Eddie Kramer—From Jimi Hendrix To Woodstock

This August marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the original event spawning two multi-record sets and a feature-length movie (recently restored and expanded). Leading off with Richie Havens (he was the first artist on the scene with an intact band), a few of the other acts included Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills & Nash, a pregnant Joan Baez, Country Joe & the Fish, Santana, Sha Na Na, Sly & the Family Stone, Ten Years After, Janis Joplin, the Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, the Band and the Grateful Dead. What is burned into everyone's consciousness, however, was the show-closing set by Jimi Hendrix (sans Experience) and his interpretation of The Star-Spangled Banner.

What is not widely known is who was in charge of recording the music for all to enjoy long after Max Yasgur's farm had been turned into a sea of mud and debris. Running on adrenalin and vitamin shots for those three mad days was the legendary Eddie Kramer, audio engineer extraordinaire. From the Beatles to Traffic, Led Zeppelin to Kiss, Rolling Stones to Ted Nugent, Kramer was often the guy behind the studio mixing desk, soldiering on to this day.

...I felt intimidated...when the Beatles came to Olympic on
two separate occasions to record
All You Need Is Love
Baby, You’re A Rich Man with George Martin.

Eddie Kramer, on taking rock photographs

By chance it was young Kramer—then a budding engineer with Olympic Studios in London—who was called upon to record the first tracks featuring a sensational guitarist just over from America—none other than Hendrix. The two formed a bond that lasted the duration of the latter's career, with Hendrix following Kramer's lead in the production of the star's albums—including several posthumous releases.

In 1992 John McDermott collaborated with Kramer to write Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight. Not only is this account the most accurate of the many Hendrix tomes, the book features many of Kramer's photos taken during Hendrix recording sessions. Also included are several by the late Linda McCartney.

Kramer continues to consult with Experience Hendrix; a recent project involved updating original VH1 footage to produce an enhanced At Last...The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland DVD. Notable album "session musicians" interviewed for the video include the likes of Dave Mason, Steve Winwood and Jack Casady, the latter with whom Hendrix had jammed backstage at the '67 Monterey Pop Festival.

Bassist Noel Redding having walked out on the Experience at that point, here Kramer discusses All Along the Watchtower in this video segment:

Ryan Sparks, writing for Classic Rock Revisited, recently interviewed Eddie Kramer about how he came to be chosen to record the '69 Woodstock Festival and what that experience was like. A portion of that interview is presented here (by permission of the author).

[Sparks] Woodstock was a truly unique, one [of] a kind festival. How did you become involved?

[Kramer] I knew that Jimi was going to be playing up there and the film company called me and said, “Hey, you record Jimi, why don’t you come up and record the whole thing?”

[Sparks] After you surveyed the scene, did you think you’d have enough time to get everything in order to be fully prepared for when things started?

[Kramer] No way. I had doubts that we were ever going to get anything, but…[the] crew was tremendous and they pulled it together. We got going and three days of drugs and hell became part of American history.

[Sparks] Tell me about your recording setup.

[Kramer] [We had] two eight tracks, a twelve channel board and some little Shure mixers. [To call it] primitive [would be] a mild understatement.

[Sparks] You and your crew had to stay awake for three days straight. Was it just Lee Osborne and you?

[Kramer] Yeah... The stage crew…were the ones who we were trying to communicate with, which was rather difficult. We had vitamin B12 shots to keep us all going [and] slept on the floor of the truck for a few hours. [We] rolled tape all the time, whereas the poor film guys they were struggling with five cameras trying to keep it all going.

[Sparks] You’re not only a legendary producer/engineer, but you’ve also captured some great images of some of rock’s greatest musicians with your camera…In addition to Jimi, did you manage to shoot anyone else at the festival while they were performing?

[Kramer] No…Once the recording had settled down on Jimi I said ‘OK, guys, watch the meters, watch the machines, I’m going to run out for like ten seconds.’ I ran out with my camera and shot about two or three pictures of Jimi and then ran back to the truck.

[Sparks] [Did] any of [the groups] pose any kind of challenge?

Wolfgang's Vault - Reissue

[Kramer] Every artist presented his own peculiar set of challenges. You’re dealing with battlefield recordings here; these are not for the faint of heart [laughs]. You had to figure out where each microphone was, which band was coming out, what they were going to be playing, who’s playing, what’s playing. You know that old Abbott and Costello routine, "Who’s On First?" It was just like that.

[Sparks] With such an impressive and extensive back catalogue of work, where does Woodstock rank on your list of achievements?

[Kramer] Woodstock has to stand out; [pauses] how does one even begin?

[Sparks] You’ve captured some of rock’s most iconic live albums; how would you compare it to some of those?

[Kramer] It was the most difficult, but it also yielded some of the great performances of our time. It certainly stands out in my memory....It continues to influence subsequent generations, which I’m very pleased about.

[Sparks] [In] that moment, did you think you were capturing something magical that people would still be talking about forty years later?

[Kramer] No. I was only too concerned about getting the…stuff to record and making sure it appeared on tape; that was my main concern. Who cared about history then!