Yeah, she was that wild-haired chick on stage with Michael Jackson – a bleach-blonde gimmick in tight spandex pants.
But did you listen? Because if there’s one thing Jennifer Batten can do it’s the play guitar.
And who — man, woman or martian — can trade licks with Jeff Beck?
That would be Jennifer Batten.
Batten came seemingly out of nowhere. She came on the scene in the 1980s by auditioning for Michael Jackson’s band — a hefty goal when you consider the caliber of musicians enlisted by the pop icon.
“I called and asked for the last possible time to audition so I could stay home and learn his tunes,” Batten told Guitar Nine Records in 1999. “Then they wanted some funk stuff, so I played clean funk rhythm stuff and I started soloing and I ended with the ‘Beat It’ solo. I get a call a couple of days later and they wanted if I could take a year and a half off. I said take me anywhere for any length of time.”
Batten, who described herself as “a geek with brown hair and glasses” at the time, was told to beef up her image.
“I ended up with this mile high Mohawk looking doo for the first part of the tour,” she told Guitar Nine.
But it worked, with her outlandish appearance becoming an integral part of Jackson’s ‘Bad, Dangerous’ and ‘HIStory’ tours — along with her remarkable guitar playing.
And that’s what got her noticed. Impressed by Batten’s innovative guitar work, blues legend Jeff Beck asked her to join his band, integrating guitar duals into his stage act.
Along the way Batten has recorded three solo albums, routinely featuring prominent musicians like guitarist Michael Sembello, who rose to fame backing jazz saxophonist David Sanborn.
Batten’s first solo album, 1992’s Above Below and Beyond, and her follow up, Jennifer Batten’s Tribal Rage: Momentum, released in 1997, won her critical acclaim, even if mainstream success eluded her.
Her latest release, Whatever, released last year, was also a hit with the critics.
Now playing both in the studio and on the road, Batten continues to win converts in the male-dominated world of guitar heroes. But if anyone can change it, it’s Jennifer Batten.
And don’t think I was kidding when I said she can go toe-to-toe with the likes of Jeff Beck. Here she is on stage trading licks with Beck on “Blue Wind,” a cut from Beck’s classic 1976 release, Wired.
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(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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