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Batten it out of the park

Former guitarist for Michael Jackson, Jennifer Batten, preps for performance in Veterans Park as part of Scappoose Summerfest


by: PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNIFER BATTEN - Jennifer Batten plays guitar alongside pop legend Michael Jackson.Among her achievements, rock guitarist Jennifer Batten, of Portland, has played guitar for pop legend Michael Jackson on three separate world tours. Batten also played for three years with one of her major influences, British guitarist Jeff Beck.

Tonight — Friday, June 27 — she will play during the Scappoose Summerfest alongside Hit Machine, one of a number of bands assembled and led by Scappoose musician Bart Hafeman.

“I suppose I’ve had a mass number of acts,” Batten said. “But obviously getting the gig with Michael Jackson was the biggest thing I’ve ever done.”

Batten said she first picked up a guitar as a young girl, mostly out of envy.

“It was jealousy,” she said. “My sister had a guitar and I didn’t, so that made me mad. When I was eight, I asked for a guitar, and on my next birthday I got an electric guitar. That was rare at the time and that set me on a rock-and-roll path.”

As a girl, Batten said her early influences were pop bands such as The Beatles, The Monkees and The Rolling Stones. Later, Batten shifted her focus to blues artists, listening repeatedly to older musicians such as John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

“Once I discovered those three chords, I would jam along with any of those records for hours,” Batten said of playing blues, adding that once she started getting an allowance, she would ride her bike to the record store and buy as many discount records as she could afford. “I started to improve and jam along with those.”

It was around that time Batten first heard the 1975 album “Blow by Blow” by Jeff Beck, but it would be another 24 years before she entered a recording studio with that artist.

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNIFER BATTEN - Jennifer Batten lives in the Portland area and has recently sought out local musicians with whom to perform.Batten’s first world tour with Michael Jackson — the “Bad” tour — started in 1987 after an audition in Los Angeles. She said one of Jackson’s “right-hand-men” called her and a number of other musicians and instructors to try out for the part. Batten nailed the audition.

That kicked off the first of her three world tours with Jackson, which Batten refers to as the highlight of her career. The second was the “Dangerous” tour, which ran from 1992 to 1993, and the third “HIStory” tour ran from 1996 to 1997. Batten also played at Jackson’s 1993 Super Bowl half-time performance.

It was during her tours with Jackson that Batten connected with her guitar

hero, Jeff Beck.

“I knew I would be in the London area and asked everyone where we went whether people had an association with him,” Batten said.

Finally, Batten was able to give Beck a copy of one of her newly-recorded solo albums.

“I gave him my CD. I just wanted a signature,” Batten said. “Eventually he called and wanted to do a record with me. That was 100 percent unexpected.”

Batten played with Beck for three years and has appearances on albums “Who Else!” and “You Had it Coming.”

“Getting a gig with Jeff Beck, he was a guitar hero from when I was a child, those two [Beck and Jackson] were definitely at the top,” Batten said when asked about her career.

Last year, Batten made the decision to take fewer flights in and out of Portland and instead connect with local bands.

“I’ve been in the Portland area for about 10 years,” Batten said. “I decided it’s time to integrate into the local scene. I found out which players were working the most and hooked up with [R&B musician] Patrick Lamb and Bart [Hafeman]. I started playing with their bands from time to time.

Batten said that, for tonight’s show, she and Hit Machine put together a medley of Michael Jackson songs, but for the most part, she said, Hafeman calls out songs randomly to the band with no set list.

Batten has also authored a number of books on guitar technique, including one, and two-hand tapping techniques, wherein a guitarist plays notes with both hands on the fret board.

“I’m known for two-hand tapping and I get into wide interval skips — big jumps between notes — and a lot of tremolo bar use as well,” Batten said of her guitar style.

The guitar isn’t Batten’s only means of creativity. She recently began crafting steampunk — Victorian-era science fiction — sculptures and went through what she called an “obsessive period of stained glass work.” Her art can be viewed or purchased at etsy.com/people/mondocongo.

Aspiring musicians can also sign up for lessons from Batten at batten.com.