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SWEDISH ROCK GUITARIST IS FINGER-LICKING GOOD

Times Staff Writer

Eddie Van Halen must get tired of this. Every time he turns around there’s another guitar whiz threatening to take over his title as the top hard-rock/heavy-metal guitarist of the ‘80s.

The latest challenger is Yngwie (pronounced Ing-vay) Malmsteen, who is performing tonight with his band Rising Force at the Hollywood Palladium. He may eventually overshadow Van Halen. Malmsteen--the Swede With the Flying Fingers--really is that good.

And he knows it. He’s cocky, with an ego as big as his talent. But you really wouldn’t expect a hot-shot 21-year-old rock guitarist to be humble, would you?

Malmsteen’s first Polygram album, “Rising Force,” showcases Malmsteen’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink solos--searing fusions of classical, jazz and rock elements. His playing has been described by awestruck critics as somewhere between miraculous and mind-boggling.

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Like most musicians who fall into the heavy-metal category Malmsteen doesn’t like being classified that way. But he’s correct in one sense. His music isn’t classic metal-simplistic, mindless and deafening.

“My music is so much more than heavy metal,” he contended. “It has more dynamics than heavy metal. I incorporate classical influences into my music. How many heavy metal musicians do that?”

Music is much more important to him than vocals. The “Rising Force” album is primarily instrumental. The few vocals are performed by Jeff Scott Soto. On Malmsteen’s next album, “Marching Out,” due out in August, he sings only background vocals.

“I’m not a singer and I don’t want to be a singer,” he insisted. “I express myself on guitar. That’s enough.”

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Malmsteen has been primed to be a rock guitar hero since he saw--at the age of seven--Jimi Hendrix on Swedish TV in 1970. Young Malmsteen was so impressed that he began teaching himself guitar. “I’m totally self-taught,” he boasted. “I’m proud of that.”

Since being inspired by Hendrix, Malmsteen hasn’t patterned himself after other rock guitarists. “My influence is classical, from people like Bach and Beethoven,” he said.

In the ‘70s, Malmsteen, working in two bands, was constantly frustrated by the Swedish rock scene. “There really isn’t a music industry there,” he said. “I had to get out.”

In early 1983 he sent a tape to Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records who imported him to California to record in a metal band called Steeler. Malmsteen made his recording debut on the album, “Steeler.” To Malmsteen, his tenure in that band was as pleasant as a prison sentence.

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“Steeler wasn’t important,” he said. “It wasn’t a very good band.” Confining him to that was like putting a diamond in a dime-store setting.

His next stop was Alcatrazz, a band he formed with ex-Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet. That experience also ended on a sour note. “I couldn’t agree with those so-called musicians,” “It was frustrating. I didn’t feel musically free,” Malsteen snapped. “They were treating me like a little kid. They were jealous of the attention they weren’t getting.”

That was undoubtedly Malmsteen’s last experience as a member of a band he’s not leading. “Since I started my own band, nobody tells me what to do,” he said. “That’s the way it has to be.”


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