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.
Front and Center: Acclaimed Guitarist and 2016 She Rocks Award Honoree, Jennifer Batten
by Pauline France
We are honored to feature today’s Front & Center subject and 2016 She Rocks Award recipient, Jennifer Batten.
Best known for having played guitar for Michael Jackson’s three solo world tours as well as the Superbowl XXVII, Batten has also toured and recorded with British guitar icon Jeff Beck for several years, recorded three solo CD’s, written two music books, and released three instructional DVD’s with truefire.com.
Batten continues to tour the globe with performances and multimedia one-woman shows that feature guitar playing in synch with films projected onto a giant screen. Batten regularly holds seminars, including her recent “Self-Empowerment for the Modern Musician Experience” series, geared toward providing the modern musician with tools available to help boost creativity, time-effectiveness, and new digital age income opportunities.
Learn more at www.jenniferbatten.com.
WiMN: What is the biggest lesson you learned from working with the king of pop?
JB: The value of entertainment on top of the music. People want to see a show these days. Just playing music isn’t enough because they can see you on Youtube without leaving the couch. They want to know they’re getting a piece of you live that will be different than on line. That can mean stories, dancers, special effects etc. In my case, for my solo show, it means films and stories as well as guitar improv. Michael’s music was only the foundation of a phenomenal show.
The second thing would be the value of mega rehearsal. Prior to working with him, I’d usually play a new song with a band in the day and perform it on stage for the first time that same night. It was always a cause of anxiety. But with Michael rehearsals were so extreme, there was no wondering what the next chord, or the form, or the next tune was. So in the end 100% of your focus was on performance.
WiMN: One of your biggest idols growing up was Jeff Beck, whom you ultimately ended up touring with. Can you share how your working relationship came to be?
JB: I merely wanted to meet him and get an autograph. I thought I could pull it off since I knew I’d be in London on the MJ Dangerous tour. I worked all the angles I could think of and got Sony to get him VIP tickets to Jackson at Wembley Stadium. Then… MJ canceled the friggin’ show after two openers went on! I was able to call Jeff and arrange a meeting the following day at the studio he was recording at. I gave him my debut CD as well as a video I’d just received of a piece that UK MTV had just done with me doing “Flight of the Bumblebee.” I checked that autograph off my bucket list and went on my way thinking I’d never see him again.
He called several months later after finally hearing my CD and said he wanted to cut a CD together. I toured and recorded with him for three years.
WiMN: When people think of a female guitar player, you are often the first person to come to mind. Who did you look up to as a role model when you first started to play guitar?
JB: The Beatles, Stones, and Monkees. Also my Dad was always playing jazz records after work and on weekends. His love of music and high regard for the artistry had a big influence. In my teen years I was into the blues and then discovered Jeff Beck, and that sent me on a whole other path.
WiMN: If you hadn’t been a guitarist, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
JB: I listed forestry as a choice of careers while in high school as I was into backpacking at the time.
WiMN: Congratulations on being inducted into the 2015 Guitar Player magazine Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement! What do you think are the key ingredients that helped you get to where you are now?
JB: Thanks! That really came out of left field but was a big bonus after being on the road last summer for a few months, and carving about 10,000 miles in the RV. The awards are a big feather in the cap.
WiMN: What do you think are the key ingredients that helped you get to where you are now?
JB: Love of music is number one, and visualization. I think people feel the degree of your passion for your instrument, and it’s infectious. People always want to be inspired, as do I. You have to immerse yourself in your passion and then you magnetize opportunity.
WiMN: 2015 kept you busy with Fishman, Digitech, Washburn, D’Addario and Lock-It clinics, and your own seminar titled “Self-Empowerment for the Modern Musician Experience.” What were some of the biggest standout moments from your tour with these clinics and seminars?
JB: Everyone can look up the five tour vlog chapters I did, which are on my YouTube channel in the “Tour Vlogs” playlist. There’s some pretty silly stuff in there as well as a ton of the highlights.
Most of them are in the vlogs, but connecting to people in the Self-Empowerment seminar was the bomb. And hearing back from some of them on how pumped they were afterward was a real pay-off. That was just the beginning of where the concept will go.
I’ll also be doing an online streaming version this winter for all the people that missed it, or whose cities/countries I didn’t come to. It’s the proverbial “time to give back” in my life, and I have a hell of a lot of experiences to share. Info will be posted on batten.com when it’s nailed down.
WiMN: What is a little-known fact about you?
JB: I’m a hermit. I LOVE to be alone. After the kind of intense stimulation you get on tour, I’m perfectly content to be alone 23 hours a day off road. I have two dogs and two cats, and I’m good to go. And I have a big crush on Brad Paisley :-).
WiMN: Do you have advice for young women who might be considering a career in the music industry?
JB: Learn your craft and never stop growing; that’s what will fill your soul. The fame thing is hit or miss – fairly shallow and usually very temporary.
WiMN: What is in the works musically for 2016?
JB: I just returned from China and will be enjoying the early winter at home working on the next level of the Self-Empowerment for the Modern Musician seminar for streaming. I’ll be touring the U.S. with Uli Jon Roth and Andy Timmons in late February. Dates can be found here. Then I’m off to Europe in May.
WiMN: What does it mean to you to receive a She Rocks Award?
JB: It’s pretty heartwarming, really. You just do what you do in your life, not with the goal of receiving awards. But to be recognized as a good influence, especially just when I’ve launched the Self-Empowerment seminar, is a little sign that I’m going in the right direction.
When I joined Michael Jackson’s band in 1987, I thought the female musician revolution was upon us. Wendy and Lisa were in Prince’s band, and Billy Idol had a couple of different women playing keys in his bands. Then…nothing.
Now 30 years later, I think the real revolution is starting to take off. It’s still extremely lopsided and unbalanced gender-wise, but now that anyone can post their performances on YouTube, you see tons of young girls kicking ass.
I found out last summer that there are more girls in the 140 School’s of Rock across the country than boys. I just hope that whatever influence I may have out there, that a healthy percentage of girls picking up a guitar will take it way beyond three chords and singing about their boyfriends. If you’re going to dedicate your life to music, you have an infinite amount of growth ahead of you. It never ends.
I find my shows (and I’m sure the February tour as well) will be 95% males in attendance. Usually females attending my shows are Michael Jackson fans, and although I usually try to play one of his tunes, my solo stuff couldn’t be further from his genre.
Maybe in the next five or 10 years the percentage will even out. I think WIMN and She Rocks awards is helping to get the conversation going. Since the Internet is now in most homes with decent speeds, change is happening much faster in the past in all areas.