The music industry is full of extremely talented instrumentalists who end up being no more than “hired guns.” Some of them manage to break away from being just another unknown or lesser-known musician by making their own work. Some have completely gone into oblivion and rarely anyone will remember their names.
But there are some guitar players who, although associated with big singers they worked for, are fondly remembered by both fans and other musicians. One of those guitar masters is Jennifer Batten who famously played for Michael Jackson. Her incredible guitar skills and stage presence are still very much talked about.
However, being a female guitarist in showbusiness back in the 1980s came with its set of challenges. During a recent chat with Guitar World, Batten remembered some of the incidents from back in the day. Asked about whether she felt pressure back in the day, since she came from an “era of video babes and trade show booth babes,” she replied:
“Yeah, I definitely did, and it was at the highest level: Frank DiLeo, who was Michael Jackson’s manager. There were two incidents.“
“I was already hired and things were going well. The first time, he goes, ‘Now that you have the gig, I could probably get you a spread in Playboy.’ I was horrified! I thought, ‘What the fuck are you… I’m a guitar player!’ It wasn’t pressure. It’s just something coming from his perspective that he thought was a big deal, because anybody around him just wants to be famous, however it takes to get there, and I was not of that ilk.
“Another time, we were somewhere in Europe at a party, and that bastard came up to me, he looked at my chest, and he goes, ‘You need some tits. I’ll buy them for you.’ I think probably every woman in the industry has run into something like that at some point because it’s a man’s world. Women are making a lot of headway, but overall it’s still a man’s world with a man’s perspective.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Batten discussed her use of Ibanez guitars back in the day, as well as her decision to switch over to Washburn. She recalled:
“I signed with Ibanez in 1987, when I got the Michael Jackson tour. After seven years of seven Ibanez guitars with seven bad necks, the builder told me I had bad luck with necks, and I said, ‘There’s got to be something more reliable than that.’ Since I jumped ship, the Washburn necks have been very stable.”
Asked how the Washburn collaboration began, Batten offered:
“I got poached by a guy who took me out to lunch, told me everything I wanted to hear, and then promptly fucked off to Fender! Many parts of everything I wanted to hear never happened, but I don’t like to be flaky with jumping companies all the time, and Washburn was good.
“I did a bunch of clinics for them around the world. I got super-intrigued by the Line 6 Variax, which allowed me to trigger acoustic sounds and various other guitar brand models and tunings, but I did come back when Dee Tatum, my guy at Washburn that I’ve known for many years, said, ‘I just came back from South America and they want you back down there. What do you say?’ So I did it.”