Did you know that late Michael Jackson’s guitarist was Orianthi Panagaris? At least when Michael Jackson was still alive, the last tour he prepared for when he passed away was with Orianthi as guitarist. Like many other people who saw the “This is It” Michael Jackson documentary movie, and of course (as a guitarist) his blonde bombshell shredding guitar god was more than a little noticed by me. The funny thing about it is as you watch the movie you figured MJ picked her as guitar player because of her looks. Then at the point when “Beat It” comes up in the movie and she rips a solo out NOTE FOR NOTE of the Van Halen solo (and then some) – your eyes get big and you’re like “holy shit!”. Her playing throughout the movie was stunning, enough to make me (and half the world) wonder – who the hell was Michael Jackson’s guitar player for the O2 concerts that got featured in the This is It movie?
A few keystrokes later once I got home and I learned a lot (through google) about Orianthi Panagaris. Her name is Greek, and she’s from Australia. She’s been playing guitar since she was 6 years old. At the time the MJ movie came out she was 24. Now almost a decade later she’s almost 34. She been playing PRS guitars since she was 11 years old. She was enamored with Sanatana and claims to have worn out all of his video tapes because she played them so many times. As the story goes she dropped out of school at the age of 15 to study and perform guitar. She wrote Santana and sent him some tapes of her playing classical songs. She didn’t hear back – until he toured Australia, and he sent word for her to come to the show and come backstage to meet him. He liked her so much that she ended up performing with him that night on stage in concert. You can see why! Since she has performed with Prince, and Steve Vai, and you might remember seeing her on stage with Carrie Underwoood at the Grammy awards. Carrie asked her to be in the band after that performance, but she declined. Read her complete bio on Wikipedia.
What the bio doesn’t tell you is that in 2016 or so she met Richie Sambora, who had been recently fired from Bon Jovi for not being able to get sober. I don’t know if she met him before or after rehab, but she seems to have been with him ever since. In 2017 Orianthi and Richie even put out an EP. Even though he’s 24 years older than her, it doesn’t appear they are splitting up any time soon. It also seems like Orianthi hasn’t done much touring or music making of her own (other than a song for an Indian movie) since. Has her relationship with Richie ended her career? Hard to say.
Listen to Oriathi’s first appearance on Australian TV (before she was famous):
Here Orianthi rips it up at NAMM in 2006
This is a Orianthi performing “You Don’t Wanna Know” at Guitar Center:
Here’s Orianthi in 2007 playing “Song for Steve” with the Paul Reed Smith band:
Orianthi tears it up at NAMM on stage in 2007:
Here Orianthi plays at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads guitar festival 2007:
Orianthi’s interviewed about Michael Jackson’s death on CNN:
If you thought that Orianthi was just a shredder – you were wrong! Watch her tear it up on acoustic guitar in this video:
This is a video and song Orianthi recorded for Panasonic:
Here’s Orianthi giving a little guitar lesson on her YouTube video channel:
This is Michael Jackson last concert footage with Orianthi Panagaris on guitar
Here are some pictures of Orinathi as well – enjoy!