Q&A with guitar slinger Jennifer Batten - playing everything from straight ahead rock, to metal, fusion, and funk.

"Music with a message is getting to young people. That’s powerful. It brings people together and creates a more powerful energy. Just to know you’re not alone in your beliefs and thoughts brings confidence and unity to a movement."

Jennifer Batten: Rock n' Adventurous

The buzz on Jennifer Batten rose from the guitar underground, and the guitar magazines promptly began chronicling her savvy musicianship and highly original approach to the electric guitar in print. At one point Batten was in 6 different bands, playing everything from straight ahead rock, to metal, fusion, and funk. A major turning point came when she was selected from over one hundred guitarists to play in Michael Jackson's highly skilled band which toured the world for one and a half years. Jennifer wasted no time after the ”Bad” Tour's grand finale, diving into work on her own album with renown producer and Stevie Wonder guitarist, Michael Sembello. The stunning results can be heard on “Above, Below, and Beyond”, the title appropriately describing the interesting diversity within. With this debut release, the world at large learned what all the excitement was about. Shortly after the record's release, she was asked again to join Michael Jackson for his "Dangerous Tour". In 93, she joined Jackson to partake in Superbowl's show which aired to one and half billion people in 80 nations. It was the largest audience in TV history. She completed her second album "Jennifer Batten's Tribal Rage~Momentum," just before she was again asked to join Michael Jackson for his 2 year world tour supporting his album "HIStory" in 1997.

Jennifer's Tribal Rage project took a much different direction than her first record and is heavily influenced by world music. It is a hybrid of rock and very exotic sounds, including African percussion, Australian didgeridoo, Caribbean steel drums and Scottish bag pipes. In the spring of ‘98 Jeff Beck asked Jennifer to join his band. They joined forces for 3 years on the CD’s "Who Else", and “You Had It Coming” which were both supported by world tours. Other guest appearances include CD's with Carmine Appice, Michael Sembello, Carl Anderson, Carina Alfie and several rock tributes. Jennifer has authored two music books and has just released her third solo CD/DVD entitled “Whatever”.  The Women’s International Music Network (the WiMN) awarded the '2016 She Rocks Award' to Jennifer Batten, recognizing women who stand out as role models in the music industry. MARC SCHERER and JENNIFER BATTEN, brand new album 'BattleZone' (2017, coming out Sept 22 on Melodic Rock records) features material exclusively from the Jim Peterik songbook. Featuring 8 rare musical gems from Jim's songwriting vault, the album also features 3 brand new tracks, written for this project.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Rock n’ Roll Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I think it creates an environment for individual as opposed to group thought. Creative people tend to question the status quo and spend time in reflection and also tend to have a more loving sense of humanity. In order to create, you need to tap into the heart space and explore emotion. I think as a rule, we’re generally very sensitive to injustice where other groups may become numb, selfish, and short sighted.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues, Rock, Metal, Fusion, and Funk researches and experiments?

I think the job of any creative person is to explore. I remember when I was completely into jazz and made a negative comment about pop music to a great stand up bassist, he told me not to have any prejudice about any genre. It really surprised me and turned out to be great advice. In the end, you learn some great things from every genre and to play them all or at least a good majority of them opens your ears to new possibilities. My all time favorite CD is Jeff Beck’s “Blow by Blow” which combined a lot of different genres, from reggae to funk to jazz.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

An element of the blues is something I require in my listening to make it satisfying. But it doesn’t have to be in the blues format. It’s an approach and a feeling. It’s a feeling that goes beyond notes and way deeper into how those notes are played. When performing, it’s impossible to dig it up without feeling something and can take a lot of energy. You should be exhausted at the end of a performance because of digging into your emotional element.

How do you describe Jennifer Batten sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I’d characterize my music as adventurous. I get bored easily so for me it’s important to explore a lot of different elements and styles of music.  Within the music, I want to take people on a ride somewhere they’ve never been.

How do you describe “Battlezone” sound and songbook?

The BattleZone CD is coming from the melodic rock genre. It has really strong hooks sung by Marc Scherer who’s voice is very infectious and strong.  I really prefer higher range male voices like Marc’s because they really cut through and make an impact. The material was written mostly by Jim Peterik of the band Survivor who had the timeless hit “Eye of the Tiger” which was the theme for the movie Rocky. Most of the CD was recorded by the time they got me in to do solos. Marc felt that my guitar playing added another strong voice to the record so he asked me to become a bigger part of the project. Some of it is reminiscent of 80’s keyboard rock. It’s the kind of music that stays with you and has more value than just a good beat.

What has made you laugh from “Battlezone” studio sessions?

When you get a room full of musicians, there is guaranteed laughter. Creative people tend to think in a quirky way, looking at all sides of a subject or a word, in unusual ways, because that’s the way creativity stretches the brain. It’s just a natural thought exercise.

"I think it creates an environment for individual as opposed to group thought. Creative people tend to question the status quo and spend time in reflection and also tend to have a more loving sense of humanity. In order to create, you need to tap into the heart space and explore emotion." (MARC SCHERER & JENNIFER BATTEN / Photo by Sergey Ivanov)

What moment changed your life the most? What touched (emotionally) you from Jeff Beck, and Michael Jackson?

I’ve had many life changing moments. I can’t deny that getting the Jackson gig changed everything instantly as I became very high profile. All the sudden I was asked to endorse products and do interviews in music magazines. The moment Michael touched me on the shoulder when we were in Japan and told me he liked how I did the “Beat It” solo was extremely validating. It’s a moment frozen in time.

I just wanted an autograph from Jeff and tracked him down while on Michael Jackson’s Dangerous tour. I gave him a copy of my first CD then, thinking he’d never listen to it. So just the fact that Beck would consider having me in his band blew my mind completely. He has always been my #1 guitar hero I looked up to, and still do. I ended up traveling and recording with him for 3 years. He was extremely appreciative of the effort I put into the band. I spent nearly 100% of my time working for him in some way during that time; from writing music for him, to programming sounds for guitar synth. I was always thinking about the next step and trying to help. I was totally immersed.  Collaborating with him sent me from validation in the pop world to a deeper validation in the guitar world which at that time was nearly 100% male.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better musician?

I think the hardest thing is believing that everything you do whether it’s a gig, an interview, CD’s, seminars, or teaching, will lead to a brighter future, especially when you’ve been completely beaten up from travel. But it does. It’s all like collecting real estate, and so far I’ve made a decent living in music for several decades. And my connections tend to expand and blossum.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?

My top handful would be Jeff Beck, Joe Diorio, Michael Jackson, Ricky Lawson, Greg Philingaines, and my parents for cultivating an arts rich environment.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Follow your bliss-Joseph Campbell.

"Music itself has been cheapened to the point where people don’t see a need to pay for it, plus there’s so much of it, it’s overwhelming and more challenges to get attention."

(Photo by Maryanne Bilham)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I could write a book on my experiences. That’s like asking me for a life history. Stand out gigs would be the Superbowl with Michael Jackson since it was a once only experience, and a show I recall with Jeff Beck in Sardinia that just felt magical. It was on the beach in the summer.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

Being immersed and getting absorbed in an artists work including every detail of their album covers. I don’t hear a lot of music that leaves a lasting impact to the point where it becomes part of my being any more. In my teen years especially I recall music that took me somewhere special. When the record was over you felt like you’d gone there with them. Bowie’s Diamond Dogs was one of those. Later it was Weather Report. It doesn’t have to have lyrics to take you.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Music itself has been cheapened to the point where people don’t see a need to pay for it, plus there’s so much of it, it’s overwhelming and more challenges to get attention. So musicians need to find alternative ways to make money. One way aside from playing live, is to make yourself popular via social media and have something else to sell aside from recordings, and/or get sponsorships for your popularity.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Labels. If people could listen to music because they liked it instead of it being in a category they previously approved of, or their peers told them they should like, it would expand their horizons.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues n’ Rock with African, Australian, Caribbean and Celtic music?

The need for expression.

"An element of the blues is something I require in my listening to make it satisfying. But it doesn’t have to be in the blues format. It’s an approach and a feeling. It’s a feeling that goes beyond notes and way deeper into how those notes are played."

(Photo: Jennifer & Michael Jackson)

What does to be a female rock artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in Rock?

Since the internet exploded it’s really changed a lot. Now females can see role models on every instrument, dig into their history, and really be inspired without the walls created by record companies. I am constantly turned onto new women players that are fantastic. I thought it would have happened when I joined Michael Jackson in 1987. Wendy and Lisa were with Prince then. But then 30 years went by without much improvement. Now it’s finally happening.

What is the impact of music and rock n’ roll culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Music with a message is getting to young people. That’s powerful. It brings people together and creates a more powerful energy. Just to know you’re not alone in your beliefs and thoughts brings confidence and unity to a movement. It potentially can make people think and then act. A group dissatisfaction can bring about change. With the internet it’s happening faster than any time in history.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I’d like to step back for two shows I was too young to see. One was a dbl bill with Hendrix and Joplin, and the other was one of Wes Montgomery’s last shows in San Diego. My parents went but I couldn’t because it was a 21 and over restriction.

Jennifer Batten - Official website

(Photo: Jennifer Batten & Jeff Beck on stage)

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