By Melz Durston
“The first that comes to mind is Jeff Beck saying that if the groove is great,
you don’t need much else.”
Jennifer Batten has often been spotted for her wild, bleached-blonde hair and ability to mold herself into her electric whilst shredding like no other guitarist. Having toured the globe (several times over) with the late and phenomenal Michael Jackson on three of his world tours, and latterly, with ex-The Yardbirds frontman, Jeff Beck – Jennifer knows what it’s like to survive on the road, and perform to millions of hungry fans. She also knows, how important it is – regardless of the ilk of guitar you own – to feel the guitar and work with it – or you risk missing the magic of being in the ‘zone’: “If an artist can make you lose track of time, they’ve done their job. They’ve taken you to the ‘zone’ and they’ve probably gone there themselves as well”, she thoughtfully explains.
Julia Roberts starred in the 80s film Pretty Woman which featured hit, ‘Wild Women Do’ on its soundtrack. This music video featured Jennifer Batten on electric guitar.
There’s Julia Roberts wild. And then there’s Jennifer Batten wild.
But it’s probably not this cameo which planted Jennifer firmly on the ‘greatest guitarists’ wall of fame. More than likely, it’s her ability to personify the technique that is Two Hand Finger Tapping – and her epic interpretation of Russian composer, Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous work, ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’.
At eight years old, Jennifer got her first electric guitar – and by age twelve, she had declared her pursuit of making this her sole career goal. She proved she was taking this decision seriously and, at one point, was a member of six different bands.
Growing up heavily influenced by Jeff Beck; Jennifer shared more than just his initials – they both showed an innate ability to conquer all the intricacies of guitar-playing that make it appear seemingly effortless. Alongside Jeff Beck, Jennifer has also widely cited folk-county guitarist Brad Paisley as a personal inspiration – as well as Joe Diorio – and Blues Gods, BB King, and Lightning Hopkins. She also draws motivation from Teresa Russell and Linda Taylor.
Jennifer Batten has established a successful and enduring solo career – including three studio albums which saw her collaborating with producer and Stevie Wonder guitarist, Michael Sembello – on her 1992 LP, Above, Below and Beyond. Her second full-length record, in 1997 – Tribal Rage: Momentum takes from various cultural influences and incorporates African, the Caribbean and Australian tribal sounds of percussion, didgeridoo and steel drums. Her 2008 release, Whatever draws on electronic and samples. This would prove to be a catalyst for her ventures into audio-visual artwork.
Receiving intense tuition from Peter Sprague in San Diego, Jennifer mastered the theoretical skills required to get into California’s Musicians Institute – and she now regularly tutors aspiring guitarists. However, as she explains to Guitar Connoisseur, she isn’t there to prescribe; but to inspire, guide and offer tools – “People have to find their own voices. Music gets into a spiritual depth that goes beyond words but we make an effort to vocalize the best we can. Some folks will get it and others never will. It’s the nature of being human.”
The Two Hand Guitar Tapping (or the Touch Technique) has been coined by guitarists including Dave Bunker, Harvey Mandel, Shangrenade, Django Rheinhardt, Tal Farlow, Steve Hackett, and Roy Smeck. Emmett Chapman discovered an alternative method of tapping and invented the Chapman Stick in 1969 as a means to this end – which leads the way for a ‘free hands’ approach. Jennifer perfected the Two Hand technique at an early age and demonstrated this during the audition to be selected to tour with Michael Jackson – with a rendition of John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ solo. (You can find this on CD compilation, Guitar for the Practicing Musician.) It is this versatility and unabashed creativity to take control and experiment with the most efficient guitar techniques that have taken Jennifer in the direction of guitar tuition.
So, does she have a sure-fire way to success, for any aspiring guitarists out there?
“No, I think you need to be open to exploration and see what path resonates with you. When I was in guitar school, I wanted to be a jazzer but time shifted those desired through many genres, thankfully.” Jennifer tells GC.
She has written two books and her latest project merges audio with visual stimuli. She likens this to the art of DJ-ing: “With DJ shows, there’s virtually nothing to watch but the films. The DJs are guys standing behind a desk.” Jennifer recently has made the conscious decision to combine her passion for glass and metal art (also known as Steampunk Art – a Victorian-era sci-fi style) and general interest in visual art, with her music – partly as an effort to combat the postmodern symptom that sees our attention fragmented and often disconnected – our senses are on overdrive and we are forced to find meaning from this constant culture of bombardment. For better or worse, we also seek this from art and popular culture: Jennifer explains, “I think the public is much more demanding and need much more stimulation than in the past. I call my show a show for ADD. There’s something hitting you every second.”
There’s no getting away from the inevitability of technological progress – “People wanted to be wowed and lifted out of their day to day lives for a few hours. Technology is not going away.”
Does technology have to destabilize and de-authenticate, though?
Not necessarily. Enhancement is essential and Jennifer Batten is as open to this duality as anyone fresh on to the scene now: “I’ve had so many shit experiences in venues that I’ve finally come across the ultimate control which is having the Sensaphonic in-ear monitor with mics built in. You have to be a sensitive person to play music well, so it’s virtually impossible for a musician to not be affected by their surroundings. In-ear monitors are the closest thing you can get to control your environment.” She is also a fond advocate of the Line 6 Variax technology which allows complete choice and control over acoustic settings at the flick of a dial. Her third solo album, Whatever (2008) merges electronics with vocal samples and film.
How do the visuals evolve?
“It’s best when a story is being told. When I can take somebody on a mini journey, that’s the whole point. The visuals have to be compelling but not distracting.”
Jennifer Batten has been playing the same Washburn JB100 model for fourteen years and sees no reason to give up a good thing – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“It’s very comfortable to me. I struggle with some guitars, especially if the necks are large. I’ve started working with a Line 6 JTV Variax – that feels pretty good. A typical Strat-ish body is to my liking, but I really need a Floyd trem on it. The whammy pedal and the trem bar are truly a part of my playing.” But it hasn’t necessarily been a straightforward process or journey – “Choosing a guitar is extremely personal. My first need is a comfortable feel and weight. It also depends on what style of music you want to play. That’s partly why I’ve started playing a Variat Strat. All the major guitar models are in one guitar.”
But nothing worth having comes overnight – “There’s nothing but time that breaks it in. When you’ve played a guitar for years – when you’ve played enough music through it, it’s like the mojo stays in there.”
As Jennifer has moved into teaching, her own consciousness has altered and reached an alternative plain, too – “As a writer, I try to get the art to speak through me at first. To me, the best part is when something fresh comes through you.”
So do her compositions come to her fully-formed?
“At some point, I usually have to put some work into making it all make sense as a song. Some evolve on their own and some take more work and a lot of time to filter out.”
Jennifer is also evolving and changing her motivations and emotional connections between herself and her music: “When you’re younger, the focus can be on impressing people. As you get older, you find there is more meaning in moving people.”
But above all, a constant that never falters is her drive and single-minded dedication – “I think the biggest focus has been on being passionate and putting time into getting better. The audience can feel the passion and authenticity. That’s what inspires them. That’s the best I can hope for because people need that always.”
And who keeps Jennifer inspired and on her own musical path, after so many years and achievements? Brad Paisley is up there on her list of motivators. Playing a show with Brad, they hung out for a little while after the show – Jennifer recalls, “We spoke about software and music. He also makes animation films which appear in his shows. Like Michael Jackson, Brad is a huge multi-talent.”
And, for anyone hesitant to test their own musical talents?
Don’t fear it and keep your options open – the possibilities are limitless:
Jennifer agrees: “When I got the Beck gig, it threw a lot of people for a loop. I like getting tossed into a variety of genres because you learn something from them all. In the end, I see creativity as all the same. It just manifests in different forms.”
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