'Bad' Girl: Jennifer Batten played guitar on three Michael Jackson tours. She comes to Don Quixote's this Monday.
In The Court of the King of Pop
From stadium shredder to traveling troubadour, Jennifer Batten's done it all.
By Jessica Lussenhop
SOME PEOPLE might consider performing with Michael Jackson to be the opportunity of a lifetime, and electric guitarist Jennifer Batten was no different.
"It was a wonderful way to see the world," she says now. "In the beginning his manager said it cost them half a million a week to put us all up." Lavish hotels, dinners, sightseeing--Jackson even rented out all of Tokyo Disneyland for the members of his "Bad" tour in the late '80s.
Batten experienced a lot, but as a mellowed out, jazz-loving girl from upstate New York--very different from the snarling, megahaired harlequin she became for the Jackson shows--the attention of her true musical idol remained just out of reach.
"I found out one of the guys had done tech work for Jeff Beck. I just wanted to get an autograph," she says. When the tech guy couldn't come through, she tried again during the "Dangerous" tour to catch Beck's ear. "My one goal of the tour was to meet him," she says. "I asked all the Sony reps if they had a connection, and someone finally came through. I invited him to a show at Wembley Stadium [in London.] Two acts went on, and then Michael canceled."
Still, Batten says it was "like a paid vacation." She'd been teaching music and played in six different bands doing covers and weddings in order to make ends meet when she heard Jackson was auditioning guitarists.
"I stayed home and learned the crap out of a bunch of his songs. When I got there, it was just you and a video camera," she says. "I didn't have anything worthwhile on my résumé. But when Michael Jackson calls, you say, 'OK.'"
Batten ultimately toured with Jackson for "Bad," "Dangerous" and "HIStory," and eventually was able to parlay the gig into an audience with Beck.
"He invited me to the studio, I hung out for a couple hours, gave him a copy of my album, got my autograph and went on my way," she says. "Two months later he called and said, 'Let's do a record together.' It blew my mind."
Batten eventually also went on tour with Beck. But today, after years of living the jet-setter lifestyle playing someone else's music, she's doing something very different. She has traded the tour bus for a class-C RV, and instead of Bubbles she's got Bambi, her Papillon puppy along for the ride on her one-woman tour, which stops in at Don Quixote's in Felton on Monday, Sept. 14. "It's the first time I've done my own tour. I really dig it," she says.
Batten calls the show a multimedia event, and pairs her riffs with video she compiled and edited herself.
"Because I don't sing, by adding the visual thing I can bring a lot more people into the audience. And if they just want to hear the music they can play the record," she says. "It's a little bit world beat music, some electronica with a lot of guitar. A lot of different textures and sounds."
And though she says she did not spend much one-on-one time with Jackson during their tours, preoccupied as he was by megafame and scandal, she is including a 12-minute tribute to her former boss in her performance, which includes parts of "Smooth Criminal" and "Thriller."
Though it's no world tour, Batten says she's finally returning to her mellow roots by hitting the road on her own. "I tell you," she says. "I really prefer sleeping in the RV to hotels. It's really cool."
JENNIFER BATTEN performs Monday, Sept. 14, at 7:30pm at Don Quixote's, 275 Highway 9, Felton. Tickets are $12. 831.603.2294.
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