Any guitarist proud of their calluses and pasty complexion will correct you in a heartbeat should you mispronounce this name: Yngwie Malmsteen. Since performing with Steeler in 1981, the Swedish "neo-classical" guitarist has thrilled guitar geeks with his arpeggio-ridden, largely instrumental works. Now that's great and all, but I'm no guitar virtuoso, so I sought out the biggest fan I know--who also happens to be my brother-in-law--to find out just how one catches the "Swedish shredder bug."
Derek Taylor is a professional audio engineer/mixer (and self-proclaimed ex-shredder) here in Dallas with his name on albums by the Burden Brothers, Bush and others. In a way, that's thanks to ole Yngwie. See, back in 1984, a young Taylor was perplexed over what to request for Christmas: a new Fender amp or a new disk drive for his Commodore 64 personal computer. "I thought all you could do was Motley Crüe. I had learned all the Crüe songs, and I was getting bored," Taylor says. "Then I heard 'Hot on Your Heels' by Steeler." The next day, Taylor headed to Golden Triangle Mall and bought the last copy of Steeler's album. After that, Taylor says, "I completely worshiped Yngwie. I didn't know you could do that on a guitar. It was because of Yngwie I chose the path of rock."
For those of us who don't speak fluent guitar, the cult of Yngwie is a bit of a conundrum. "It's music for guitar players and no one else, because, really, no one else is gonna give a shit. All rock and roll up to that point, excluding the prog rock bands of the '70s, was based on blues. His sound was derived from classical music. It had the intensity of heavy metal with the technical prowess of classical," Taylor says. "He's far superior to Eddie [Van Halen] and [Randy] Rhoads, but both were far more impactful [sic]. If you were into the guitar and gymnastic technique then you loved it. Yngwie was the thinking man's Eddie Van Halen."
Honestly, I never expected to find such enthusiasm in Malmsteen's fans. What I found was that, in Taylor's case (and that of at least three other fans I talked to), many Malmsteen fans have taken cues from the icon by continuing to study the guitar past mastery. But they're still just kids when it comes to talkin' Yngwie.