Live Music Preview: Jennifer Batten
by Luciana Lopez, The Oregonian
Thursday May 15, 2008, 4:27 AM

At the age of 29, the only tour guitarist Jennifer Batten had ever done was with an Elvis impersonator. Then came Michael Jackson.”I didn’t even want to think about getting it,” Batten said over the phone last week. About 100 guitarists auditioned for the tour, supporting Jackson’s 1987 album, “Bad,” so she had no way to gauge her chances. “I didn’t even tell anybody I went to audition.”Even after she got called back to play with the band, she wasn’t sure she’d landed the spot. “When I got a plane ticket to Tokyo, I thought, ‘There’s a good sign,'” she said with a laugh. “That’s when I told people.”That tour was more than just a professional windfall to Batten. It made clear to everyone who’d thought a woman couldn’t shred that, yes, indeed, Jennifer Batten can tear up a guitar as well as any man. Since that first tour, she traveled twice more with Jackson, played with one of her heroes, Jeff Beck, has written books and magazine columns about guitar playing and put out a number of solo records, the latest of which she’ll celebrate Friday.That album, “Whatever,” is a bit of a departure for Batten. Electronics, for instance, play a large role in the music.

“That’s influence from Jeff Beck,” Batten said. “He turned me on to Prodigy and some other electronic stuff. It sent me in a whole new direction.”

Batten also will be touring by herself for this album, rather than working with a band, which led to other new avenues.

“Just the thought of putting a band together, paying them, dealing with people not showing up was overwhelming,” she said. “I was thinking of the possibilities of doing a one-person show.”

Simply playing over prerecorded tracks was “too cheesy,” she thought, so she began exploring film. The CD has a companion DVD, so using film in live venues made sense.

She knew nothing about filmmaking but caught on quickly, using, for example, public domain footage. “Now I have the freedom to do films for any song I come up with,” she said. “It’s just fun. I get into these obsessive things. For the first 30 years of my life it was guitar.”

That intensity helped Batten as a young female musician in Los Angeles, working in a genre so often associated with men. Landing the Jackson gig helped change that. The band respected her, regardless of gender.

“I was the new kid on the block, and they were all really good to me,” she said. “That gave me a lot of confidence.”

And there’s no revenge quite like a long career — although the occasional apology doesn’t hurt. Take the band that said they liked her playing but, as the band leader put it, “We’ve always had problems with chicks.”

“I did run into him later,” she recalled, “and he was very apologetic.”

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