Rock guitarist Orianthi Panagaris has just released her sophomore full-length Believe.
While the album gleans respect thanks to Panagaris’ prodigiousness and a notable history with highlights such as performing alongside fellow fret board gurus Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton and Steve Vai (not to mention backing Prince and Carrie Underwood during her recent Grammy Awards performance), the Australian-born/Greek-bred instrumentalist has an even greater credit to her name.
Panagaris was the guitarist for the late Michael Jackson on his unrealized This Is It string of comeback concerts. So despite the thrill of seeing her own talent gain accolades, the dextrous dame understands why people feel more inclined to discuss her brief tenure as six-string samurai for the King of Pop.
“I was shocked when it happened,” she reflects with a hint of melancholy. “I went to try out for the band playing the solo for Beat It. I didn’t know what to expect but he was so happy with the way I played, he hired me on the spot. I couldn’t believe it.”
Over the course of the ensuing three months, Panagaris (who typically utilizes her first name) and the rest of the This Is It band routinely rehearsed with Jackson and his troupe, creating a purportedly dazzling return to form for the disparaged King.
Yet, as we all know, mere weeks before the show was to go on, Jackson passed away. Reflecting, Panagaris reveals that Jackson’s essence captured her so deeply, she feels little remorse at not getting to strut her stuff for the string of 50 sold-out gigs.
“We didn’t get to do the shows but we got the chance to play music with him for three months,” she smiles. “He was so giving to all of us. He wanted us all to have our moment and put everything he had into it. He was happy and enthusiastic about it.”
“People say he didn’t want to do it but you can tell with (the This Is It film) how much he really did. We’re never gonna get to play with him again but we got to see how wonderful he was as person and an artist. We were also the last people to be around him. We’ll never forget that. It’s life-changing.”
Such an astounding experience is also the reason Panagaris forgives minds for inquiring more about her time with Jackson than her new record. She expects it, she laughs, noting that overall, she is merely thankful to have been part of such a historical moment.
“It doesn’t bother me at all that people ask about my time with MJ more than Believe. I understand that. (The album) was done before I was hired. I have a great band that knew how working with MJ was a dream come true. I don’t think it hindered it at all. I’m grateful to have been a part of (This Is It) and now I’m focusing on this.”