Orianthi: the 10 records that changed my life
If there was any kind of generation gap in Orianthi Panagaris's house, it certainly had nothing to do with music. The Alice Cooper shredder and solo star, who picked up the guitar at the age of six, says that both of her parents kept the stereo humming with a wildly disparate array of artists and genres.
"My dad used to listen to Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton," she says, "and my mom liked Michael Bolton and Roy Orbison. She was pretty big into country music, too. So there was a wealth of music being played in the house, and I kind of took it all in."
Before she was out of her teens, Orianthi's way with a guitar had attracted the attention of idols such as Steve Vai and Carlos Santana, and while she certainly put in the time woodshedding to records by her six-string heroes, she stresses that the music of her youth also inspired equally important talents – like moonwalking.
"Who didn't want to dance like Michael Jackson?" she asks almost rhetorically. "I know I did." Of the late superstar, with whom she rehearsed for his planned This Is It concerts in 2009, she says, "He was everything to the whole world, especially with Thriller. No matter who you were, you wanted to move like Michael. You wanted to be him. Thriller was the record you listened to while you made believe."
These days, Orianthi says that she listens to music for a variety of reasons: "Sometimes I want to hear something fun to cook or bake to; other times, I need specific songs to to lift me up. I'm always amazed at how records can make you feel like somebody else understands you." Several years ago, she released a song called Courage (on the 2009 album Believe), which struck a similar chord with listeners around the world.
"I’ve gotten letters and tweets from fans telling me how that one song helped them through though times," she says. "You just can’t ask for more than that. To think that a song you write – not just the lyrics but the mood, as well, the feeling you’re putting across – can matter that much to somebody, it kind of makes you realize you’re doing your job."
On the following pages read Orianthi: The 10 Records That Changed My Life.
Santana - Abraxas (1970)
“My dad played me this album when I was maybe 11 or so. The front cover was so cool and trippy. It reminded me of the whole Woodstock experience.
“I would put on the vinyl and listen to it for hours. Oye Coma Va, Black Magic Woman – at this point, I was really dedicated to learning the riffs and solos. Shutting everything out and playing along to those songs just felt like the most natural thing in the world to me. Carlos’ touch and tone really spoke to me. I could tell even then that he was one of the most unique players around. I still play this record. It’s one of my ‘go-to’ albums.”
Jimi Hendrix - Band Of Gypsys (1970)
“Jimi and the new band recorded this at the Fillmore East in 1969. Astonishing performances and an incredible record. Ezy Ryder is one of my favorites. The guitar playing on that one is remarkable.
“There was something about Jimi that was different from other guitarists in that he changed the way people heard the guitar. He was brilliant in the studio, of course, but I really like the rawness of these live recordings. You can hear him responding to the other musicians, but he’s every bit as creative as he was in the studio. That's pretty special.”
Eric Clapton - Unplugged (1992)
“I used to watch the video a lot, and then I got the CD. I remember sitting and trying to play along on my acoustic guitar to Layla. I loved how intimate the songs sounded – you felt like you were right there in the room with Eric.
“It wasn’t my first exposure to the music. My dad would play the classic Clapton albums, and I knew Cream, so I was familiar with the music. But the vibe on Unplugged was so different from the originals, more laid-back. It’s like what they always say about BB King – all you have to hear is one note and you know it’s him. Even on an acoustic, Eric Clapton has that same quality.”
Roy Orbison - A Black And White Night (1988)
“This is another video I watched before I got the CD. It was originally a TV special in which Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and all these amazing people joined Roy Orbison to celebrate his career and sing his songs with him. Roy was a beautiful writer, and his vocal range was extraordinary. It’s something you just have to hear to believe.
“I loved learning these songs as a kid. When I would listen to people like Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, it wasn’t about playing leads or anything; it was more about learning to appreciate songcraft and getting lost in the feelings the records brought out in me. Few people could set a mood like Roy Orbison.”
Michael Jackson - Thriller (1982)
“This album was part of so many people’s childhoods; it certainly was a big part of mine. I still play it, too – it’s one of those records that’s sort of timeless. Getting the opportunity to play some of these songs with Michael is something I’ll never forget. You never think that something like that can actually happen to you, and then it does. Incredible.
“The videos, the beats, the melodies, the production – if there’s such a thing as a perfect record, it’s Thriller. I think all the kids around the world were trying to learn Michael’s dance moves. He was super-cool in every way.”
Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble - Texas Flood (1983)
“My dad played me this album when I was about 12, and it really inspired me as a guitarist. I tried to get everybody in school to listen to it, but they weren’t into it. They wanted to listen to Top 40. I even put up fliers to start a band: ‘Looking for people influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, BB King.’ Everybody looked at me like I was crazy.
“Stevie played with so much fire. There was just no halfway when it came to him and the guitar – he tore it up. Pride And Joy is one of my absolute favorites. Stevie is so well known for his soloing and his incredible vibrato, but people should really check out his rhythm playing. He put his whole body into it. Pride And Joy is a great example of that heavy, swinging rhythm sound of his.”
The Beatles - With The Beatles (1963)
“Growing up, I listened to The Beatles quite a bit. My dad would play their videos, so they were always sort of there. It’s hard to pick a best Beatles album because they’re all great, but I have a great attachment to this one, maybe because it’s their first.
“All My Loving is one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard. That's a special one. The whole album is filled with excitement. I wasn’t alive when it came out, but I can get a sense of how The Beatles changed everything whenever I hear it.”
Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings (1990)
“Everything on here is so raw and mysterious. When I made my last record, Heaven In This Hell, I listened to a lot of Delta blues, and this collection was one I found particularly inspiring.
“There’s his guitar playing, of course, but also you have his voice, which is both eerie and comforting. The whole sound of the recording is haunting – it takes you back to another time, into another world almost. I love how it was all one take. It’s like a real document of who he was, at a time when he was laying down the groundwork for the blues.”
Howlin' Wolf - Blues From Hell (2011)
“There’s a few Howlin’ Wolf albums that I really love, but this album is my favorite. It’s like the best of his work all in one set. Again, my dad exposed me to him. He showed me a Howlin’ Wolf video, and I was blown away. There was so much grit to his voice. I became a fan right away.
“There are certain records that make me want to pick up my guitar. I don’t try to copy the players per se, but I get kind of invigorated and I want to shake things up. Howlin’ Wolf have a very identifiable guitar style that you can’t copy, but it’s good to soak up the vibe and turn it into something that’s your own.”
Elvis Presley - Jailhouse Rock (1957)
“I wanted to be Elvis when I was a kid. I asked my mother if she could make me an Elvis suit that I could wear to school – that’s how much I loved him. But I wanted to be young Elvis, not ‘bling’ Elvis in the white Vegas outfits. My mother wouldn’t do it, though. “No, you won’t make any friends,” she said to me.
“I used to come home and play his records. The sound of the recordings drew me in, but his voice was the real star. He was such an incredibly unique singer, and I don’t know if he gets the kind of credit he deserves. Sure, he had all the things about him – his moves, his vibe, the whole ‘Elvis thing’ – but none of it would matter if he couldn’t sing. Jailhouse Rock is a fantastic record. It’s him during a peak period.”