Adelaide-raised, American-based guitarist, singer, songwriter Orianthi is back in Australia with her partner, former Bon Jovi guitar legend Richie Sambora, playing tunes from the pair’s new RSO recordings. AM’s Greg Phillips caught up with Orianthi just prior to the tour for a chat.

Life has been good to Orianthi Panagaris. For a musician, it doesn’t get much better than jamming with your guitar heroes such as Carlos Santana and Steve Vai as a young teenager, then graduating to being lead guitarist for music icons like Michael Jackson and Alice Cooper not so many years later. She has released solo albums, acquired guitar endorsements, gained much peer kudos and carved out a successful international career of your own. Living in West Hollywood for seven years, Orianthi also became part of the Hollywood music scene glittterati, hanging out at the Sunset Marquis and Chateau Marmont with friends like Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa, Dave Stewart and fellow Australian musician extraordinaire Tal Wilkenfeld, among many others. To top it off, over the last few years Orianthi has hooked up both musically and romantically with former Bon Jovi guitar legend Richie Sambora, traveling the world making music with her partner in a project they call RSO. However, good fortune hasn’t just landed on Orianthi’s lap, everything she has gained has been earned through her tremendous work ethic, amazing guitar skills and she has consequently become a genuine guitar heroine to millions worldwide.

Orianthi and Richie have been talking about the new music they’ve been creating for some time but for one reason or another… quite possibly contractual issues … nothing saw the light of day until late 2017 when two EPs, Rise and Making History were finally released. A full length album will also land in February this year. “We had a lot of meetings with our label, BMG Sony and we just felt that this was the way to do it,” she says about why the album didn’t come first. “We have something like 22 songs recorded and the full album will come out soon in February. We just felt like putting a bunch of tracks out on the first EP Rise and then Making History, our second EP just came out a couple of days ago. We just thought we’d break things up a bit and release things that way, as we have so much more material coming next year on top of the album and we can’t wait to get back into the studio to record more.”

The title of the latest EP, Making History may seem like a grand statement but Orianthi sees it more pragmatically. “People are saying well, you’re making a very strong statement by calling it that but I feel like we’re all making history every day with what we do,” she tells me. “Especially for us, with every show, we’re making memories together. It’s like a huge statement but it’s not … it’s a personal thing for everybody as well, because every day you’re making your own history.”

All of the music released under the RSO moniker to date showcases both artists individually as well as together, scratching all of their itches and negating the need for either artist to return to solo projects for the time being. “The cool thing about doing this project and everything we do together is that we have solo tracks and then we have tracks together,” Ori explains. “So for the people that (laughs) … don’t like me … they still have the Richie stuff on there. You know, it’s funny on Instagram or Twitter, you get the real Bon Jovi fans … they are beginning to turn around but Richie and I love making music together and just hope that people dig it. There’s like 3 different records in what we do. There’s Richie by himself, me by myself and then there’s us together. As artists I think you have to have that room to be able to create and say things you want to say, so we have that as well.”

Living now at Richie’s Calabasas property, outside of the Los Angeles area, the pair make great use of the isolation and home studio facilities, constantly writing together in an organic manner with no rules dictating their creative process. “It’s always different when we come up with stuff,” says Ori. “He’ll come up with a riff or I’ll come up with a riff. It might be around the piano … using marimbas … anything that is laying around. I think people will hear that when they hear the EPs and full album, that every song has a different feel to it but it also flows together so well. We’re really proud of it. So many people ask about whether we fight over who is going to do the solo? It’s funny because it just happens naturally. Richie might take one and I’ll take the next or sometimes we’ll just play together. Some of the songs like Walk With Me, we are playing together. Then there’s the song Take Me, where he plays a beautiful flamenco part. I play the solo in Masterpiece. The way it goes is the way it goes, there’s not much talking about it. If you’re feeling it, put it down and we’ll have a listen and maybe we’ll decide we both should be playing or maybe not.”

As you’d expect from two guitar aficionados, the new RSO recordings feature a wide array of guitar tones. “Yeah we used a lot of different guitars for different personalities or textures,” says Orianthi. “And Bob Rock, the producer is always wanting to experiment too. He spent so much time moulding the sound for this album. Richie was using his ’59 Les Paul and I used my PRS’s and a 53 Tele. We had a whole bunch of things going on. We wanted to create something that we hadn’t done before.”

The recordings were also not short on celebrity guest spots, with The Doors legendary guitarist Robbie Krieger laying down tracks, as well as Paul McCartney’s drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. Ori’s former boss Alice Cooper was another who came to the party, adding an interesting vocal take to the mix. “Robbie Krieger came over and played on a song that you’ll hear that song soon,” Orianthi explains. “That was wild. He came over for dinner and then came into the studio and as soon as he plays his guitar, it’s like you’re at a Doors concert. It was a kind of a trip. We also had Alice Cooper on a song called Together on The Outside that Richie and I wrote. It kind of has this unusual feel to it, a dark feel in a way. So we thought for him to lend his voice to it would be perfect. He was on tour and he said, wait until I get to Transylvania and I’ll record some vocals on my iPhone from Dracula’s castle, so that’s what happened.”

Armed with a swag of new material, Orianthi and Richie are excited about their return to Australia in January for a series of concerts, some headlining and others as part of the Under The Southern Stars shows. The latter offers RSO the opportunity to play on a bill with Australian icons Jimmy Barnes, Diesel, and Richard Clapton. I was keen to know if Orianthi was a fan of Diesel’s guitar playing while growing up in Adelaide. “Definitely,” she says without hesitation. “He had that song Tip Of My Tongue and I played that song in my cover band when I was 15. I just loved his playing, his vocals and whole vibe. Jimmy Barnes is an Australian legend of course. I listened to a lot of Cold Chisel when I was growing up. I actually played a show in Los Angeles, one of my first shows there, with Jimmy Barnes and he had some of his kids in the band as well. He’s a super sweet guy and just amazing. Richie and I are really excited about playing that festival.”

With Bobby Rock and his signature huge production sound being all over the new RSO recordings, Orianthi was initially reticent about how these new songs might translate to the stage but having put the new show together, the pair are more than happy with the results.
“We thought it would be a bit tricky but no,” she says. “Our keyboard player is amazing and he just got all the sounds going and we figured out our guitar tones. Our bass player is amazing too and we just kind of got it going. We had it happening for the PBS Special we just did in Chicago. We shot an entire concert video which will air next year. Everything was pretty much played live and it worked out really well. We have a brand new show, it’s a new band. I think for people who saw us last time… it’s very different. Before we were playing a lot of covers and old material but now we are playing brand new music that we have written and there’s a brand new energy.”

And after the Australian tour and for the rest of 2018?
“We are mapping it out now as we go,” she says without giving too much away. “There’s a lot of exciting things coming up that I can’t talk about just yet. We’re doing a Led Zeppelin tribute, which I can talk about. It’s going to be at Carnegie Hall in New York in March I think and that’s going to be pretty freakin’ cool. We’re both Led Zeppelin fans and Richie is also friends with Jimmy Page. I did a strange press conference in China with Jimmy Page once for a concert which never happened. He’s a really cool guy though but for now we’re just really looking forward to bringing this new music down and playing some shows back in Australia.”


January 6th : Harry Elliott Oval, Tuncurry (NSW)

January 7th : Hastings Foreshore Reserve, Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

RSO’s own dates
January 10th : RSL Club Southport
Special guests : The Rich and Famous 

January 11th : The Shed at Aussie World, Sunshine Coast
Special guest : Asa Broomhall

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