Jennifer Batten Interview: Playing With The King Of Pop


jennifer batton interview 128x71 1Jennifer Batten Interview: Playing With The King Of Pop

Jennifer Batten Interview: Playing With The King Of Pop

In this interview, we catch up with the legendary guitarist, Jennifer Batten, as she tells tales of touring with Michael Jackson and Jeff Beck.

Jennifer Batten Interview

This interview was originally conducted by Paul Rigg for Planet Guitar

Imagine what it would be like playing lead guitar live in front of the biggest TV audience ever… and then jamming with the man regarded by many as the best guitarist in history? Jennifer Batten has done both – and much more. Today she talks to Gearnews about these extraordinary moments and what goes on behind the scenes…

Gearnews: Last time we spoke five years ago you were touring with a Michael Jackson Tribute band, and in 2019, you started collaborating with dancer Rodrigo Teaser; how do you go about creating a show that is different?

Jennifer Batten: I am not involved in the creation of the shows; I come in as a guest and generally play half a dozen songs. To have a great show you must have top musicians and then, as Michael did, you have got to add the wow factor with special effects, LED screens, and new exciting things happening every five minutes. Putting a show together like that is not something you do in a weekend. I am the beneficiary of having toured with Michael in my resume, so I can just jump into different tributes. However, they all do the songs in different keys and formats, so I have to have an iPad to remind me that ‘okay, ‘Beat it’ is in C sharp tonight’, so I don’t forget it! [laughs]

Roreto Di Cherasco, Italy. 03rd Nov, 2017. Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson's guitarist) performs in Merula at Roreto di Cherasco.

Jennifer Batten performs in Merula at Roreto di Cherasco, Italy. 03rd Nov, 2017

GN: How are these shows being received?

JB: Really well. Obviously, the youngest people never got to see Michael, so that is the closest they are ever going to get to diving into wonderland. It seems to make people very happy and emotional – when we do Man in the Mirror, I see people just break down and cry. Perhaps they are feeling close to Michael. It’s a good thing.

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Eddie Van Halen’s solo

GN: ‘Beat it’ came out in 1982 and you’ve been playing it since then; how do you keep it fresh?

JB: That solo is a challenge, it kicks my ass! I have to try and dominate it every night. There are certain harmonics that need to pop out and if it doesn’t happen, I’m just bummed.

Obviously, I have a lot of respect for the song and Eddie Van Halen’s solo is one of the finest; it has so many different textures and techniques and makes so much sense. Of all the solos out there, I am glad that that is the one I got to cover. And those 16 bars bought me a house! [we both laugh].

GN: The ‘Bad’ tour also enabled you to build your own studio; what is it like?

JB: I have some great photos on the wall of me with Jeff Beck, and Billy Gibbons, and Michael and I at the Superbowl [the 1983 concert that was beamed live to 1.4 billion people].

GN: And perhaps a Washburn Parallaxe in the corner…

JB: Yes, I have been using a Parallaxe for a while. Six months ago, I purchased a John Suhr. I usually like to use the same guitar all the time, but I really took to the Suhr.

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Touring with guitar idol Jeff Beck

GN: It would be many guitarists’ idea of heaven to tour with Jeff Beck. But, as one of the world’s leading guitar players, what could you possibly learn?

JB: He was such a transcendent player. We never sat around trading licks or talking about gear much. I learnt to listen with him. I would joke that he could listen to Ornette Coleman and the Spice Girls back-to-back and glean something from each. We would be watching British Idol, or whatever, and he would be swearing, but would pick up things that I didn’t – a snare EQ, or some little thing that was fascinating.

Hanging out with him for many hours in the studio or on the bus, there was always a piece of gold. Like, for example, he once said ‘if the drums and the groove are great, you don’t need much else’. That is such a Zen thing to say when most guitar players are trying to show all our shit all the time, you know?! But he only put in what was needed. He’d go to unpredictable places and pull you along in the story. He still slays me.

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A Beach in Sardinia…

GN: Was there any concert that stands out?

JB: Italy was our first tour and I think in Sardinia the concert was right on the beach. It was summer in Italy and I was on stage with Jeff Beck. If I ever felt I arrived somewhere, it was that night. It was magical.

GN: How will you remember him?

JB: I can’t put it into words. I got turned onto him when I was 13 or 14 and he’s been my favourite guitarist ever since…

GN: At the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) you met jazz guitarist Joe Diorio, who you also said was hugely influential…

JB: Yes, I guess he was on a parallel with Jeff. Before I joined the school I went to a GIT weekend symposium and it was way over my head because I only knew pentatonic scales and bass chords and all these jazz guys were talking about theory and substitutions. At the end of the symposium Joe played and he just grabbed me, because he was so fresh, so different from the other players.

GN: After so much success many lose control; how did you keep yourself grounded?

JB: I dabbled in drink in my late teens but when I turned 21 at GIT, I thought ‘it is time to get serious’ and I stopped drinking. But in those three years with Jeff Beck I drank more than I did in my whole life. It was just one long party! Afterwards, my liver said ‘thank you’ when it was over! [gesticulates a prayer and laughs].

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Stained glass and Steampunk

GN: Away from music, are stained glass and steampunk still your passions?

JB: I haven’t done stained glass for quite a while but at one point I had three kilns in my garage! When I left LA 20 years ago, I had a year off, did art classes, and took to stained glass, followed by fused glass, and firing beads. I sold almost all of it, but it costs more than you make. And with steampunk, if I had a month free, I’d do whacky stuff like fantasy airships made from toilet floats – the copper ones make a great airship! [laughs].

I have a band in Portland called Jennifer Batten & Full Steam, and we all dress in steampunk gear; there is something super-intriguing about it. I love the visuals of it.

GN: Are you happiest on stage or at home?

JB: There has to be a balance. When I’m on the road I always bitch about it. I was ‘over-flying’ for 10 years and wanted to be home – then Covid hit, be careful about what you wish for!

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Future Touring

GN: Can we expect any more solo material from you?

JB: Not unless I get a sugar daddy! It takes so much time and effort, and everybody gets your material for free now; there’s no return. I did Scherer Batten with vocalist Marc Scherer and flew to Chicago and did some sessions and then they wanted more, so that was easy, but doing a solo project is like aaah! I like the model of just doing one song and putting it up on iTunes, but there again you make 50 cents a year, so it doesn’t make sense.

Batten explains that in the summer she plans to do festivals with her local band, when she will do 80’s covers. As we close, however, she teases that afterwards she has an exciting potential tour that she can’t talk about! I push her to tell us, but she shakes her famous peroxide hair and laughs out loud: “Noooo, it’s too early to talk about!”

More about Jennifer Batten:

  • Official artist page
  • More Interviews

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