Jennifer Batten fascinated me when I saw her playing with Michael Jackson in the ’80s and ’90s. At that time, you could count on one hand the number of female guitarists who played at that level, and who had achieved that kind of notoriety. Jennifer broke things wide open, and she blazed the trail for so many of us to follow. Besides her stint with Jackson, she did some amazing work with Jeff Beck, and she remains curious and exploratory in her own music. (For information on Batten’s most recent project, BattleZone, check out the February 2018 issue of GP.)
You started playing at eight years old when an older sister got a guitar, right?
Yeah. I was green with envy, and I took guitar lessons right away. My dad was a jazz fiend, but I didn’t get into jazz myself until I went to GIT (Guitar Institute of Technology). That was a butt kickin’ year for me. The first time I went to GIT was for a guitar symposium where they had these clinics all weekend long. I auditioned to get in, and I flunked. After taking lessons from the age of eight, I found out I didn’t have the basic tools, such as major and minor scales, arpeggios, and that kind of stuff.
When you finally got into GIT, were you the only woman in the class?
It was a bunch of guys and me. It was shocking in a way, because I hadn’t realized how rare it was until I got there. I thought it might be 50/50—like a regular school.
Do you think male and female guitarists will ever reach a 50/50 ratio?
Not in my lifetime. As far as rock and roll guitar and soloing goes, there’s an aggression to it, and I imagine a lot of girls growing up are taught that showing your aggressive side is not cool. If I’m ever in a conversation and they see my guitar case, they always assume I am a classical musician or a singer/songwriter. I think it’s going to take a very young and innovative Eddie Van Halen-type female with great chops that gets in a pop band with amazing songs. That would probably turn things around instantly.
When you started out, did you feel that you were under additional pressure to prove yourself as a player?
On my first record, I was definitely aware of having to prove myself. That’s why I started with “Flight of the Bumblebee.” It was about showing my chops. Now, I go for sounds and moods, and, if anything, I’m going the other way, and specifically not catering to guitar players. I was so influenced by the Jeff Beck records I played on. Jeff never wants to repeat himself. He’ll listen to East Indian radio when he’s at home, and to all these different things to try and find inspiration. He has a short attention span, and, for my own solo records, I also found I was kind of bored with the average guitar-shredder record. But as I haven’t had mainstream success, there’s not really any pressure on me to repeat myself, so I can go wherever I want to go. I’m just trying to entertain myself.
Sue Foley’s new CD, The Ice Queen, is out now. Check it out.