The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.
Throughout July we’ll be featuring artists who are making an appearance at our upcoming Women’s Music Summit.
Front and Center: Guitarist Jennifer Batten
By Tom Gilbert
Most can remember the first time they encountered Jennifer Batten.
At the 1993 Super Bowl, Michael Jackson delivered a stunning halftime show at the peak of his career. Around the world, millions of eyes glued to the TV screen as Jackson delivered all the hits and famous moves in this infamous, magical performance.
It was in this performance where the world was also introduced to our Front and Center subject. Strutting around the stage with her ferocious chops and lightning blonde hair that seemed to touch the sky, in front of our eyes was a guitarist paving the way for generations of female players to come. This was Jennifer Batten.
Since her days touring the world with Jackson, Batten has kept quite busy. After stints with Jeff Beck and others, Batten has focused on her own career as a solo performer and visual artist.
We had the honor of sitting down with Batten for a few questions which we hope you enjoy. You can learn more about Jennifer Batten here.
WiMN: How were you introduced to music as a child? When did you start playing guitar?
JB: I started playing guitar when I was eight years old. I was jealous because my sister had a guitar and I didn’t, so I convinced my parents to get me one for my next birthday. It was very unusual back then, but my dad got me an electric guitar which just may have carved my future.
My father always had music playing in the house. He was a big jazz fan. And I got caught up in Beatlemania at a very early age. The whole neighborhood was into the Beatles and the Stones.
WiMN: Who were your biggest inspirations when you started playing?
JB: When I started taking lessons at eight years old, my influence was pop radio. But in my teen years, I really got into the blues and would spend my entire allowance on blues albums. Soon after that I discovered Jeff Beck, and he’s been number one ever since.
WiMN: How did you get connected with Michael Jackson?
JB: They auditioned 100 people for that gig. Someone from the Jackson camp called Musicians Institute and I was one of two people who had that information passed to them.
WiMN: What did you learn from working with greats like Jackson or Beck? What is one of your most memorable moments performing with these artists?
JB: I think the number one thing I learned from playing with Michael is the importance of entertainment far and above the music. And another thing just as important is the power of lots of rehearsal. We were so polished by the time we hit the stage, that everyone was relaxed and happy and completely prepared to give it our all.
With Jeff, the biggest thing is the power of creativity and listening to just about everything out there. He did a tune on his You Had It Coming CD that was a homage to blackbirds. He interplayed with real bird samples with his guitar. He had just finished lunch in the studio and picked up a spoon and started making bird noises by tapping a spoon on the strings. Who does that?!
WiMN: Tell us about some of the projects you’re working on today.
I am busy as hell right now doing a lot of different projects. This year I’ve already been to Japan and Europe and will go back to Europe in August after I do a West Coast tour with my motorhome. Right now I am finishing up tracks for a Michael Jackson tribute show that I’m doing in Portland with some great singers and a horn section. I have videos that I’ve made that are in sync with every song.
I am also very involved in visual arts these days. For many years I worked with glass, and now I am more into metals. It’s a really good balance for me, and a good break from music.
WiMN: Can you share your experience as a woman in the industry? Have there been challenges?
JB: I have surely run up against prejudice over the years, but in the end I have been lucky to just do what I wanted to do. I have been lucky enough to have been recognized by some great artists and be able to make a living from playing music.
In the end, the gigs that I did not get because of being female would have been a drag anyway. Dealing with unsupportive attitudes is not fun.
WiMN: Can you offer any tips or advice for any women aspiring to enter the music business?
JB: The arts are difficult for anybody whether you’re male or female. There is a lot of power in your intent, belief and passion. I think that completely immersing yourself year after year in your craft and sharing it with people is all you need to think about. Once you’re out there doing your thing, I think energy takes on a world of its own.
WiMN: What can we expect from your workshop at the Women’s Music Summit?
JB: At the Summit you will see my films that I have done in sync with my original tunes. Between songs I will share information about the techniques and sounds that I use. Also, at any time, people are welcome to ask me any questions about my career moves. I’ve had a pretty interesting and successful life, but it has not all been easy by a longshot, so I have a lot to share.
Want to learn from Jennifer Batten in person or ask her a question yourself? Register for the Women’s Music Summit, a three-day event taking place at Musicians Institute July 26-28.