Eddie Kramer : In the Studio With Jimi Hendrix

November 12, 2010
 Photo © 2010 Dave Dickson
Recording Engineer Eddie Kramer speaks with JBL Professional’s Peter Chaikin about memorable recording projects with Jimi Hendrix...

Eddie you are well known for your recording work on legendary projects with Jimi Hendrix. And in recent years you’ve been going back to the original masters and producing a stream of new releases. It’s almost as if the recording hasn’t stopped.

It’s a continuing saga. If one puts into perspective the fact that Jimi lived in the studio – when he wasn’t on the road and when he wasn’t sleeping he was in the studio – he was a workaholic – and the four years that we worked together produced an enormous volume of material some of which is just coming to light. This year we were very fortunate. We had a huge success with an album called Valleys Of Neptune which shot up the charts like we couldn’t believe. It was unexpected that it was going to be that successful.  And essentially, that’s material that has been in the vaults for quite some time and in most cases had not even been released. The last year and a half we have been working on an enormous project which is coming out this month. It’s an anthology called “West Coast Seattle Boy” and it’s four CDs basically tracing Jimi’s musical path from the very very beginning. It’s fascinating. The first CD is Jimi as a side man playing with people like Little Richard, and the Isley Brothers and it’s just amazing to hear him trying to burst through the tracks. So you can hear the beginnings of Jimi’s sound starting to appear on the first CD, and then it goes through the very first albums all the way to the very end. And it includes some remarkable recently discovered gems of Jimi playing acoustic guitar and a very light electric guitar in his apartment, and in his hotel room with his own tape machine and his own microphone – just recording demos for Electric Lady Land. There’s a STUNNING – absolute Stunning version of a Bob Dylan song called “Tears of Rage “which he had never recorded. It puts the hair on the back of your head straight up, because it’s such a visceral performance.  There’s also a two-hour documentary DVD so the whole package is quite phenomenal.

Can you tell us about your recent project at Electric Lady Studios?

We came to Electric Lady Land Studios to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the construction of the studio and that week we were in there mixing some cool material. I can’t really tell you what the project is but it’s very exciting and there is a movie involved. It’s premature to talk about it, but suffice to say it is one of the greatest performances that Jimi has ever done on film.

What was it like to be in the studio with Jimi Hendrix and record him?

One of the interesting things on the four-CD box set is that you get this insight into how he liked to work. You get to hear the germ of a song where you hear it for the first time all the way through the first tracking sessions and each of the outtakes. You can hear how each performance gets better and better. He was a perfectionist – he was demanding – he was absolutely in control of his instrument and the direction that he’d go to get the sound - that’s for sure. And because of his mastery of tone,  mastery of the technical aspects of playing guitar, which to him was like breathing I guess, it was easy for him to create sounds that were just nonexistent in anybody else’s mind (laughs.) And so of course when I hear that stuff for the first time on the floor of the studio I’m going “how on earth am I going to be able to record this man?” And then you have to come up with new and different ways of recording him and trying to preserve the dynamic range – trying to make sure that the power of the amplifier is not dampened in any way but rather enhanced.  And then of course all of the effects that we decided to bring to bear because Jimi was wonderful at encouraging us to let it all fly. And Chas Chandler, God bless him, who was Jimi’s producer, Chas said this marvelous thing to us in the very beginning – he said “The rules are, there are no rules.” And we took that to heart and obviously it opened up the flood gates for us. You know we had very limited technology available to us. We were recording 4-track half-inch in those days, because we had to mix everything from the first four track down to the two tracks of another four track, and then fill that up,  and THEN bounce it back to the FIRST four track. So there was a lot of stereo mixing going on and you had to make damn sure that your mixes were really accurate.  And we were only able to use things like compression, eq and reverb. There wasn’t much that we had, but what we had we put to good use.

Eddie Kramer at Capitol Studios remixing original Woodstock Festival masters on JBL LSR6300 Studio Monitors.
And hearing the tracks today you recorded so long ago, do they surprise you? Do they sound as you remember them or different to you, listening using new technology?

Yeah – that’s one of the interesting things - The Valleys of Neptune record sounds to most people like it was recorded yesterday and I think it’s a tribute to the way we recorded in those days. I was able to dig into the tapes and really enhance and improve upon the actual sound so if the original sound was good, I was able to make it even better. I gave it a more full-bodied sound. I was able to improve some of the dynamics. Of course this is made possible by new technologies and equipment. I can hear tremendous detail in the JBL monitors I’m using. I am very happy with my speakers because they give me the detail that I need – particularly in the high-end. They’re not fatiguing to the ears which is really cool, so I am able to tell where certain instruments are in the stereo image. That to me is really critical because I do a lot of very careful placement and a lot of panning. I think JBL is really doing it right these days.

In a video interview, Eddie Kramer talks about the project to remix legendary Woodstock performances for Warner Home Video’s “Woodstock: 40th Anniversary—Ultimate Collector’s Edition” DVD. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO.

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