Orianthi has an ax to grind in a male-dominated world


People call Orianthi (just Orianthi, like those one­named Brazilian soccer stars) a lot of things:

Michael Jackson’s guitarist

—That hot chick who shreds

—Pop star


For many other observers it’s “work in progress,” a
work that’s all messed up by that second entry above, not only because
the guitar is in a bad way these days. It’s hard to be confronted with
a 25­-year-old, shredding, long­-tressed blonde and keep perspective in
the male-­dominated rock world.

We got hold of Orianthi Panagaris by telephone from Wilkes-Barre, Pa.,
where she was taking a break from rehearsal. The Australian­born
guitarist talks about as fast as she plays, with an accent that doesn’t
manifest itself during tunes such as her hit “According to You,” the
cut that made a lot of people wonder, “Nice song. But who’s playing
guitar for her?”

“I’ve heard that before, and read it,” Orianthi says.

“I mean I guess it’s kind of the norm. There aren’t
too many female guitar players. If a guy is playing the song, you’d
think he was playing the solo, but I’m a female playing it. I hope it
changes; I hope more than that comes out.

“I wish there were more (female guitar players), but
I don’t know. … It’s a guy thing. It’s kind of like male ballerinas.
There aren’t too many of them around.”

Indeed. Here’s another complexity with Orianthi: How
to balance the pop-star thing with the rock-star thing. Guitar geeks
want what they want, but does a young lady rolling into the arena to
hear “According to You” really want an extended guitar solo? Still,
this is exactly the kind of song that she will want to hear, about a
woman’s unflagging self-esteem. But the guitar work draws your
attention more than the song itself. Orianthi talks of inspiring girls
to pick up the guitar just like her, when back in the day she was
inspired by seeing Santana. Which brings us to yet another complexity:
Is virtuosity inspiring or intimidating?

“When I saw Santana for the first time, I was really inspired,” Orianthi says. “Same with Stevie Ray Vaughan. … He’s just like a fireball. He’s incredible, and it makes you want to pick it up.”

We’ll buy that, but it’s hard to wonder who inspired more kids to take up the guitar and start bands, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix makes jaws drop, but did you really think you could play
“Voodoo Child”? Contrast that with hordes of kids banging out “Smells
Like Teen Spirit.” We won’t know for a while yet if Orianthi is going
about it the right way, but being the anomaly goes only so far.

Just ask the likes of Jonny Lang who, once the novelty of being a white kid who played blues guitar wore
off, wasn’t the same smokin’ hot commodity. It’s complex.

We do know that Orianthi has the pedigree.

She opened for guitar icon Steve Vai as a teenager and has a duet out with him now, “Highly Strung.”

She’s played Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival, and Santana gives her props.

She was a YouTube sensation before she was a pop
star, with her guitar lick of the week videos. Then there’s the
“American Idol” performance, and an incendiary moment with Carrie Underwood. She already has a guitar named after her, the Orianthi Signature model by Paul Reed Smith. What’s next?

“I have the next record that I have already started
writing,” Orianthi says. “I want to collaborate with different artists.
I’m still touring, might get a bit of a break, then write a portion of
the next record. It will be a little rockier, maybe. … I’m interested
in keeping it new and not sounding like the last record. I don’t want
to play the same song with a different arrangement.”

She’s on tour now and had things gone differently, would have been just coming off the 50-date Michael Jackson “This Is It” tour.

She was to be the lead guitarist, thanks to her “Beat It” solo. Jackson, who has had a female lead guitarist before (Jennifer Batten), was floored, and the rest was history of a sort.

“It’s getting close to a year, and I wish he was still with us,” Orianthi says.

“He was just an incredible artist.”


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