Steve Vai recalls playing to a crowd chanting Yngwie Malmsteen's name at his first gig with Alcatrazz

[L-R] Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen
(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

When Steve Vai joined Alcatrazz in 1984, he was yet to take his seat in the pantheon of electric guitar greats. Sure, he'd done time in Frank Zappa's band between 1980 and '83, but with a solo career just one year in, he remained relatively unknown at the time.

Vai successfully auditioned to play guitar in the Graham Bonnet-led outfit shortly after the departure of Yngwie Malmsteen, but as he explains in a new conversation with the Swedish shred maestro, the band's fans were not informed of the lineup change.

Speaking on Malmsteen's new YouTube interview series Coffee Talk, Vai recalled the process of auditioning for the band, and the collective look on the crowd's faces when he emerged onstage instead of Malmsteen at his first gig.

“I heard [that you had left Alcatrazz] and [so] I went down to audition,” Vai tells Malmsteen. “And it was interesting because I didn't play like you – I was expecting that they would want somebody that could really shred, because I wasn't really that guy.”

As Vai explains, he went to the audition and played for the band, but judging by their reactions, assumed he didn't land the gig. “I thought, ‘Okay, they got who they wanted – they found the right replacement for the best that they could do,’” he says. “And then I got a call [saying] that I got the gig.”

He continues: “The first show – I think it was in Riverside [California] – and nobody knew [that you had left]. The majority of people were there to see you. And [I was] walking out onto the stage, and nobody knew that you weren't there.”

While Malmsteen insists somebody must have been informed, Vai is quick to offer conclusive evidence that the crowd were very much left in the dark about his departure.

“Yngwie, as far as I could tell, nobody knew because the entire audience was chanting your name as I was walking to the stage,” Vai laughs. “And [I was] completely unknown. [I was] just this weird guy that [was] not Yngwie!”

Recalling the look of shock on the faces in the crowd when he got up on stage, Vai concludes, “It was hilarious, but I got through it.”

Aside from their respective solo careers, Vai and Malmsteen both play in touring supergroup Generation Axe alongside Zakk Wylde, Tosin Abasi and Nuno Bettencourt, while the pair have previously played together as part of Joe Satriani's all-star G3 shows, documented on 2004's G3: Rockin' in the Free World live release.

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Sam Roche

Sam was Staff Writer at from 2019 to 2023, and also created content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar.