While not enjoying the major fame of some of her more “mainstream” colleagues, Jennifer Batten is one hell of a guitar player. An experienced jazz fusion player and a renowned instructor, Jennifer got her breakthrough while playing for Michael Jackson as a part of his live band. Although she’s not present on any of the legendary singer’s studio albums, she’s remembered as one of his greatest live members.
In a recent interview with Ultimate Guitar, Batten looked back on the time spent with Jackson and what it was like to do those high-production live shows. During the chat, she was questioned about one crazy outfit with lasers and other props and what it was like to play “Beat It” solo while wearing it all. You can check out the aforementioned outfit in the embedded player below.
Of course, this particular lead guitar section was written and performed by Eddie Van Halen. And wearing such an outfit while playing this virtuosic piece of music surely seems like a challenge. Asked whether it was a challenge, Jennifer, who also auditioned for Ozzy’s band but was ultimately rejected, said:
“Yeah, it was. In fact, ‘Beat it’ was tuned down to low C. I had a guitar specifically for that. That was one of the things — every day he changed the key, because he was dancing, and it was more of a struggle to sing in a higher key.“
“That was a challenge, right there, because I was playing a certain gauge strings all night, and then, for my debut out front, all the sudden I have this Frankenstein guitar that doesn’t feel great. And then, they got the laser lights that were hooked to my head, attached to fiber optics that went, maybe, 100 feet back to the computer operator, and he would change the colors as I walked. Every once in a while, I would walk too far, and get whiplash, so that was a drag. [laughs]“
“And the first time I tried it, they turned out the lights, and here I am, trying to play the ‘Beat It’ solo and I cannot see my fretboard, because it’s too dark. And I was hunched over, as far as I possibly could, to hopefully get the right frets. And ever since then, I have been a fan of glow-in-the-dark tape. And I still use it to this day, because if you’re in a theater, the blackouts between songs are treacherous.”
Photo: gumdropgas (Jennifer Batten), Constru-centro (Michael Jackson Dangerous World Tour 1993), Carl Lender (Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum 2)