Gary James' Interview With Michael Jackson's Guitarist
In the mid 1980s, she was the guitarist to watch. In 1987 she was selected over 100 guitarists to play in Michael Jackson's band, which toured the world for a year and a half, playing for over 4.5 million people. And she did it all again this past year (1993) when The King Of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, asked her to join him for his Dangerous world tour.
When this interview was done (1994), Jennifer Batten had just released a solo album titled "Above, Below And Beyond" on Voss Records.
Q - Jennifer, tell me about Voss Records. Who else is on the label?
A - Well, the only two names you'd recognize are The Busboys and Jack Mack And The Heart Attack. It started out as a Jazz label years ago. They heard about me though an acquaintance of Michael Senbells, the producer. I was originally on Relativity (Records) until they started doing Disco, so I thought it was a good time to bail. (laughs) I've been with Voss since the summer of '91.
Q - You lecture at The Guitar Institue Of Technology, but you didn't learn to play guitar there, did you?
A - I went through the course and it really brought me to a new level. I totally got into Jazz at that point and stopped playing Rock and whatever else. I was into it for a couple of years, which was really great for getting the fretboard down. But then eventually I came back to Rock. I came back to my senses. (laughs) I'm really glad I went to the school 'cause it was a real butt kicker for me. It was the most intense training I've ever been through. The teachers were incredible. It definitely had a lot to do with what I'm doing now. What I got was the ability to know exactly what I needed to work on. So that's what I did.
Q - I've picked up some resentment from some musicians I've interviewd about graduates of G.I.T. (Guitar Institute Of Technology). They tell me the grads have an attitude. Is that true?
A - There's probably been 10,000 to 15,000 people who have gone through there. You just can't make a general statement about that many people. Any music school, any conservatory you go to, there's always gonna be people who have an attitude probably as a result of being insecure. Generally they get the monsters from around the world at G.I.T. who are the monsters in their own hometown. So if you get a king from Cincinnati and all of a sudden he's in a pile of kings, he's gonna have a problem with it ego-wise. I think that happens a lot. But it's not just G.I.T. It's any music school. It's just, they feel their egos threatened all of a sudden. So that's one way to explain it. I definetely wouldn't say everybody has an attitude.
Q - You are being referred to as a "Guitar Goddess" Are you comfortable with that term?
A - (laughs) I think it's humorous. The whole term "God" is blown out of porportion, so why not do the female side of it? (Note: Jennifer is referring to the "Clapton (Eric Clapton) Is God" slogan).
Q - Are you from L.A.?
A - New York.
Q - So, how'd you make your way out to L.A.?
A - My folks moved out when I was nine. Actually, we moved to San Diego. I moved to L.A. in '84.
Q - At one time you were in six different bands at once! How did you juggle that?
A - It was completely insane. Not a lot of sleep. Fortunately they weren't all gigging aat the same time. I spent most of my time, when I wasn't teaching, in rehearsals with somebody. But it was kind of tough.
Q - So how did you hear about the opening in Michael Jackson's band?
A - A friend of mine, another teacher at G.I.T., was at a rehearsal hall called SIR, and the buzz was out that he was auditioning. So, the guy called me and I got ahold of the phone number and hooked it up?
Q - Did they or Michael ever tell you why you were selected?
A - No. (laughs)
Q - And you probably don't want to know, do you?
A - (laughs) Well, at the time I got the gig I didn't really care. I was just happy to have it.
Q - That first tour with Michael had to be pretty strenuous.
A - Not at all. It was a paid vacation. Michael's at a point now where he dosen't have to do one-nighters and travel the next day. He generally works three or four nights a week, then three nights off. So, we have time to rest up and see the world. It was great.
Q - Michael Jackson is a perfectionist. Is he demanding on all his musicians?
A - Yeah. Last tour (the "Bad" tour), he really didn't have a lot of direct contact. He would go through the musical director if there was anything he didn't like. I bought my first CD player, so I could hear all the parts completely great and I worked really hard to get exactly what was on the record down. So, he didn't have a whole lot to say to me.
Q - What does he think of your version of "Wanna Be Startin' Something" or "Above, Below And Beyond"?
A - He said he liked it a lot, which I was glad to hear 'cause I really changed it. (laughs) But he seemed to like it.