whatever in 1999. If you want to buy one Yngwie album, get that one. However, Yngwie is hard to take in large does. I recommend working up to it.

In 1999, people are still making fun of Yngwie on the alt.guitar newsgroup. The "posters" say all kinds of bad things about him, poking fun at his poor interview skills and his seemingly unstoppable supply of arpeggios. There are also jabs about his weight gain -- how un-PC! Perhaps he has Caloric Surplus Disorder (CSD). I suppose the thing that is lost on the crowd is that of all of the shredders from the 80's, Yngwie is one of the very few that immediately comes to mind as having (1) current name recognition with the new generation of guitarists (2) A signature guitar by a major company -- Fender (3) a touring band, and (4) record sales. Well, it is good to be first, especially if you happened to be a shredder.

Yngwie is still recording, and selling CDs. While he may not be on top of the heap, he still appears in guitar magazines, and generates some level of interest in the guitar community. He can still gather a crowd, even if it is just out of curiosity.

Lesson Learned: The road is paved with imitators, but look who is still active from the 70s and 80s shred crowd: Yngwie and ….. He had a unique sound, and really made an impact on guitar. I also believe he had a huge impact on several generations of guitarists, particularly in making them want to learn music theory. "Hey buddy…it is the myxolydian mode?"  (NOTE:  Some may say Joe Satriani was a "shredder", but I always thought he may have been a little too good and too musical to have that label applied.)

In the final analysis, everyone needs to strive to develop his or her own thing, and go with it. Don't chase trends. Remember that Van Halen exploded right in the middle of the dark days of the disco era!


..and it goes to 11!

Check this out -- this is supposedly the 1972 Strat Yngwie is playing in the photo above.  Dude...Ron Keel supposedly made Mr. Malmsteen install humbuckers in this beast to make it more "rock n' roll".  No one would ever do anything that superficial today, right?

OBTW -- I bought a Yngwie Signature Strat.  See it on the Collection Page.

Click here to go to Yngwie's Official Web Page.


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