Eddie Kramer worked with Jimi Hendrix for the last three years of his life — Hendrix ‘Live in Maui’
By Nick Krewen
Over the decades, legendary producer and engineer Eddie Kramer has been behind the recording console with the best of the best: the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and many more.
But there’s one game-changing artist who impacted the South African native more than any other: Jimi Hendrix, the man who revolutionized rock guitar.
“He changed my life, basically, and the course of my musical and production and engineering career, ” Kramer, 78, recalled last week from his home in Prince Edward County, as he awaited the Friday releases of the Hendrix double live-concert CD “Live In Maui” and its accompanying documentary, “Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui.”
“Once I met him and recorded him, it was just the most stunning moment in my life.”
Kramer was the senior recording engineer at London’s Olympic Studios when he met Hendrix in January 1967.
“He’s sitting in the corner of Olympic, huddled up in this old raincoat because it was bloody cold in London at the time,” Kramer remembers with a laugh. “We all knew about him because he had done ‘Hey Joe,’ came to London and just shredded the town. All the musicians were crying into their guitars.”
Legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix in June 1969. EI SCAN
But Kramer had no idea just how gifted Hendrix was on the axe until he placed a microphone in front of the Seattle guitarist’s amplifier.
“I stood back and the sound that hit me just overwhelmed me,” Kramer exclaims. “I was gobsmacked — I’d never heard anything quite like it and it really changed the whole concept of how I was going to record stuff.
“It was such an impact! Can you imagine hearing that sound for the first time? Oh my God, it was earth-shattering!”
Hendrix had been making the rounds of London studios but hadn’t been thrilled with most of the results he was getting.
Until he met Kramer, an aspiring classical pianist who discovered jazz and rock as a teenager, headed to London in 1960 and decided that his future would be spent helping artists immortalize their music on tape.
“We had a great relationship based upon those initial sounds,” Kramer says. “I ran back into the control room thinking, ‘How the hell am I going to capture that?’ I pulled out every trick that I could think of, nodded to Jimi — come up here, have a quick listen — and he nodded at me and gave me that sort of grin of, ‘OK, the game is on.’ And that was the name of the game: experimentation.”
From 1967 until the guitarist’s tragic death in September 1970, Kramer became Hendrix’s right-hand man in the studio, helming the classic albums “Are You Experienced,” “Axis: Bold as Love” “Electric Ladyland” and the posthumously released “The Cry of Love.”
Since 1994, Kramer has overseen all the releases of Hendrix’s vault-driven material, including “Live in Maui,” which he remixed and remastered.
When Hendrix and his manager, Michael Jeffery, bought the New York basement nightclub Generation, it was Kramer who convinced them to turn it into the recording studios known as Electric Lady, designed by studio architect John Storyk.
The studio’s construction ties into the Maui album, the documentary and its subject matter, the 1971 movie “Rainbow Bridge,” which left the engineer with a perplexing dilemma.
As a result of some wheeling and dealing by Jeffery, the guitarist’s record label agreed to lend Jeffery $500,000 to finish the construction of Electric Lady.
Jeffery had also agreed to provide an on-site performance by Hendrix that Chuck Wein, a one-time Andy Warhol affiliate and the director of “Rainbow Bridge,” would shoot for the movie.
To secure the loan with Warner Bros., Jeffery promised the record label it would receive an original Hendrix score to accompany the film. Everyone signed off on the deal, although it’s unclear whether Hendrix was a party to the agreement.
On July 30, 1970, Hendrix, bass player Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell interrupted their U.S. tour to perform two blustery outdoor sets near the Haleakala volcano in Maui, Hawaii.
A 17-minute chunk of that footage was, by all accounts, the highlight of “Rainbow Bridge,” which was savaged by critics and performed poorly at the box office.
But between the film’s production and release, the unthinkable happened: Hendrix died six weeks after his Maui concert of asphyxia in a Notting Hill flat.
That didn’t stop Warner from wanting its Hendrix score for “Rainbow Bridge” — and it was left to Kramer to appease them.
While the 1971 movie soundtrack was a compilation of tracks that Kramer and drummer Mitchell assembled to placate Warner, “Live In Maui” contains the recordings of the two Jimi Hendrix Experience concert sets performed for the film.
“We were very fortunate,” Kramer says. “We found all the original tapes and I transferred them and made them sound an awful lot better. I remixed both shows and that is now part of the two-CD live album.”
Before Hendrix’s departure for what would be his final tour, Kramer and the musician spent four months recording “The Cry of Love.”
“Thank God Jimi and I actually mixed four of the songs: ‘Dolly Dagger,’ ‘Freedom,’ ‘Ezy Ryder’ and ‘Straight Ahead.’ You get to hear the songs that had just been recorded three weeks prior.”
Had he lived, Hendrix probably would have completed the promised score to “Rainbow Bridge,” Kramer says, despite the fact he wasn’t “too keen on it.”
“But we’re left with this — the only live documentary of Jimi playing new songs — which I think is great. The fact of the matter is that Jimi was in the experimental stage: he was shifting directions musically, as witnessed in ‘The Cry of Love.’
“He wanted to expand his musical horizons and, had he lived, we would have finished ‘The Cry of Love’ as a double album with orchestral music as well and some jazz and all the rest of it.”
Aside from helping Hendrix achieve over 30 million in album sales, Kramer is one of the most successful producer/engineers in the business.
His discography includes Led Zeppelin’s “II,” “Houses of the Holy,” “Physical Graffiti,” “The Song Remains the Same” and “Coda”; Santana’s “Abraxas” and he received a Grammy for the Santana/Michelle Branch duet “The Game of Love.”
He sonically chronicled “Frampton Comes Alive!” — the biggest selling live album of the 1970s — and he helped KISS secure a record deal and produced their first three “Alive” albums (he turned down Boston to do the first one) as well as their platinum studio albums “Rock and Roll Over” and “Love Gun.”
Kramer also engineered two Rolling Stones albums, “Beggars Banquet” and “Love You Live,” part of the latter recorded at Toronto’s El Mocambo.
With Storyk, Kramer redesigned the El Mo’s current state-of-the-art studio, although he can’t talk about it due to litigation.
“At the moment, my dealings with Michael Wekerle and the El Mo tavern are being handled by both our lawyers and I do not wish to make a comment about that, in the circumstances, at this time,” he says.
But he’s happy to converse about working with the Beatles at Olympic Studios in the ’60s on their double-sided 45 “All You Need Is Love”/“Baby, You’re a Rich Man.”
“We cut ‘Baby’ in one night; we started at 7 or 8 p.m. and finished at 4 or 5 a.m. and cut the whole track, overdubbed and mixed it in one night,” Kramer recalls.
“A short time later, I get the phone call, “Hey Eddie, the Beatles are coming in, you want the session?’
“They walk into the control room — John (Lennon) sits down, takes out an acoustic guitar and is sitting at the producer’s desk. He says, ‘Well, we’ve got to do this song for TV then, it goes like this,’ and he starts singing ‘All You Need Is Love.’
Kramer figured out how to patch the producer’s mic into the headphones; George Martin started playing the harpsichord; Paul McCartney picked up a string bass that belonged to Kramer’s boss.
Lennon counted in the song and the band and Martin performed “for about 25, almost 30 minutes.”
“We wind it back, play it back, everybody looks at each other and says, ‘Yeah, well that’s it then. See you later, bye!’ So that tape that I did was the basis for ‘All You Need Is Love.’”
Kramer also recorded local hard rock heroes Triumph’s “Thunder Seven” at Mississauga’s Metalworks Studios.
“My buddies Triumph!” Kramer lights up. “That was very, very fun. I loved those guys. We had a great time together. It was probably one of my earlier attempts in trying to do a hard rock band that actually had pop sensibilities. I thought it was pretty cool.”
But for Kramer — also a noted photographer who is authoring a book called “From the Other Side of the Glass” that will also be the subject of a documentary, hopefully out next year — Hendrix, his music and his legacy is a continuing concern.
“If he was alive today, I think Jimi’s life as a person in the music industry would have been at the very top. I think he would have been a music mogul, having his own film company, record company, TV company, encouraging young artists, experimenting, composing …
“There would have been much more of a worldwide acceptance of him as a figure who could do anything. He would have been a major contributor to the music scene of today and beyond.”
Clarification - Nov. 20, 2020: This article was edited from a previous version to make clear that part of the Rolling Stones album “Love You Live” was recorded at Toronto’s El Mocambo.