Interview to Jennifer Batten

Interview by Elena Arzani to Jennifer Batten, the pioneering guitarist of Michael Jackson, Jeff Beck and other prestigious artists...

(Photo courtesy of the artist)

We, at Tuttorock, feel very privileged to have the opportunity to welcome here at TuttoRock. Thanks for your time! You pioneered a new approach to guitar’s play, and managed to establish yourself in the music industry, collaborating with some of the greatest artists that wrote its history. How did it all started with you and music? And did you first get discovered?

I started playing guitar at age 8. My first guitar was electric which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. The Beatles were huge back then and I wanted to be a part of that culture. I took lessons right away and learned to read music. My sister already had a guitar and I was jealous, and glad to finally get my own.

You’ve started playing the guitar in your early childhood. What was your first guitar and the first song you ever learnt?

The electric guitar I got was some cheap off brand thing but good enough for me. There’s a photo of it in my Momentum CD art work.

In 2016 at the Hollywood Bowl, you played for a special “50 years of Jeff Beck” concert. How has Jeff’s work inspired you with the guitar?

Jeff is the ultimate guitar player. He invented so many techniques everyone uses today. His sound is the envy of everyone. It’s so hifi, he could literally play at 160db and it wouldn’t hurt. He is connected to the heavens. He’s the only guitarist from that era that is still inventing and searching for new sounds. It was truly inspiring to hang out with him for 3 years and listen to his opinions on music and observe him in different environments.

You are no slouch at conventional-style playing, can you tell us something about your phenomenal two-handed tapping technique?

It was inspired by a fellow classmate at the Guitar Institute of Technology, Steve Lynch. We got a seminar by a super great player every month, like Pat Metheny, Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour. One month it was Emmett Chapman who invented the Chapman Stick instrument (used by Tony Levin with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel). The Stick is all tapped and it gave Steve the idea of tapping on the guitar. This was before Van Halen got big. I loved what he was experimenting with and after we graduated, I took a lesson from him and learned enough to start experimenting on my own. I was obsessed with tapping which ended up in my version of John Coltrane’s "Giant Steps”, "Flight of the Bumblebee" and my original tunes "The Swarm”, "Cruzin’ the Nile" and others.

Do you have a most memorable concert or a particular occasion you performed with Michael that is prominent in your memory?

The Super Bowl XXVI was a great memory because it was so different from our other shows and was aired to 1.5 billion people around the planet. Also opening night for the BAD tour in Tokyo will always be in my memory. It went great and was the payoff for 2 months of intense rehearsals. The whole time we travelled in Japan was extraordinary because the culture and sights were so different from home. Also getting to tour all over Europe and see such things as the Forum in Rome was wonderful. Most people have to pay a lot of money to get to do that, and I was paid TO do it. We only played 2 or 3 shows per week so we all had time to explore the cities we were in.

You’ve participated in 3 mega-tours by Jackson, and some your solos, such as the one of Beat It, are embedded forever in our memory. What has been your contribution to MJ’s music? And how was to be working with him?

My job with Michael was to recreate the sounds from his hit records so that was my contribution as well as the staging and look. He was behind the creation of my look and costumes. He hired an artist to draw up a look for all performers and then the costume makers and makeup and hair artists tried to recreate that look for us us from the paintings. I already knew the Beat It solo from playing it in a cover band for several years prior to getting hired.

How did it feel to be playing in front of millions people?

It always felt surreal. It was very dream-like.