Guitar World’s massive Eddie Van Halen memorial issue is out on newsstands now, and among the many tributes to the electric guitar master are several from six-string peers and acolytes, including Steve Lukather, Nuno Bettencourt, Adam Jones and Yngwie Malmsteen.
One player who offers some unique insight into Eddie is Jennifer Batten, who, as Michael Jackson’s guitarist in the '80s and early '90s, spent years playing Eddie’s famous Beat It solo on stages all over the world.
In an exclusive chat with Guitar World she recalls hearing the track for the first time.
“I was at rehearsal with a cover band I was playing with at the time,” Batten says. “We had the radio on and we heard Beat It. It was brand new. When that solo came up, we all stopped and looked at each other, like, what the hell was that? It was like time stopped.
“I immediately bought the record and set out to learn that solo using my little Marantz cassette deck that you could slow down. It was so full of new techniques and sounds and dive bombs and tapping that I couldn’t tell what hand was doing what, but I finally figured it out. Later on that solo bought me a house!”
Batten also says that onstage with Jackson she would “always do the solo just like Eddie. Somebody asked me the other day if I was told to play it that way or if it was my choice. It was definitely my choice because I thought it was one of the most perfect solos in history. I knew I couldn’t do better than Eddie. I was proud to play it as it was. And it was challenging. It’s still challenging.”
Funny enough, she later got the opportunity to not only play the solo for Eddie – but also teach it to him.
“During the Bad tour [in 1987-1989] there was a point where we had a break for a couple of weeks and I was going to play a gig with a band,” Batten says.
“It was one of those nasty L.A. days where the traffic is awful and it’s hotter than hell. I showed up late, totally stressed out. And the manager of the band greeted my car and said, ‘Eddie Van Halen’s next door… and he wants you to prove that you can play the Beat It solo.’ That was just overload from how my day had gone. And my immediate reaction was no.
“Eventually Eddie’s tech came over and asked if I would come and meet him. And I said, ‘I would love to.’ And as soon as I walked in the room, he put his guitar on me and wanted me to play the solo. So, of course, I did. As soon as I finished, he grabbed the guitar and asked me to remind him how the solo went. Because it’s not something he had played with Van Halen – it was a one-off in the studio and then he went on his way. But I’d say he picked it up again mighty quickly!”