We all have our own personal favorite guitar players. We love to listen to them, talk about them, see them perform, and cop as many of their licks and moves as we can. I keep a handwritten list of my own personal favorite guitar players, which I organize by style and technique. It’s also my wish list of artists that I’d love to work with here at TrueFire.
Every time I discover a new favorite, I add them to one of the lists. I’ve edited those lists so many times you’d need a cryptologist to determine my current favorites what with the cross-outs, exclamation points, underlines, annotations and replacements. There are two names on my rock guitarist list that have more exclamation points and underlines than any of the others. One of those names is Jennifer Batten.
Her story reads like a Hollywood movie.
Young girl from small town in upstate NY, inspired by the Beatles to learn guitar, takes lessons from local teachers, practices incessantly, thirsts for more knowledge, auditions for GIT in California, and fails that audition. Finds new teacher and sheds day and night for six months, nails second GIT audition (only girl amongst 60 other students), pushes through all the machismo crap, awarded most-improved-student at graduation. Gets first-ever live gig at 22 years old, phone starts ringing off hook, becomes sought-after player in six hot LA bands, beats out 100 guitarists to go on Bad World Tour with Michael Jackson. Records her first Above, Below, and Beyond album to critical acclaim, tackles another MJ tour (Dangerous World Tour), including a Super Bowl half-time gig with MJ broadcast to 500-million people in 80 nations, finally joining MJ’s band. They get together for 3 years on the CDs Who Else and You Had It Coming, which were both supported by world tours. Second solo record (Tribal Rage: Momentum) ensues, followed up by third (and final) world MJ tour, HIStory. Next Jennifer teams up with Jeff Beck to record two albums and tour with him and his band for three years…
If I were to pitch this story to Hollywood, I’d be stopped about halfway through and told that audiences would find it all too good to be true, even for a Hollywood movie. Rocky’s rise from meat packer to world boxing champion…believable. Small town girl to top of the game in the male-dominated world of rock guitar…ridiculous. Ridiculous maybe, but true nonetheless.
Jennifer’s pedigree speaks for itself, but the one single credit that impresses me the most is the Jeff Beck connection. You’d be hard-pressed to find a guitar player who wouldn’t want to play with the Jeff Beck, let alone record and tour with him.
There are thousands of guitar players who have the chops and experience to take on a gig of that stature, yet Jeff chose Jennifer and that speaks volumes about her professionalism, musicality and creativity.
“A lot of my ‘aha’ moments on guitar came from the hundreds of hours I spent learning all of Jeff Beck’s music: really wicked harmonics between the frets, extra big bends beyond the whole and half step, pick squeals, whammy bar moves. God, he invented so much of that stuff for electric guitar,” Jennifer remembers. “I think I learned the most from two ballads, ‘Cause We Ended As Lovers’ and ‘Goodbye Porkpie Hat.’ The tempo was slow enough so I could really zone in on what he was doing and dissect it.”
We all look forward to having Jennifer in TrueFire’s studios. We’ve collaborated on several educational projects and she’s always super-prepped and pumped for her sessions.
Jennifer loves to teach, is really gifted at it, rarely needs a second take, and puts her all into every lesson performance just as if she were playing to a standing-room-only stadium audience.
You can’t ask for more than that, but she gives it to us anyway.
I asked Jennifer is she had any one single bit of advice that she’d like to pass on to students here in this RIFF article. True to form, she gave us two. The first has to do with generating fresh and creative ideas, “The joy of music doesn’t have to involve other people. You can get a lot of joy out of just jamming alone and seeing what you come up with. I do that for hours at a time and so many new ideas come directly out of that.”
The second suggestion is one that was passed on to her back in her GIT days, “There are things I learned at GIT that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. This is one of those…when you’re soloing over a chord, the chord tones (the arpeggio notes of that chord) should light up bright red as you visualize the fretboard. The scale tones should likewise be lit up, but a little less bright. And the wrong tones, blacked out completely. When you’re soloing over changes and focused on those chord tones, the listener will be able to hear the changes without having to hear the actual chords being played.”
Two great bits of advice from a small town girl who rocks the world.