Biography, career, gizmo and tinnitus.
Interview: Ketil Stokkan.
Created: 2006-12-21 10:34:00
Jennifer Batten began rising from the guitar underground in the late ’80’s. At that time she was in 6 different bands at once, playing everything from straight ahead rock to metal, fusion and funk. A major turning point came in 1987 when she was selected from over 100 guitarists to play in Michael Jackson’s highly skilled band. She then toured the world for one and a half years, playing for over 4.5 million people. Jennifer´s first solo album, “Above, Below, and Beyond” was released in 1992. Then she was asked again to join Michael Jackson for his upcoming “Dangerous Tour”. She accepted, and went to Europe and Japan. On January 31 in 1993, she joined Jackson to partake in Superbowl 27’s half time entertainment. The show aired to 1.5 billion people in 80 nations around the planet. It was the largest audience in television history.
Her video credits have included Natalie Cole’s “Wild Women Do”, Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker”, Sara Hickman’s “Take It Like A Man” and a feature interview in Hot Guitarist’s video magazines premier issue. Being one of the most skilled guitarists of modern times, Jennifer Batten has recorded guitar tracks on numerous tracks as a session guitarist. She completed her second solo record “Jennifer Batten’s Tribal Rage” just before she was again asked to join Michael Jackson for a two year world tour supporting his newest double album “HIS tory” in 1997.
In the spring of 1998, Jeff Beck asked Jennifer to join his band. They joined forces on the CD “Who Else” and toured the world for a year and a half. Jennifer continued in Jeff’s band in the support of his 2001 release “You Had It Coming”, and she is currently working on a new album. In this interview she talks about her career, a gizmo (“guitar dampener”) and tinnitus.
– How on earth did you come up with an idea to audition for a guitarist gig in Michael Jackson’s band?
I was lucky enough to hear about the auditions when I was teaching at Musicians Institute in 1987. I was getting tired of teaching and really wanted to travel and play. I was a Jackson fan for years so it was a happy time and the band members were great. Sheryl Crow was on that tour as well as Ricky Lawson and Greg Philingaines.
– You know you´ll never get rid of the brand that says “That´s the Mohawk Blondie who plays with Michael Jackson”. Your career as a session guitarist, music-teacher, band-member, solo artist or anything else will come second to the MJ display window for a very long time. Feelings
– It was a great adventure and opportunity for me. I’m happy I did it, and proud of my 10 years with him. If a percentage of Jackson fans still remember me and are interested in my music, I’m happy. But it’s more the Jeff Beck fans that would appreciate my brand of music, I think. Jeff gave me more of a stamp of approval to the snobbier guitar Nazi crowd.
– Having toured the whole planet with MJ and gotten paid well to boot, what comes next?
I’m 1/2 way through mixing my CD for his label. The title isn’t final yet, but everything will be posted on the site when appropriate.
– Have you never felt threatened by all the testosterone in rock and roll? Or has it been a mission to show the world that loud and fast guitars also slip comfortably well into the hands of a hot chick?
– I ignore the testosterone kind of like I ignore the world wrestling federation. I just do what I do and send it out into the universe for whoever is drawn to it. As a rule, I don’t hang out with guitar players. I’m aware of the jealousy that’s out there due to the cool gigs I’ve gotten, and that energy is poisonous to be around.
– I´ve never been impressed by those who believe in God given talents. I always say that in the end it´s really all about discipline and hard work. Care to comment?
– I think there’s a bit of a blend of the two. I think some folks are naturally gifted and others have to work very hard for a similar result. Still others work hard but are hopeless in the end.
– By the way,- what about the Jeff Beck tours? The two of you play so differently, but yet it´s still all about how different personalities affect what you can do with a guitar. Is this an issue that you care to say a few words about?
– He’s always looking for something fresh to light a fire under him. The last thing he’d want is someone who plays just like him. That would be too creepy and suffocate him. He wants people to send him in a new direction. Just adding another guitarist was fresh for him. Jeff hadn’t played with another one since Jimmy Page in the Yardbirds. I think the era I was with him was the beginning of an unusually productive time for him. He’s really been on a roll ever since and I think he’s enjoying himself more than in the past. He’s as fresh as ever and an amazing source of creativity and growth
– I know about your gear (Washburn JB 100 guitars with Floyd Rose tremolos and Seymour Duncan JB Jr./ Duckbucker pickups, Peavey amps and Digitech effects), but I´m curious about the “Guitar Dampener”. This might not be a millennium revelation since the cradle of electric guitars, but it´s certainly not very well known to many guitarists around the world. What is it, and what does it do?
– Just a note …. I’ve switched from Peavey to Marshall. The damper keeps the open strings from ringing out. I started using one called the Kleen-Axe string damper in the early 80′, and I am now having one manufactured in China, which will be distributed worldwide.
– Can you help me with pictures or drawings?
– You can see a history of the device on my site at www.jenniferbatter.com. It’s especially useful for slide guitar and tapping but I use it for everything.
– Doesn´t this bother you when you´re playing power-chords (A, E, D) in between licks?
If you need the first fret or harmonics or open strings, you flip the arm out of the way. I keep it down most of the time. It gives a much cleaner performance in the end.
– Rock and roll has always been a loud place of work. Many musicians have developed tinnitus, a Latin word for ringing? It´s usually described as a ringing noise in one or both ears, but some describe buzzing, humming, whistling, tunes or songs. Tinnitus is not itself a disease, but an unwelcome symptom resulting from several underlying causes, one of them being loud music. The sound perceived might range from a quiet background noise to a signal loud enough to drown out all outside sounds. Incidentally, I know that you´re the right person to ask about this. Care to tell?
– I’ve had a sort of constant white noise in my ears for years but it was magnified after 3 years on stage with Jeff Beck. I also have a sporadic low sub tone in one ear. My ears would be raw and in pain after a show and well into the next day during those years.
– Any remedies, medication, surgery, plugs?
– There is a therapy consisting of an ear plug type device that is designed to retrain the brain into thinking it’s not there by sending out a masking type pitch. It’s said that everyone has it but most people don’t focus on it. There are many therapy centres. One is at www.ohsu.edu/ohrc/tinnitusclinic. I haven’t pursued therapy though.
– How do you live with the symptoms?
– I actually enjoy the white noise part and find it comforting in loud environments like a crap hotel. When I’m trying to sleep it comes in as a comforting wave machine. People pay money for that and I have it for free 🙂
– Any good advice to a whole generation of guitarists on the early steps of loud rock and roll? How do you avoid tinnitus?
– Although I don’t use it on a regular basis, using in ear monitors seems like a good way to go or the custom plugs where you choose how many db cut you want. I couldn’t use it with Jeff though as the set would go from a whisper to 11 and I had to be ready for anything and was paranoid the plugs would mask a cue or two.
– I would like to end the interview by saying that you´re an inspiration and a leading star to musicians all over the world. Thank you very much for your time! I know we didn´t talk about your glass- hobby, but well just let the readers look that up on your personal website: Jennifer Batten.com Thank you for being forthcoming!