Women have fast fingers, just as fast as men's. All it takes to verify this is to check out a few female classical violinists playing Tchaikovsky’s concerto and you’ll realize that, hell... this is way faster and more complex than most of the stuff the hottest male rock guitarists have ever done. So my question has been, for years, why aren’t there more guitar gods who are women? Goddesses, if that works better for you. It’s like the lead guitar slots in bands have been rationed according to the "Guitarist Boy’s Club" rules book, which says – “Women can be singers, of course, and drummers, that’s cute, and even heroic bass players, like Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads, or Kim Deal of the Pixies, but not serious guitarists.” It may have been that women were turned off by the whole phallic guitar thing, but it seems like that particular cliché can be dismissed pretty easily these days. There was Bonnie Raitt playing her electric, and she’s a decent slide player, but she’s always been more symbolic as a woman guitarist in terms of inspiring younger players than anything else. There's the awesome Caroyln Wonderland, who everyone should know about, but don't. Wondering? Click here to find out more.
But in the guitar hero category, why are no great huge crunching roaring power chord mindbending Eddie Van Halen type solo players of the female persuasion? Lita Ford broke guitar ground years ago, and she's pretty good, but she’s not going to rival any of the big boys. Guitarist Kaki King is a female guitar virtuoso of the highest order, incorporating classical, folk, jazz, indie and experimental electronic music into her playing. She’s in an unclassifiable niche that draws ardent admirers and fans, but she hasn’t poised herself to break into the mainstream.
Enter Orianthi Panagaris, or as she’s better known, Orianthi. Born
in Adelaide, Australia, she was playing the acoustic guitar at six, when she started listening to her father’s records – "Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Cream, Santana… he was into guitar players that are real songwriters," she says. Van Halen, Whitesnake and Def Leppard were other influences. When she turned 11, she saw Carlos Santana play live, and was deeply affected by the experience. She persuaded her father to buy her an electric guitar, and that was it. Seven years later, she’d sent a CD to Carlos Santana, and when he came through Adelaide, she was invited to jam with him at soundcheck. He brought her onstage that night to play for the real crowd for over a half and hour, getting a spot to solo. 18 years old.
Now she’s 24, she’s played or toured with Steve Vai, ZZ Top and Prince. She’s the real deal. (See Video 1- Red) Carlos Santana said of her, "If I was going to pass the baton to somebody, she would be my first choice." (Video 2 - Purple) Oh, and a fellow named Michael Jackson was going to be using her in his “This Is It!” tour. She appears in the “This Is It!” movie, which brought her serious name recognition in recent days, (Who’s the girl guitarist in Michael’s movie?!) along with playing with Carrie Underwood at the Grammy’s. October saw the release of her new CD, Believe.
Believe is a slickly produced showcase record, which may be a smart move in terms of getting her known to the public. Orianthi is pretty, looks great on her video of the single, “According to You,” (Video 3 - Blue) with her blond bangs and eyeliner, bee stung lips, purple nail polish on flying fingers as they take off along a technically perfect Eddie Van Halen style rapid fire solo. The song is straight out of Avril Lavigne territory, a lament/kiss-off to boy who just doesn’t get her, but hey, guess what? – there’s another boy who does. Teen girls will eat this up and love that the singer who's got the guitar strapped over her shoulder is the one playing all those amazing riffs, not some guy in the band. There’s huge power in the fact that she’s not just strumming a couple of chords you can’t hear anyway, she’s using her guitar to rip the asphalt off the street. Orianthi’s voice is good, she knows how to use it, and all in all it’s an irresistible pop rock song – one that we’ve heard before though, and one we’ll hear again.
Orianthi has co-writing credits on all but two of the songs on Believe, and she partnered with the best songwriters money can buy– the likes of Desmond Child and Andreas Carlson, Steve Diamond and Andrew Frampton. Together they’ve come up with a batch of catchy but predictable pop rock tunes that have flash and style and manufactured grit, but not the degree of heart and soul that this young woman deserves. There are exceptions – the instrumental guitar duel with Steve Vai, “Highly Strung,” (video 4 -Black) which is a rip-roaring homage/throwback to 80’s arena rock, the ironic neo-country rock of “Think Like a Man,” the hard rocking “What’s It Gonna Be,” and the one song on the album she wrote solo, the bluesy “Drive Away” – these songs sound more like what she’s really wants to play. She’s got soul in her fingers and she’s got it in her voice, and it may be that on the next CD she’ll have the courage and experience and leverage to do it all her way. Dig into her real roots, maybe play some hard electric blues, some retro psychedelia, Hendrixy stuff. That’d be an interesting record to hear.
On You Tube, Orianthi posts a very charming series, “Orianthi’s Guitar Run of the Week,” (Video 5 - Pink) where she plays an impossible guitar lick several times, slowing it down a little a few times, and then says, “So, hope you like it,” as if everybody watching can play it now. Hopefully, thousands of young girls will be glued to their computers with their Fender Starcasters in their laps, working on those licks, until finally one day the “Guitarist Boy’s Club” is no more. Rock on, Ori.