Born to Burn: Yngwie Malmsteen

Born to Burn: Why I Play Guitar Originally printed in Guitar World, October 1992 Yngwie Malmsteen “At first I didn’t think playing guitar was the right thing for me to do. But after seeing Jimi Hendrix on television the day he died [September 18, 1970] I realized it was a really cool instrument to play and not wimpy at all, which was how I originally perceived it. The news happened to be on TV, and they showed a clip of Hendrix burning and smashing his guitar after playing ‘Wild Thing’ at the Monterey Pop Festival. He looked so amazing doing it! He was a fantastic performer and his guitar playing sounded great. I started playing that day! There was an old acoustic in the house that my mother had given me for my fifth birthday. I took it off the wall and started jamming. I was seven years old at the time. “The following year, for my eighth birthday, I got Deep Purple’s Fireball and became totally infatuated with Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar solos — they were so clean passionate, powerful and precise. Then my mother gave me an electric guitar as a gift for painting the house, and I got copies of Purple’s Machine Head and Made in Japan albums and learned every Blackmore solo inside and out. Around that time I also became totally immersed in the melodies, harmonies and chord progressions of the early Genesis albums. Four years later, I got head over heels into classical music. “When I was 12 or 13, I saw a crazy Russian violinist playing some amazing solo violin on a TV program — and I flipped. I had a small boom-box and quickly threw it in front of the TV to record it. I said, ‘Wow, I would love to play guitar like that.’ That inspiration pushed me to expand on the guitar like never before. I found out later that the violinist was playing something from Niccolo Paganini’s ‘24 Caprices,’ and that became — and still is — my favorite piece of music. Paganini’s intensity blew my socks off, and I listened to his music over and over. My goal — and I knew it would be extremely difficult — was to play his violin work on the guitar. Every other guitar player was just copying other guitarists. “From the time I was 13 up until 18 I practiced at least eight hours a day, every day. My health suffered for it — I was losing sleep and not eating properly. Back when I was a teenager, if someone said, ‘Let’s go to the movies or watch some TV,’ I’d always say ‘No, I’m playing guitar!’ I was a lone warrior, totally in love with the instrument. Nowadays, my creative drive is more controlled — I can be sociable. “At first I jammed along to records. After growing tired of that, I became a recording addict and taped myself every day. I was very critical of my playing and very obsessive — each day I had to play better than the day before. I had incredible discipline and was very much an extremist. And no one pushed me to do it — I did it all on my own. Playing guitar was the only thing that mattered. My life revolved around it. “I’m still just as obsessive about playing, but in a different way. I’m comfortable with the fact that I can pick up a guitar and improvise something that I’m happy with. It’s taken me many years to get to this point. And the fact that I’ve had some success makes things even harder on me now. Because people — myself included — expect a certain standard from me. I always have to elaborate or improve on my playing. My success hasn’t made me at all laid-back. That relentless drive is still there.”

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