You wouldn’t often associate the music of Michael Jackson with guitar heroics, even though you probably should, given that he had the likes of Eddie Van Halen (“Beat It”), Steve Lukather (also “Beat It”), and Slash (“D.S.,” “Morphine,” “Give into Me”) threw their respective hats into the ring over the years. Those names aside, though, it was Jennifer Batten who slayed the proverbial pop dragon, adding heaping doses of flair, skill, and showmanship to an already over-the-top stage show. It couldn’t have been easy to stand out when perched beside the literal King of Pop, aka Michael Jackson, but Jennifer Batten did so with relative ease, dazzling audiences alongside Jackson from 1987 to 1997 while accompanying him on three massive world tours.
But that’s not all, as, if you can believe it, Batten’s next stop, at least, from a guitar perspective, was even more monumental than her first. After her days with Jackson ended, Batten hopped aboard the good ship Jeff Beck, sharing the stage with her idol, and playing on his records, Who Else! (1999), and You Had It Coming (2001) further establishing herself as a seriously versatile force to be reckoned with.
Those two monstrous stops aside, Batten has released three outstanding solo works, Above Below and Beyond (1992), Jennifer Batten’s Tribal Rage: Momentum (1997), and Whatever (2007), while lending a hand as a session player with a myriad of diverse artists such as Sara Hickman, The Rainbow Girls, Carl Anderson, Carmine Appice, Bulldozer, Black Sand, and many more. Among those sessions works, the aforementioned Appice-led Guitar Zeus record from 1995 is particularly legendary.
These days, Batten is as busy as ever, still touring, recording, and finding exciting ways to challenge herself and her audience. Indeed, few do it as well, and in such awe-inspiring fashion as Jennifer Batten, and that’s probably because of her diverse array of influences. To that end, thinking back on the albums that shaped the guitarist, the songwriter, the shredder, the session player, and the artist, Jennifer Batten dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to run through the ten albums that changed her life.
If you’ve taken the time to listen closely, or if you’re the adventurous type that’s heard some of these before, you’ll be aware that bits and pieces of these iconic records are scattered throughout Batten’s playing. And if you haven’t taken in these records yet, now that Batten’s hipped you to them, can you hear it?
# 10 – Tectonics by Adam Freeland (1999)
You’ll find this record on YouTube, but it’s hard to find a physical copy. I discovered this record in my electronica phase around my Beck years. It really influenced my thinking in writing regarding form and use of sounds, as it’s much more adventurous than the typical verse-chorus bridge form. I find it interesting throughout.
# 9 – Music for the Jilted Generation by The Prodigy (1994)
Jeff Beck turned me on to techno electronica and The Prodigy. I never would have discovered them otherwise. He was always looking for something fresh. And although people think I got him into that genre, it was the other way around. That whole era with Jeff jetted me into the genre, and many elements of it ended up on my Whatever CD, which was almost all written for Jeff. This record sent me in the direction of multiple layered drum loops, vocal samples, and sound manipulation.
# 8 – Heavy Weather by Weather Report (1977)
Again, I find the ethnic elements so intriguing and fresh, especially the song “Birdland.” It’s very symphonic music to my ear, but most of it is improvised, which adds an exciting, dangerous element. I once saw them play the first of two shows at a college and was astounded about how they could manage another set on the same night. They were so on fire and relentless the entire time. It felt like the ultimate band unity and focus. They left everything on the stage. Wayne’s phrasing and note choices were so inspiring I often thought of picking up a soprano sax only to learn his solos and nothing else.
# 7 – Volume 1: Sound Magic by Afro Celt Sound System (1996)
This album is some of the deepest music you’ll hear. The blend of African rhythms, talking drums, and Irish music is right up my alley, as I’ve been interested in ethnic music ever since watching the Tarzan movies as a kid. It’s fresh and adventurous. All my solo records dive into ethnic expansion.
# 6 – Slider by Bruce Kaphan (2001)
I sent a copy of this pedal steel CD to Jeff Beck because I discovered it when I was gigging with him. He said he’d wished he’d recorded it. I knew it would resonate with him, as he was always searching for more vocal-like ideas, which ultimately led him to master the tremolo bar. This is a desert island disc for me. It’s lush, ethereal, harmonically rich, and perfect.
# 5 – Solo Guitar by Joe Diorio (1975)
I discovered Joe Diorio while I was at school at GIT (Guitar Institute of Technology) in 1979, which is now called MI (Musicians Institute). I went to almost every show Joe played for a couple of years, including a private party he likely had no business getting me into. I learned several of his solos and tunes and memorized his intervallic designs book as well as a book he did called Fusion. Joe had an ethereal sense combined with ‘50s be-bop that expanded my ears to what could be possible. Joe inspired me to incorporate large intervallic skips.
# 4 – At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band (1971)
This record was my total immersion into Southern blues. I listened to it hundreds of times. I was a freak for Duane Allman’s slide work and Greg Allman’s soulful vocals. The long, extended solos of the ‘70s took you on a journey few have patience for anymore.
# 3 – B.B. King in London by B.B. King (1971)
This era of blues records is when I began jamming to records in my bedroom as a teen. Once I figured out the keys, I was off to have fun for hours on end.
1 & 2) Blow by Blow and Wired by Jeff Beck (1975/1976)
Both of these Jeff Beck records had an equal impact on me. I learned every solo in each. It was a huge education in note choices and phrasing, but especially in feel, sensitivity, and expression.
Jennifer Batten Interview: 10 Albums That Changed My Life article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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