Yngwie Malmsteen likes to wear all black on-stage and play fast as hell on a Fender Strat through a wall of cranked Marshall amps, so you might think that Ritchie Blackmore is his hero.
“Okay, let’s correct that,” says Malmsteen when I mention that Wikipedia names the six-string legend from Deep Purple as “his most important guitar influence”. “Have you read my book?” he asks from a tour stop in Cleveland. “I released a memoir last year called Relentless, and everything that you have ever heard about me is put to rest in that. It includes all the personal stuff, the technical stuff, equipment, musical journey, you know.
“I grew up in Sweden, and in Sweden it’s, like, a socialist country—we didn’t have anything. It’s black and white, everything. One TV channel. And my sister gave me Deep Purple’s Fireball for my eighth birthday, so I was eight years old in a country that didn’t have any media anywhere, so of course the impact was amazing, to hear that music. By two years later I knew how to play everything note for note—Made in Japan, all this—but I became frustrated with the fact that it was all pentatonic scales. Pentatonic blues scales are what guitar players play, and I got really frustrated with that because I was playing all the time.”
As Malmsteen explains, he didn’t find a respite from his pentatonic blues until the same sibling who turned him on to Purple brought home some early Genesis records.
“They have much more interesting chord structures and melodies and much more difficult things to actually learn and play,” he relates. “So then I realized that that’s actually mostly baroque classical music that Tony Banks, the keyboard player in that band, brought in. So I went direct to the source and started listening to Bach and Vivaldi and then eventually Nicolo Paganini. My whole style is based on baroque classical music and the virtuoso violin of Nicolo Paganini. That is what I do with Marshall stacks and Stratocasters.
“So I have absolutely no influence from Ritchie Blackmore at all,” he concludes. “Nothing.”
So much for the accuracy of the world’s free encyclopedia. But what about its sordid details regarding Malmsteen holding his fiancée hostage at gunpoint, or being involved in that drunken airplane incident?
“Those two things are not true,” he stresses. “Having said that, yes, I was a bit of a wildman.”
What we can confirm about Malmsteen—or his current Guitar Gods tour with Guns N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot, instro-rock ace Gary Hoey, and former Scorpions axeman Uli Jon Roth—is that Roth has to sit out all the tour’s North American dates due to visa problems.
“I think he’s amazing,” notes Malmsteen, “and I think it’s a shame that he can’t come along. But this is not [about] one person, this is an event, this is a big crazy guitar thing. And everybody brings something. I do what I do, and Bumblefoot does what he does, and Gary Hoey does what he does. And then we play together and jam, so it’s really good, you know.”
Guitar Gods plays River Rock Show Theatre on Saturday (June 28).