“It’s about staying inspired”

When you say Jennifer Batten, everyone knows you talk about a true guitar legend. Not only the first female guitar hero but also one of the most versatile players ever. In the conversation below we are talking about influences, technique, gear, Guitar Cloud Symposium, solo albums and much more.

– You have an immediately recognizable, trademark style, and at the same time you are a versatile guitar player, playing rock, fusion, funk, blues or jazz very natural. What is your secret? I`m asking this, because you were already versatile in the 80`s, when there were the rock-, pop-, jazz- and bluesguitar-players, without mixing those styles (maybe rock and blues being the exceptions) and more than that, you melt all these styles in one special Jennifer Batten-blend, as your first solo album showed it.

– Thank you. I guess my ‘secret’ would be having interest in different musical styles. I grew up listening to jazz so I took an interest in playing it. My father exposed me to Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery. I once asked him who Jim Hall was and he sent me home with a dozen LP`s of Jim’s. I got immersed in the blues as a teen until I discovered Jeff Beck. For the rest I’d give a lot of credit to Musicians Institute. The idea of the school is to be versed in all musical styles and learn the tools of the trade like sight reading, ear training, theory etc so you can make a living at it.

– When and why did you fell in love with two-hand tapping? Your book about it (Two Hand Rock for Guitar – 1995) is very popular among guitar players, so what do you consider as being your major contribution to the development of this technique?

Emmet Chapman came to our school and gave a clinic. Nobody was interested in learning the Stick he invented but Steve Lynch (a classmate) was intrigued with Emmet’s tapping so he started exploring the technique. I saw what Steve was doing and thought it was killer. After we graduated I had some time so ended up getting a lesson from Steve and that was all I needed to start exploring the technique.  I went through jazz standard progressions and worked out two hand tapping arpeggios through the changes. I explored chord voicings using two hands as well. I guess my track Cruzin’ the Nile from my debut record would be something people would latch on to as it’s an early tapping exploration. Then there’s Giant Steps from the same album that’s a pretty intense tapping solo. I can’t get close to that speed any more sadly!

– You also make instructional DVD-s and you offer Zoom-guitar lessons. In what consists the uniqueness of your method, why is it more efficient than the other methods?

I start with learning science and make people aware of the most efficient way to learn something new. Without that foundation you can easily flounder and get discouraged and repeat mistakes endlessly.  I like to teach new things in very small chunks. I usually do 30 min lessons as I find 60 min overwhelms people with too much info. I also spend way too much time after lessons gathering info and shooting video to send to the student.

– Tell me about Guitar Cloud Symposium.

– It started because of the pandemic. Musicians couldn’t work so I called Gretchen Menn and Nili Brosh who I’d recently toured with as well as Vicki Genfan (to get an acoustic perspective). We used socials to get people to sign up.  It started as a once per month 4 day on line Zoom symposium and I got a special guest each month like Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vai, Steve Lukather, Andy Timmons, Robben Ford as icing on the cake. It was really kind of modeled after the original GIT symposium I went to that got me interested in going to that school.  It morphed a lot over the 1.5 years it was active.  In the beginning we did 20 min segments on 24 different aspects of guitar. Students got a ridiculous amount of content. But in the end as things opened up I think people got burnt out on Zoom and there’s so much free material on line I found it difficult to make enough money to make sense to put in so much effort.

– You are a pioneer, being the first woman guitar hero and you influenced many players through the years, that`s why you received the She Rocks Icon award. Again, what is your secret?

– There’s no secret. It’s just about staying inspired and working at the craft every day.

– I mean, everyone, who picks up the guitar, dreams to become a star, an icon, but very few of them succeed.

– All creative endeavors are difficult as hell. If Michael Jackson didn’t pick me, you wouldn’t know my name. It was a super lucky break that snowballed.

“If Michael Jackson didn’t pick me, you wouldn’t know my name” Photo: Sam Emerson

– And name THE musician, no matter, what instrument she or he plays or played on, who you consider being your biggest influence or icon.

– There are 2. Joe Diorio and Jeff Beck.

– Please, tell me about the gear you are using nowadays. Through the years you were playing Ibanez, then Washburn and then Variax. I remember reading something about having a problem with the neck of your Ibanez axes, please, tell me a bit about how and why did you change all these brands, and if you have found the perfect guitar?

– Yes I had 7 Ibanez guitars in 7 years and every single neck went to hell and warped. I gave up on them when Washburn approached me. I’m using their Parallaxe now and sadly they stopped making them. It’s the usual thing just like Digitech getting bought out by Samsung. It destroyed them. Washburn got bought out by some big conglomerate and they’ve basically given up on electrics.  I get used to one guitar and that’s it. It’s not perfect but it’s comfortable. I put Fishman Fluence pick ups in them (I have 3 Parallaxe) A “modern” in the bridge and 2 of their Strat series. I also had them make me short scale necks which I’d gotten used to for years.

For gear I use BluGuitar Amp1, BluGuitar cabinets, and I often record with the BlueBox speaker emulator. I’m using the 4 cable method with Line 6 HX Stomp XL for effects only, and I switch patches with a MeloAudio MidiCommander. I attach an expression pedal to the HX and use a separate volume pedal. Both are light plastic for travel. The HX gives me an enormous amount of control.  I have it set up so each preset becomes a pedalboard so I can kick in and out fx within the preset as I choose. I have certain things set up so if I step on for instance a clean chorus to turn it off, it then brings in a distortion pedal and reverb with the same button.

– You did lots of tours, and you also recorded solos and albums for lots of different artists/bands. What do you prefer? Composing, playing live or recording?

– I haven’t written tunes in a long time. The state of the music industry is such that it makes no sense to put my own money into a project. I do a ton of sessions for others and usually really enjoy it depending on what the project is. I just finished 2 this weekend. One is for Finnish guitarist Mika Tyyskä aka Mr. Fastfinger. It was a super big challenge, as the whole song is in odd times signatures and uncomfortable to feel though as a listener it’s a beautiful track. I don’t know when he’ll release it but it’s called Mammoth Steps. Recording is a completely different entity from live playing.  I think musicians need both. I don’t know that I have a favorite, though I must say after a great gig where you know you really connected to an appreciative audience, the sense of community is something you can’t get from recording. The high from either is short lived sadly.

– You were touring and recording with Jeff Beck. I guess you both have learned from each other. What was the most important thing that you learned spending time in studio and on the stage with him?

– The biggest take away from Jeff is his creativity. It feels like he doesn’t have to work at it because he IS it. He loves being fired up in the moment and improvising into new territory. He listens to any and everything. I often say he’ll listen to the Spice Girls and Ornette Coleman back to back and get something out of each. He listens and gleans deeper than most.

– You played guitars on three world tours in Michael Jackson`s band. How come, that in 2009, you weren`t the guitar player for the planed This is It O2 Arena shows?

– I assume he wanted fresh blood. I never asked him.

– I like the AOR/styled Scherer/Batten album. What`s it`s story?

The record was 90% done and they asked me to do a few sessions and then they wanted more and more to the point that Marc called me up and asked me to be essentially a co-headliner. It was very painless vs birthing a record from the start! Most of the songs were written by Jim Peterik from Survivor. It’s mostly songs from the 80’s era with a new spin.

“No plans for a new record unless I get a sugar daddy that pays for it :-)” Photo: Ali Hasbach

– Your solo albums are amazing, yet very different. Please characterize them breafly, pointing their main messages and tell me if and when can we expect the appearance of your next album?

– Thank you. No plans for a new record unless I get a sugar daddy that pays for it 🙂 There were years between records so its natural to grow and change and that each one would be very different. For my debut (Above Below and Beyond – 1992) I had something to prove so I did a lot of different genres and had Flight of the Bumblebee and Giant Steps on that. Momentum (1997) was more of a group energy with drummer Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper) and Ricky Wolking (bass) on it. We were a unified creative energy. Everyone got 99% creative freedom so I think it was more fun than anything for us all. Glen still uses one of the tracks for his drum clinics. Whatever was mostly written for Jeff Beck when I was in his band. What’s on the record is what he didn’t use. He turned me on to electronica and the idea of using ProTools and samples, so I went to town with the new (at the time) technology and also I dug deep into guitar synths when I was with him so I used it on the disc as well.

You can also read the interview in Hungarian HERE.