Jennifer Batten Interview - Octadigital Priestess!

Jennifer Batten is arguably the only female rock based virtuoso guitarist to have achieved world wide prominence. From the heady days of the 1980's, when she toured with the then undisputed biggest superstar in music Michael Jackson, through to her many tours with Jeff Beck, she has transcended the usual stigma against female rock players and carved herself a unique niche.

Straddling the worlds of rock, fusion, electronica and world music she has always gone her own way, and now a quarter of a Century from graduating at the world renowned Guitar Institute of Technology, she is enjoying continuing success with a succession of critically acclaimed solo albums.

From a rock/shred guitarist perspective she will probably always be known as perhaps the first true exponent of 8 finger tapping (whilst Night Rangers Jeff Watson preceded her and also found acclaim in this style, his was a far less sophisticated application of the art) in the rock world, paving the way for players such as TJ Helmerich (amongst a still select few who have made this very tricky technique a genuine part of their playing style - as opposed to a trick lick for the live guitar solo!)

With the recent release of her new solo album it was high time that we caught up with the 'High Priestess Of Tapping'!

Jennifer, what age did you start playing and why?

I started at age 8 - my sister had a guitar and I didn't, and I was very jealous!! I told my parents I wanted a guitar for my next birthday and received a killer red black and blue electric.

Who were your initial influences?

I started at age 8 - my sister had a guitar and I didn't, and I was very jealous!! I told my parents I wanted a guitar for my next birthday and received a killer red black and blue electric.

What albums and songs during this period were particularly influential?

I can't really remember which records I owned at age 8, but in my teens, the Allman Bros at ‘Live At Fillmore East' and ‘Eat A Peach' were big for me. But as soon as I heard Jeff, it was Beck's ‘Blow By Blow' and ‘Wired' that were the top of the list. I also pretty much memorized Zappa's ‘Apostrophe' record.

Getting Serious

What age did you start to get serious?

I announced to my mother that I wanted to go pro when I was 12! The next real step was going to Musicians Institute: I guess that was the official serious period of commitment.

Did you have guitar lessons, or were you self taught?

I started with lessons when I was 8 and learned how to read music. I took lessons from various people for many years.

can you name any pivotal teachers?

I don't remember the names of any teachers early on but when I was at MI, there were three teachers in particular who were hugely influential: Joe Diorio, Ron Eschete, and Don Mock. Howard Alden had graduated and was a teacher's assistant while I was there too.

During these early years were the lessons song based, or did you tackle technique and theory as well?

For many years my lessons were about learning songs and reading. I flunked the test to get into MI because I was never taught anything but pentatonic scales and triad chords. I went on to study with jazzer Peter Sprague (and later wrote a book of his solos) to prep for the school

When did you realise that you were gifted above your peers?

I really don't compare and judge where I'm at. Music isn't anything you 'arrive' or graduate from. It's a journey of personal evolution.

When did you start concentrating on technique? Can you remember any particular exercises that helped?

I got a blank chart book and wrote in all the exercises I would do on the left column and how fast I could play them with a metronome without making mistakes in the top column. Over a period of keeping track daily for 3 months, I could see a vast improvement in speed and accuracy - and that was very encouraging.

Were you known as the local hot guitarist?

Not to my knowledge - but before I left San Diego for LA, I was surprised to find I was voted guitarist of the year at the Guitar Trader shop's annual contest.

When did you play your first gig, and can you remember the songs you played?

It was a jazz gig playing standards from a fake book. I got $12 that night and played with guitarist Brian Pardo as a duet. It was in a coffee shop in the North Beach area of San Diego.

When did you realise that you might actually be able to have a career as a guitarist?

I just assumed I would! I had no idea how hard it was to make a living in the arts. Ignorance is bliss in that regard - so I never doubted it would happen.

What age was this - and how did your family react?

I guess it was in my 20's. My family was very supportive. My Dad was a guitar enthusiast.

The Big Time

How did you get your first real break?

It was the Jackson tour. There was an audition with 100 people and I was the lucky winner.

When it happened was it all you thought it might be?

I remember thinking I would feel differently about myself when it happened. But it was a fantastic time for one and a half years during that first tour: I got to see the world and was well paid for it!

How long did it take before you could make a living out of guitar playing?

It didn't take too long - but the ‘living' was by teaching at first and my expenses were very small.

Looking back to your early days which songs - and why - are you the most proud of from that period?

From my first CD, I'd say ‘Flight of the Bumblebee' as it was a pretty tough track to get together, and ‘Cruzin the Nile' because it was innovative for me at the time. It's a clean tapping track that I still have in my set list.

Have you ever auditioned/been connected with any ‘big' bands that didn't happen (and you can tell us about!)?

I auditioned for Thomas Dolby with a trio and didn't get it, but I didn't do very many auditions overall. I tried to audition for Ozzy too but couldn't even get a slot.

What are the proudest moments of your career to date? And why?

Getting the Michael Jackson gig, and getting the Jeff Beck gig. Jeff's gig was a mind blower because he'd never played with another guitar player since Jimmy Page, so I never even thought I'd have a chance to play with him.

What's the biggest audience you've ever played to?

1.5 billion for Superbowl 26 - aired to 80 countries!

If there was one album that readers should buy to best reflect your playing which would it be? Why?

Probably my ‘Momentum' CD which is a trio world beat vibe. There are many lengthy solos in it. The new CD ‘Whatever' is more of a composition/comedy CD where I did all the programming and playing but the solos are more concise.

Technique & Influences

When do you think your physical playing technique was at it's highest?

When I was briefly in an 80's metal cover band and did all of Van Halen's and Randy Rhoads solos: I learned 40 tracks in less than 2 weeks along with all the solos.

What band would you most like to join?

I'd like to play with Kid Beyond, the beat boxer. He's phenomenally creative.

Which 5 guitarists over the course of your career have influenced you the most - or simply five players who you particularly admire (and why?)

Jeff Beck, Joe Diorio, George Lynch, Steve Morse, Van Halen

Are there any newer players who you really rate?

Vicki Genfan (she just won the Guitar Player Mag annual contest), Preston Reed , Dave Martone.

In your style of music when do you think was the golden period? Do you think the current musical climate is favourable to your particular style?

I'm really out of the loop as I rarely listen to radio. I listen to internet radio and my iPod so I really don't know who the ‘popular' people are. I see the golden period as NOW. I'm performing a multimedia guitar show with my music and, as is the norm with growing older, I'm at my best right now and going through a good healthy growth period. The show has a real wide variety of textures and films. I'm at a better place now more than ever to keep a show interesting.

Without necessarily going into specifics, but what is your primary source of income: CD/Download sales? Touring? Clinics/Teaching/Other?

Right now my main source is touring.

Where is your strongest market? How well known are you in the following USA/Canada, UK, Mainland Europe, Australia, South America, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia?

I think my best markets are Europe and Japan. I've just started tapping into the US this year.

If you could go out with a couple of other artists on a dream tour who would they be?

Tal Wilkenfeld and Kid Beyond - that would be a killer trio!

Has the internet helped your career or hindered it?

Helped. People tell me nightly that they looked up a bunch of videos on YouTube before coming to the shows. Instrumental music usually doesn't have very good distribution so now that I'm on iTunes, everyone has access.

What would you have been if you didn't make it as a musician?

I'd probably be a forest ranger or off into some other art like art glass.

What are your plans for the new album?

I plan to keep circling the US with my new show and will be doing Europe next year as well.

Talking playing for a while how proficient are you at music reading?

Very average - I don't practice reading at all any more.

Do you play any other instruments, and if so to what level?

I play bass but just for my records. I can now trigger any sound I want via guitar synth too. I also use a Ztar which is like a guitar with buttons you push like a keyboard. It's a quicker trigger than the guitar synth.

How much do you actually practise nowadays?

Only a few hours a day when I'm gearing up for a tour. I'm really invested in filmmaking now for my multimedia shows and spend more time clicking a mouse than playing a guitar.

Do you still/have you ever used a metronome?

I used to play with one all the time but now I'd rather practice to jam tracks or a drum loop as it's much more inspiring.

What is your ability like at playing over ‘jazz' changes?

So, so... I was really into jazz after graduating MI, but have gone way more Rock, World Beat and Electronica over time. I sure wouldn't hire me for a bebop gig!

Could you handle a country gig?

No, I think you really need to be immersed in a genre for years before it's under your skin, or it just won't sound authentic.


What picks do you use?

Fender heavy jazz picks

What gauge strings do you use?

9 11 16 28 38 48 - Dean Markley Blue Steel

What are your main guitars?

Washburn JB 100 and I've recently added a Parker Fly acoustic

What effects/pedals do you use?

Digitech GNX 3000 and Jam Man looper

What amps?

GNX into a Marshall power amp into 2 Avalon direct boxes into a Midas Venus Board into 2 Bose L1 towers.

What advice would you give to the next generation/readers of this interview?

Put down guitar hero long enough to learn how to REALLY play!!! Also the absolute number one goal should be to always stretch yourself and be creative.

I presume you havent played Guitar Hero then...