Originally published in Guitar World, December 2009
Blonde bombshell Orianthi talks about her gig with Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana and what it's like being in a male-dominated field.
In the days after Michael Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, millions of his fans were transfixed by a video that showed him in one his last-ever stage rehearsals. Undoubtedly, many of them were also spellbound by Orianthi, the striking, Paul Reed Smith–toting blonde guitar player sharing the stage with the King of Pop.
“It’s still hard to watch that film,” says the Australian-born guitarist, whose full name is Orianthi Panagaris. “To this day, I can’t believe that Michael Jackson is really gone, and that I got a chance to play with him, however briefly.”
Orianthi was spotted by the entertainer’s tour director while she was playing with country artist Carrie Underwood at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Had fate turned out differently, Orianthi would by now be deep into Jackson’s 50-date This Is It concert run at London’s O2 Arena. Instead, the 23-year-old guitarist is moving ahead with her solo career, which includes a just-finished, vocal-oriented pop/rock album produced by Howard Benson and scheduled for release by 19 Recordings/Geffen this fall.
An attractive female in a profession dominated by men, Orianthi is familiar with the usual preconceptions. “I think people see me and they can’t get past my looks or the fact that a girl can be serious about playing the guitar,” she says. Carlos Santana, her idol, was certainly not blind to her talent. When she was just 18 and building a name for herself, Orianthi was invited to jam with the guitarist while he was performing in her hometown of Adelaide.
“Carlos is probably my biggest influence,” Orianthi says. “I play Paul Reed Smith guitars because of him, and I get a lot of my melodic sense from him: his tone, the way he makes a guitar cry. If I can come even remotely close to what he does, then I’m successful, in my book.”