Orianthi: Rock Angel of Oz
She’s over the rainbow where dreams really do come true.
If the yellow brick road were a dusty highway in Adelaide and the ruby slippers a weeping guitar, you’d be well on your way to finding Australia’s musical “Wizard of Oz.” Despite what you’ve previously heard about flying over rainbows, this Dorothy is a petite blonde powerhouse capable of creating her very own riff tornadoes.
Her name is Orianthi Penny Panagaris. She resides wherever great music is created, and there’s no place like her home.
She’s Got the Music in Her
Born in January 1985 in the province of South Australia, Orianthi started playing music at the age of three. After a few years, her wise father handed her an acoustic guitar to keep challenging her. She was up to it, and at age 11, switched to electric guitar after being blown away by Carlos Santana’s legendary riffs at a concert. 11-year-old Orianthi begged her parents for a PRS guitar like Santana’s until they could do nothing but relent.
Making One Note Sing
Her tiny fingers found it difficult to recreate the sounds of musicians she admired, but she never gave up. The most difficult techniques to master were barre chords and that cool vibrato sound B.B. King did so effortlessly. But Orianthi practiced with the relentless ferocity of a child with big dreams. She listened to King, Santana, and Clapton and learned on her own.
Armed with unbelievable raw talent, Orianthi began songwriting and making demos at 14. She emailed these demos of rock licks and classical music strumming to guitarist Steve Vai, along with a bio. She would ask him what he thought and Vai was more than happy to critique her work to help her develop further as a serious artist. Orianthi continued to perfect her gift, and when Steve Vai next played Adelaide, he asked this emerging young talent to join him on stage. Orianthi was only 15-years old.
Orianthi kept playing, and news began spreading about the rock talent from down under. When an influential legend heard about her, his interest was piqued. At age 18, Orianthi got a phone call from Carlos Santana himself. He was in town and wanted to hear this budding talent in person. She joined them for the concert soundcheck and ended up playing beside her idol on stage the very same night.
The Guitar-Playing Angel
That’s what Santana dubbed Orianthi after hearing her natural magnificence on the instrument. He immediately signed her up with his personal talent management company and predicted an incredible future for the young woman who wasn’t just cute; musically, she would kick your butt. He has stated that she would be his first choice in passing his baton.
Tools of the Trade
Carlos also nudged her toward her first product endorsement with PRS Guitars. Orianthi still finds it cool to be listed under “O” on their website, even though her playing has undoubtedly sold thousands of instruments to Orianthi wannabes. Her preferred instrument is a custom 22, though she learned on a 24.
She also owns a PRS SE Singlecut, and pièce de résistance custom 24 adorned with thousands of Swarovski crystals that she lovingly calls MJ. This one-of-a-kind guitar was fashioned exclusively for her performances on Michael Jackson’s This Is It tour. Jackson had handpicked Orianthi for this honor, and in turn, she honors him by cherishing what would have been the sparkling jewel of her tour with him.
In 2005, two short years after signing on as a professional guitarist, Orianthi debuted her first solo studio album, Violet Journey. It was almost a one-woman affair, as Orianthi composed all the songs, as well as playing guitar, drums, and singing on nearly every track. She even mixed and produced the final cut in her home studio. This accomplishment led to a contract with Geffen Records and a management deal with 19 Entertainment.
Like Billy Squier Said, Everybody Wants You
Orianthi was suddenly in demand everywhere. She did commercials for Panasonic and ads for eco-friendly guitars. She played the Eric Clapton Crossroads Festival and joined her friend Steve Vai at his gigs. Industry buzz among guitar players about this petite powerhouse finally reached Carrie Underwood when Orianthi accompanied her at the Grammy Awards in 2009. Underwood promptly recruited her as her lead guitarist. Her work with Carrie Underwood is what got her noticed by Michael Jackson.
Sweating for the King of Pop
Standing on the stage auditioning for Michael Jackson was one of the highlights of Orianthi’s career and one of the most frightening. She was so nervous the sweat almost ruined her playing. Thankfully the Gloved One loved her and hired her on the spot. The film This Is It, a recording of the prep work that went into his epic tour, immortalizes her work with Michael Jackson. Sadly, due to his untimely death, the tour never happened.
What About Alice
Orianthi found a new gig quickly when Alice Cooper snapped her up for his tour. It was here she caught the eye of Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi fame. The two guitarists immediately hit it off both musically and romantically. A collaboration was inevitable, and in 2018 they released RSO Rise, which quickly spawned hits like Forever All the Way, Good Times, and Masterpiece.
With Riffs Ever Bewitching
What the future holds for Orianthi isn’t known, but her success and happiness are. With talent larger than Red Rock and a heart filled with music, we’re sure to enjoy all the genres this girl rocker can muster and master.