Eddie Kramer has enjoyed a career that most sound engineers and producers can only dream of. Originally from South Africa, he moved to England in the early 60s, where he worked with such music legends as Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Kinks and Led Zeppelin.
When he’s not lecturing around the world, he continues to work as a producer, engineer, author, software developer and studio designer. For the past 15 years, he’s also worked closely with The Hendrix Foundation and won an Emmy last year for his sound work on the 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.
Your work with Jimi Hendrix is legendary. How did it come about?
I was living in London, and I think the whole city was ablaze with Jimi Hendrix. Everybody paid homage to him––even The Beatles and The Stones. Virtually every guitar player would cry into his tea having witnessed him. Jimi and [his producer] Chas were a little unhappy with their recording situation and heard about the new Olympic, which had just opened, and I got Jimi as a client. From the first time we met, we hit it off. We just loved challenging each other.
Did you have any mentors?
Yes, I had two mentors. Sadly they’ve passed but they were great engineers. One was a guy named Bob Auger. Bob was one of the most brilliant recording engineers in England. We would go out and use the Pye Mobile, and I would be his assistant. One day, we’d go out and record an entire 90-piece symphony orchestra with just three microphones, and then the next day we’d be back in the studio recording The Kinks. I got a tremendous education from him. He was definitely one of the great engineers of all time.
My next mentor was the guy who ran Olympic studios, Keith Grant, another genius and a great rock and roll engineer. We’d be doing a rock band one day, and the next recording a 65- to 70-piece orchestra for film. The cool thing about learning to be an engineer in England was there was such variety and you never knew what you’d be thrown into. I was very fortunate to have twice recorded The Beatles at Olympic. One night we’d be recording The Stones, and then John and Paul would come in and do the background vocals. It was a whole different scene at the time, where the artists were genuinely interested in each other and would help out.
Looking back, who have been your favorite artists to work with?
We already talked about Jimi. Definitely Zeppelin. Definitely The Beatles, definitely The Stones, definitely Traffic, and the list goes on and on. The Zeppelin boys are my favorite rock and roll band, for the very fact that they are still a reference point for most current bands. I don’t think there’s been a rock and roll band that’s as powerful and commanding as Zeppelin.
The Stones, for the opposite [reason], in the sense that they were the most raggedy-ass bunch of guys in the studio. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way; I mean in the way they approached their music. It was always this battle between Mick and Keith, which still continues today. But I think that’s part of the joy of working with them. I was very fortunate. There was a wonderful producer named Jimmy Miller, and he produced Beggar’s Banquet, which I was lucky enough to record a bunch of. And just being in the studio with The Stones and Jimmy doing his magic, that taught me a lot. I use Jimmy Miller as a benchmark in terms of how I like to produce records because he was amazingly skilled at getting the best out of The Stones. So there’s another mentor.
What was it like working with The Beatles?
That was scary as all hell. Even though I recorded The Stones and Hendrix, The Beatles are like royalty. I was a young kid, and The Beatles…come on, they’re at the top of the pile! It was pretty scary, but I did two songs with them: “Baby You’re a Rich Man” and “All You Need is Love.” Once I got over the nerves, it was terrific. They were amazingly efficient and incredibly intuitive.
What do you think is the key for succeeding in this industry?
The main thing is to keep one’s mind open and, certainly when you get on in years, to diversify or die. Diversification is the name of the game, especially in today’s market. You’ve got to be able to do anything from film to music to television to pop. Just keep your mind open, don't close it down. I’d like to think I could produce or record any kind of music. Obviously, I became known for rock, but in the beginning I used to do a lot of classical music and film work. So I think it’s important for kids today to not restrict themselves because the music industry has changed so dramatically.
So has technology. Is it challenging to stay current since things change so quickly?
You have to keep your eyes and ears open, and keep pace with modern technology. Of course, I still love to record analog, and that runs right in the face of contemporary thinking, But I’m not the only one. There are many producers like myself as well as bands that still love recording analog. We do have to transfer it at some point into Pro Tools, but some bands don’t even want to do that because they love what we did in the 60s and 70s––which was this fabulous analog sound. Surely the time was different and the whole scene was different then, but what I think I’ve found today is this whole combination of the best of analog and the best of digital. I combine those two worlds so that my product, what I put out, has the best tonality from both worlds. I think they can live together very well. And many producers do what I do. They may not record on a multi-track tape machine, but they use a lot of analog technology in their mixing, and that’s what I like to do.
So you’re utilizing the best of both worlds.
What I tell young students is, here’s how it was done in the past but there was a reason for it. It’s the same thing with painting. Picasso started with very strict training. If he didn’t have that formal background, he wouldn’t have evolved into the Picasso we know. I use that analogy with sound. You have to start with the basic training of how to record, and if you don’t know those basic principles then you’re not going to become a good engineer and then maybe a good producer. You have to start someplace and usually that’s with the music and how it’s formulated––and sound and how it’s formulated. This is critical, and I don’t think schools teach enough of that.
Considering all of the legends that you’ve worked with, I bet you’ve got some great stories.
There are a lot of stories. I’m in the midst of writing a book now. It’s called From the Other Side of the Glass. It’s a work in progress.
If you could give some advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Be more focused and not so impetuous.
Are there any interesting tales to go with along with that piece of advice?
Yes, but I’ll leave those stories for the book.
Where can we find you, when you’re not behind the mixing board?
Cooking up a storm in the kitchen. I love to cook. Both my better half A.J. and I are foodies. We enjoy food very much––and wine. And we love to travel. I also putz around the house and do odd jobs. In my time off, I like to paint a door or sand something or make something to keep one’s mind clear.
What do you think people would be most surprised to learn about you?
That there are things I’d still like to do in my life. Stand in front of a wonderful symphony orchestra and conduct them. Become a much better pianist, so I can play all of the Rachmaninoff Concerti fluidly, and play a really great jazz solo. Race a car at Le Mans. And I would also love to live off the grid, either in Provence or Tuscany. Raise some wine and goats and chickens. I think that’s a doable dream.