Although a mainstream pop singer at the time, Michael Jackson always found ways how to incorporate different elements into his music. Among other things, he had Steve Lukather playing guitar in his band. Additionally, he had none other than legendary Eddie Van Halen recording a solo for “Beat It” back in the early 1980s. The guitarist also joined him for select performances to play the song.
Among many great musicians, including Slash of Guns N’ Roses, Jackson also hired guitarist Jennifer Batten to be a part of his live band. Unknown at that time, Jennifer was an experienced musician and an instructor who marked one era of Michael Jackson’s work. In a recently published interview on Ultimate Guitar, she discussed her stint with Jackson, primarily on what it was like to play his music.
Asked about whether Jackson ever had a say in her guitar tone and whether he was informed on how guitar amp tweaking works, she responded:
“He didn’t have much to say, other than, which is very comedic at this point – I had a Whammy pedal, and I had the bright idea of having my tech run it with the octave up mode when I was out front, which meant I had zero control. I just thought it would be a wild solo. After I played, Michael, his only response was, ‘Can you have the sound you had yesterday?’ [laughs]“
“And I remember being out there, just being horrified at what was coming out of my guitar, because it was like putting a monkey on your pedal, right? [laughs] He’s very theatrical – he also had something to say about when I would go out front and play ‘Beat It’ and this was at rehearsals, I had a shit-eating grin on my face because I was having a great time. His whole thing was, ‘This is not a happy song. So, can you have a snarl?'”
“And I remember, specifically, he said, ‘This is kind of an actor thing. Think of something terrible your father did to you.’ And I immediately thought, ‘You’re thinking about your own father because my father was great.’ [laughs] I went from smiling to trying to have a tough look when I went out there to play.”
Asked about the audition process, Jennifer said:
Yeah, well, the guy that called and got me to audition, was also the guy that videotaped the auditions. And I asked him what songs I should know, and he listed some hits, whatever had been on the radio at the time. And so I stayed home, canceled everything for two or three days and asked when is the last possible time when I could audition so that I’d be extremely prepared. And when I went in, I was expecting a band, but there was no band, it was just me, ‘Go.’ And the only guidance he gave me, at that time, he said, ‘I want to hear some funky rhythm.’ That’s the first thing I did – I improvised some stuff, and it was actually the stuff I that had been showing to students. I was teaching at Musicians Institute at the time.“
“And honestly, the hardest part of the whole audition was when it was all over, he said, ‘Okay, Michael wants to get an idea of your personality, so, talk.’ [laughs] And it was so awkward. I have no idea what I said, but it was probably nervous. I got a call a couple of days later that said that he saw the videotape, he was interested, and to come down and play with the band. Nobody ever said, ‘You’re hired.’ Nobody ever sent me home. And I worked my ass off to get the forms down, get everything as accurate as I possibly could.“
“At that time, I bought my first CD player in 1987, So that I could hear things accurately. And I also had one of those Marantz cassette decks where you could slow the motor down. Next thing I know, I had a passport and a ticket to Tokyo.”
Jennifer also had a near miss with being in Ozzy’s band – read about that here.
Photo: gumdropgas (Jennifer Batten), Constru-centro (Michael Jackson Dangerous World Tour 1993), Carl Lender (Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum 2)