One for the road: Jennifer Batten

Theme parks with Jacko and touring war stories

One for the road Jennifer Batten
(Image: © Ali Hasbach)

She's toured the world with Michael Jackson and Jeff Beck, and here she shares her tips on how to survive life on the road - and hijack a theme park.

What was your first gig?

"My very first gig was a jazz-guitar duet with another guitar player named Brian Pardo. We played at a restaurant and we each made $12. It was the first time I was out reading the Real Book and having an audience and I realised just how awful that was and that it was such a distraction, not having that clear path to making eye contact with the audience. After that, I started to focus on memorising things."

Describe your current stage rig…

My Thomas Blug amp is 3lbs, 100 watts and four channels; it's essentially like a 100-watt Marshall that you can throw in your gigbag

"It's interesting, because I've made a whole lot changes in the last year. I have a new amp, which is a guitar-player's dream. It's made by Thomas Blug and it's 3lbs, 100 watts and four channels; it's essentially like a 100-watt Marshall that you can throw in your gigbag.

"He's been engineering for Hughes & Kettner for 20 years - one of these genius Einstein types, the kind of person who has the patience to sit there and listen to tubes, which is definitely not me. I'm using the amp's loops and a DigiTech RP1000, so I get every effect at my feet that you can possibly think of. Plus an expression pedal… and I use the snot out of the Whammy.

"Thomas has just sent me his new cabinets - he calls them The Nano and it's the biggest sound in the smallest package ever. So after having hernia surgery and decades of lifting heavy amps, the lighter the better.

"Guitars are in transition; I took a little hiatus from Washburn for a couple of years because I was so excited about the Line 6 Variax, but I'm back with Washburn and I've conned them into putting the electronics of the Variax into a new Washburn Parallaxe electric and I was hoping to take it out on this tour, but I've stumped them with the electronics.

"They're going to have a big release in October, right when the tour is over. So what I'm taking out is my old Washburn that I've been using for 15 or 16 years; it's not available any more, it's called the JB100."

Which piece of gear is essential to your live sound?

"My hands! [laughs] I'd say the Whammy pedal, because I use the shit out of it. I do a lot of bending with it, whether it's chords or single lines. A lifelong love."

Name a non-musical item you couldn't do without…

"Eye shades… I've been in hotels that have such complicated lighting systems that I can't turn off all the lights! So after you've flown for 12 hours, the last thing you want to do is fire up your left brain before you pass out."

What's the closest you've come to having a Spinal Tap moment on tour?

"God, there've been so many. The first thing that comes to mind is that I was on stage with Michael Jackson and for one of my solos, I would go down a couple of steps to a grate that had a fan under it and at the time, I was wearing contacts and all this shit would come up from the fan and get in my eyes and I would just be crying going back to my spot."

What's on your rider?

"It's really changed over the years, to the point where it's got a little sassy. I don't have brown M&Ms or anything, usually I just ask for water and a towel. Although if I'm doing a clinic in a store where they don't want to pay for a real engineer, I say,'Please arrange for the best sound engineer the universe has ever known.' I mean, I've had people who are reading the manual about the mixer just before I go on…"

What's the best venue you've played and what made it so special?

"It was a Michael Jackson gig in the LA area, at a place called the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. At a stadium, the sound just goes out and it doesn't come back, but the way this place was set up - it was like a bowl shape - the sound was just gorgeous. It was so full and beautiful, I'll never forget it."

What's the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you on tour?

When I was first with Michael Jackson and we went to Japan, he shut down Tokyo Disneyland so we could hang out without the riff-raff!

"When I was first with Michael Jackson and we went to Japan, he shut down Tokyo Disneyland so we could hang out without the riff-raff! [laughs] Only Elvis could have pulled that off. I think we went on all the rides, 'cos there was no line…"

Which is the best airline you've used from a musician's point of view?

"In America, it's South West. The only airline that doesn't charge for checking a second bag, which would be your guitar."

What's your best tip for getting the audience on your side?

"Comedy. I'll always start with a tune and then I'll try and work in some comedy - it's the quickest way to break the ice. It's obviously a lot more difficult if it's in a foreign country."

What do you do to warm up?

"Typically, scale patterns. Stuff to keep my fingers moving. Mindless muscle memory."

What's your favourite live album?

"The first that comes to mind is Frampton Comes Alive!. I was working in a record shop when that came out and we could not keep it in stock - I have really good memories from that, and so does he! Jeff Beck's live album with Jan Hammer; Jeff and Jan, for my ears, are the best improv duo out there."

For more information on Jennifer's latest tuition DVD, Rock Sauce For Lead Guitar, visit Jennifer Batten's official website

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