“I didn’t think I was gonna get the gig because I didn’t sound anything like Yngwie”: Steve Vai on replacing Yngwie Malmsteen in Alcatrazz

The guitar virtuoso joined the metal band in 1984 following Malmsteen’s exit.

Steve Vai has opened up about joining heavy metal outfit Alcatrazz and his reactions to hearing the band’s original guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen for the first time.

In a new interview with Vintage Rock Pod, Vai, who took over Malmsteen’s guitar duties in the Graham Bonnet-fronted band after the Swedish virtuoso’s exit in 1984, reveals how he’d gotten the gig in the first place, saying, “It started out kind of where Frank had basically disbanded the band, got himself a Synclavier, and started working on that.”

“So I wanted to go out and start doing some things. Because I couldn’t understand in my head how I was going to put a solo band together and go out there. So I thought it would make more sense to join an established band.”

Vai explains that like the rest of the guitar world at the time, he too, was impressed by Malmsteen’s musical chops – so much so that he thought he’d fallen short during his Alcatrazz audition.

“When Yngwie Malmsteen hit the scene, he blew us all away,” Vai says. “I mean, he floored us. And when he was leaving that band, I thought, ‘This is an opportunity,’ and I auditioned for the band.”

“I didn’t think I was gonna get the gig because I didn’t sound anything like Yngwie. But I really liked the guys, they were really good guys.”

He adds: “Graham was… He had a great sense of humour, and he was just very kind of… It was my first opportunity to be in a band with somebody that was European. So that was great.”

“But when he would sing, I just couldn’t believe it. The power that came out of his voice, out of his mouth, it was, it was pretty stunning. Because before that, I had never been involved with a singer like that.”

“So everything was kind of new, new, new. It was really good for me because the guys trusted me. Because I was very hands-on, and I could write, I wrote the music. I liked working with Graham, I’d come up with the music, and he would put the melody and the lyrics. And like I say, he was a powerhouse singer and [had a] really great sense of humour.”

Vai’s time with Alcatrazz was short-lived, having stayed for just one album, Disturbing the Peace, before joining David Lee Roth’s solo band in 1985.

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