Eddie Kramer has enjoyed a career in the music industry that most people can only dream of. Originally from South Africa, he moved to England in the early 1960s, where he worked with such musical legends as Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
When he’s not lecturing around the world, Eddie works as a producer, engineer, author, software developer and studio designer. He’s also worked closely with The Hendrix Foundation over the past 15 years, and last year he won an Emmy for his sound work on the Jimi Hendrix documentary Hear My Train a Comin.’
Eddie was inducted in the TEC Hall of Fame in 2003 and was kind enough to chat with us recently about his phenomenal life and career. Here is Part 1 of his interview.
How did you get into the industry?
I had a tremendous love of music and of electronics, so one day I wondered if I could combine the two, and a bell went off in my head—it was quite loud, in fact. It said recording studios! Be an engineer! And now I’ve been in the business 52 years.
What do you like most about what you do?
For me, it’s the total enjoyment of being in the studio. I actually relish the thought of going into the studio to create something, and creating something new each time. I don’t care if I’m tracking or overdubbing or mixing. There’s nothing like the thrill of hearing a band really lock in and play a song with such intense feeling that it makes the hair on the back of your head stand straight up.
Do you have any secrets for getting the most from your artists?
I like to have a lot of fun in the studio, and when the fun stops that’s when the music dies. We’re only making rock and roll music here, for god’s sake, and too much of music now is like a science project and that bores me to death. I like music that’s exciting and when bands play from the heart. It seems the industry is so concerned about perfection, and perfectionism has got nothing to do with rock and roll in my estimation. It takes a lot away from the improvisational characteristics and accidental stuff that I love.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest legends in rock and roll. How did that happen?
My whole life has been like that––everything I’ve done in terms of where I’ve landed, where I’ve been, what studios I’ve worked at, what artists I’ve worked with. I was very lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. You make the right decisions about mistakes. I say this all the time when I do my lectures: the goal you’re looking for is that amazing mistake that you capitalize on. I think every great artist is able to do that. Think of all the little mistakes and things that were left in on the Stones, Hendrix, Beatles, Zeppelin . . . the list goes on and on. Today we are possessed by, as I said before, the devil of perfectionism.
You also created some iconic images of the artists you worked with back in the 1960s, especially Jimi Hendrix. Was photography a passion of yours?
I’d always been interested in it. I picked up a camera in 1967 at Olympic Studios and, being the kind of independent studio that it was––not tied to any of the record labels and being a maverick, cutting-edge place––there was a tremendous amount of comings and goings. Like the Stones and Hendrix and Traffic and The Small Faces––those were just some of the bands, but we also worked with well-known artists.
What was fascinating to me was the way the musicians looked and acted, even the session musicians. I’d take hundreds of photos of them. I just loved photography and no one seemed to care that I always had a camera with me. It literally never left my side for the year and a half, almost two years, that I worked at Olympic, and I just shot pictures of everyone I worked with. It was a great outlet, and I didn’t realize what I had until years later.
How did you get involved in recording Woodstock?
I got a call from the filmmaker, Michael Wadleigh, when I was working at the Record Plant. He’d heard some of my stuff––and Jimi Hendrix, of course––and Jimi was going to be the big star that was going to finish up at the end. He said we’re doing this little festival up in Woodstock, and it would be nice if you’d come up and record it. I said, ‘yeah, yeah, sounds like fun.’ It was very casual.
I remember driving up there and the sun was coming up over the site and I said to myself, there is no way in hell we’re going to be able to record this at one o’clock because it was a complete, chaotic mess. It was only because of the efforts of the crew, who were fabulous, that we pulled it together. I sum it up in one phrase: it was three days of drugs and hell, but some magnificent music came out of it. It was amazing, but for those of us who were recording it and filming it, it was very tough.
And, geez Louise, who knew it was going to be this earth-shattering thing that people still refer to? It was a game changer for the youth of America and the world, I think. Another serendipitous thing––the right place at the right time, I guess.
Of what project are you most proud?
Probably my work with Jimi Hendrix, no question. He’s the artist I’m most associated with and the artist I had the longest, closest relationship with. I think the music that he produced is for the ages. It was a privilege, a once-in-a-lifetime meeting. In terms of working with Jimi, there was no one that even comes close to his power and reach, and his ability to change the name of the game of how to play a guitar. It’s the reference point, isn’t it, for all young up-and-coming guitarists?
He turned the world upside down with his playing. But he was able to do it and reach into his mind and soul and experiment...that was the whole thing with us was the experimentation. Chas Chandler, who was Jimi’s producer, said, 'The rules are there are no rules.' And we as engineers and producers just said, 'Ha! Now the doors are kicked open, and we can do what we want as long as we’re getting something unusual'––and we did, pretty much every day. We would break new ground every day we recorded Jimi and that allowed us to be expressive with our feelings and our limited technology, and it was very limited in those days. We produced some very unique results, I think.