Orianthi Panagaris, better known simply as Orianthi, is a Greek Australian musician, singer-songwriter and guitarist.She is perhaps best known for being Michael Jackson’s lead guitarist on his ill-fated ‘This Is It’ concert series and as the lead guitarist in Alice Cooper’s live band. FOCUS introduces her to the New England, where her close family relatives live.
Where are you from, and how long have you been involved with the music industry?
I grew up in Adelaide, but have been living in Los Angeles since 2006. I picked up the guitar at 6 years of age and studied classical guitar until I was 11, when I went to my first Carlos Santana concert. That night listening to Santana’s tone, I knew I wanted to learn electric guitar. My Dad, who is a guitarist, bought me my first PRS guitar, and I never put it down. I’ve been playing professionally since I was 15, when I opened for Steve Vai at his Adelaide show.
Tell us about your amazing career so far … what have been some of the highlights?
First major highlight was opening for Steve Vai and then jamming with Carlos Santana at his concert in Adelaide when I was 18. I got my first record deal when I was 21 with a major label, and I relocated to Los Angeles in late 2006. I have jammed with Prince, played the Grammys and the Hollywood Bowl with Carrie Underwood, and worked with Michael Jackson for three months rehearsing for his This is It tour. I played on A.R. Rahman’s Rockstar movie soundtrack. I toured Australia with Michael Bolton and also with John Mayer. I’ve jammed with Johnny Depp and Steven Tyler. Played at the Hendrix Museum to honour Carlos Santana and have also played with Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix’s bass player). Currently I’m Alice Cooper’s guitarist, and I have been in his band for over 12 months. I have also been on the cover of Guitar Player and recently Guitar World – this means a lot to me, as I read these magazines when I was growing up.
How did you become the first female member of Alice Cooper’s band?
I met Alice about 3 or 4 years ago when we were on American Idol together and played School’s Out. I was making my record, and I got a call from Alice asking if I would join his band. Alice is an icon in the music industry and the most amazing entertainer and it was an honour to be asked, so I agreed immediately.
I had to learn 25songs in a week to go on tour with him. We played our first show at The Whisky in LA, then toured Australia, New Zealand, and all around the world. The band members are awesome and they’re like my musical family on the road.
What is your link to the New England?
I have family in Uralla. Uncle Greg (my Mum’s brother), Auntie Tracy (who is the Advertising Manager of the New England FOCUS) and my cousin Eric live there and Myles and Ben grew up there, but now live in Sydney. We’ve caught up in Sydney when I have been touring, and they have come to see my shows. It’s great to have their support in the audience.
Will you be returning to Australia sometime soon?
Yes, I hope to tour this year. I have been back in Australia with Alice Cooper, Michael Bolton and John Mayer, and I hope to be back there again soon. I miss Australia and want to spend more time there in the future.
Tell us about your next album and when it will be released?
Heaven in this Hell is out now in Australia; it was released on April 5. It is Voodoo Rock Blues with a hint of Country on some tracks. It was recorded in Nashville with Dave Stewart. I met Dave about two years ago at a ‘Stand up to Cancer’ benefit show, and we hit it off straight away. I made my album in Nashville with him.
I’m a big Country fan, and I love Nashville. It’s a real musician’s town. The songs are sort of rock and country. I worked with some amazing songwriters, including Blair Daly and Bobbie Huff and of course, Dave, and I wrote a lot of songs while in Nashville. Nine tracks were recorded there and the others were recorded in LA, and we used the same guys from Dave’s studio in Nashville in Hollywood. It’s been a real blast working with Dave, because he is such an incredible songwriter and producer.
What advice would you give to young people who aspire to a career in the music industry?
Work hard, practice, stay focused and give it all you’ve got. Don’t wait for things to come to you; go out and make it happen. I recorded my first demo at 14 and sent it out across Australia and to the US and UK, got feedback from industry back then, and I built on that. I am 28 years old now, so I started building my career fourteen years ago. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Ignore anyone who wants to discourage you from your dreams. There will always be haters and people who want to tell you what you can’t do, but you have to stay strong and just go for it.
Plans for the future?
A world tour and then more albums. There are a number of other projects I am working on right now, and I hope to spend more time in Australia.
Orianthi’s Heaven in this Hell is out now, and you can request the single Frozen on radio. You can download it from iTunes and Amazon, or pick up a copy at your local record store.