EDDIE KRAMER (Producer/Engineer): “I’ve Been Fortunate Enough To Land My Butt Into Situations Like Woodstock”

Eddie Kramer in studio

Few people have taken such a central role in the development of Rock music over the last 50 years than Eddie Kramer. As engineer or producer, he has worked with The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Johnny Winter, Humble Pie, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and KISS amongst many others and has been integral to the creation of some of the greatest and most groundbreaking moments in Rock history. Mick Burgess called him up to talk about his life in the studio and the book and documentary on his life that is currently in the works.

It’s sad news about the death of Little Richard that’s just been announced today.

I was very influenced by him when I was a young teenager. He really turned my head around because I was raised as a young Classical fiend and began playing piano from the age of four and was raised from Bach to Bartok. I had a very musical beginning and my parents were very encouraging with that regard. My dad was an amateur violinist and my mother a painter, she was very artistic.

When did you start to move away from Classical music?

My classical music started to take a back seat when I was about 12 or 13 when I discovered Popular Music especially the Blues that was coming from America that I heard on Voice Of America on my shortwave radio. I also listened to the BBC Overseas Service and I got my music from there.

What did Little Richard’s music mean to you?

When I heard Little Richard, I was absolutely blown away by his piano playing. As I was a piano player, I was so captivated by those repetitive chords he played with his right hand. It was so amazing. I got into a lot of trouble in school because of that as you could imagine in South Africa at that time.

Is that where you were born and raised?

I grew up in Cape Town in South Africa and we came to England twice, once in 1949 when I was 7 and we came back again in 1950 and then back again in 1956 and stayed for a year before coming back for the final time in 1960. That’s when I became a British citizen.

Did your family originally leave due to the political situation in South Africa at that time?

Very much so. My dad was very anti-Apartheid and we were lucky to get out. My Mum was English, Cockney born and bred which is the reason we kept coming back to England.

You’re the subject of a forthcoming documentary From The Other Side of The Glass. Whose idea was it to do this?

I had the title of a book that I’d started years ago so that’s where the title comes from. I have a friend in Los Angeles called Spencer Proffer, who has produced a lot of Heavy Metal bands like Quiet Riot. He’s out of that part of the business and he makes documentaries now. He did a beautiful documentary about John Coltrane a few years ago called Chasing Trane. He thought that my story would make a good documentary film. He made a deal with PMC who own Rolling Stone and who are one of the largest media company in The States and he got John Dorsey on board as director. He has a great team behind him and Spencer is driving the ship. It should be great when it’s all done.

How far down the line are you with it?

Unfortunately, or maybe that should be fortunately, due to the current conditions, I’m finishing the book on which the script will be based. That will also include a lot of photographs that I took during some of the studio sessions that I was involved in during the period of 1967-1972 which was the Golden Age Of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The book is therefore the thread from which everything is going to hang from. It’ll be my story interwoven through that and the nexus points in world history as I’ve been fortunate enough to land my butt into situations like Woodstock and stuff like that. That’s part of the story and also the ups and downs of the music industry. I’ve tried to keep it honest and show the rough edges and the beautiful parts.

Will you be talking about how you were involved and what your role was in the creation of some of those classic albums you worked on?

I’m sure that’s going to be a little bit of the documentary but there’s a limit on how much you can fit in. It will be more a story of my life and how I got there and my interaction with all of these fabulous musicians and how the music was created and the circumstances in which it was created. That’s it in a nutshell.

Who else is involved? Will there be interviews with musicians you’ve worked with and contributions from fellow producers?

Well if they still talk to me I’m sure there’ll be a few taking part.

Will it be shown in cinemas first or will it go to streaming services and DVD?

I’m not sure yet. The way the world is changing as we speak; I have no idea if we’ll even be able to get into movie theatres for the foreseeable future but Netflix or similar for sure and hopefully movie houses when they open.

When did you first get involved in the music business?

Within a year or so of arriving back in England in 1960, I was in some aspect of the business. It wasn’t quite the music business, it was more advertising but then I graduated towards music. I wanted to combine my love of electronics with music and I thought working in recording studios would be the best way to do that.

What was the first studio that you worked in?

I got my first job at Advison Sound Studios at 83, New Bond Street in 1962. It was a mono recording studio and I was a tea boy and you know what that entails? You keep your mouth shut and ears open and hopefully learn something. There were no schools for audio engineers back then you just learned by watching how people worked.

Who mentored you in those early days?

I learned from the senior engineers back in the early days and they’d show me what to do. I was very low on the totem pole. I was running messages, cleaning toilets and I was just a general assistant but I learned how to operate a 35mm magnetic film dubber and a 35mm film projector, learned how to cut discs and record in mono and that was the beginning for me. From there I went to work at Pye Studios which was a three-track studio, which was incredible at the time. I couldn’t believe it. I then worked with my first real mentor who was a genius of an engineer named Bob Auger and he taught me an awful lot. One day we’d be recording a 90-piece symphony orchestra out on the road with a 3-track Ampex machine at Walthamstow Town Hall and the next day we’d be in the studio recording The Kinks. That was the start of my learning process. I recorded people like Sammy Davis Jr and Petula Clark too in those early days.

Did you feel a bit starstruck when Sammy Davis Jr first walked in?

Sammy was great to work with, he was fabulous. I have some great pictures of us in the studio that’ll be in the movie. He was very cool and he had tons great stories to tell.

When did you step out on your own?

In late ’63 I left Pye and started my own studio, which was a demo studio called KPS Sound Studios at The Angel, Islington and we did demos for The Kinks which was quite a laugh and a lot of Blues bands. We then got taken over by Regent Sounds which is where The Stones did their demos and first record.

Why did you sell your studio to Regent Sounds?

Lord Baring who owned Regent Sounds bought us out because we were going under, I was a terrible businessman but we built him a new 4 track studio.

The Beatles actually recorded part of the Sgt Pepper‘s album at Regent Sound. That must have been quite an endorsement to the studio you’d built?

It was only one song. I think they did “Fixing A Hole” but more importantly for me is that I got to work with them twice later, on “All You Need Is Love” and “Baby You’re A Rich Man” at Olympic Studios. The reason that they came to Olympic is that they couldn’t get into Abbey Road.

Did you get the chance to work with George Martin there during those sessions?

Oh yes. He was wonderful.

What did you learn working with him?

Not too much but he was the master of organisation. He kept the boys, not so much in line, but he has a way of subtly changing the arrangements so that it would glow. The Beatles were so together but George was so subtle in the way he handled them. They had a wonderful working relationship. It was such an honour to work with The Beatles.

Where did you go after Regent Sounds?

I left Regent Sounds and went to a studio called Olympic which is where the magic began. That was in Carlton Street in the West End and that’s where some of the fantastic work was done by my next mentor Keith Grant. We were doing music for television jingles and all of that kind of stuff. It was a great education. We had to move as the building was being knocked down so we moved south of the river. People told us that no one goes south of the river but musicians and producers were enamoured with it. It was a huge place, it was fabulous.

You worked with the Rolling Stones on Between The Button and Satanic Majesties. How did working with them contrast with working with The Beatles?

You have to remember that The Stones and The Beatles were not enemies, they were actually good friends. Sometimes when The Stones were in the studio members of The Beatles would come in and sing background vocals. I was very fortunate to work with a guy called Jimmy Miller on Traffic’s first album and because of my relationship with Traffic and Jimmy Miller and because we did such a nice job on that I think The Stones thought that Jimmy would be the perfect guy and because of that I got to work on Beggars Banquet which I think is one of their best albums. Jimmy was my next mentor. I loved his style of production and he was phenomenal with The Stones. He could really wind them up and he had so much energy. He was a great drummer too and would sometimes show Charlie Watts the drum parts he was after.

They had quite a reputation as bad boys. How was their work ethic in the studio?

Working with The Stones in the beginning with Andrew Luke Oldham was interesting and a bit of a struggle with the problems they were having with Brian. It’s a shame as I really liked Brian. He was fabulous. He was a great artist and very misunderstood and not respected enough but he was going through a tough time emotionally and the drugs were terrible in what they were doing to him. He was a genius in terms of playing instruments including a sitar. It was incredible watching him when he was on. He was a good friend of Hendrix too.

In 1967 you started your long association with Jimi Hendrix. How did you first get introduced to him?

I first started working with Jimi around the end of January 1967. Indirectly Chas Chandler and Jimi wanted to up the ante. They had a record deal which was actually paying some money. They’d cut a few songs but were generally unhappy with the studios that they were in. They could only go in for three hours at a time and he had to sell some of his basses to be able to afford the studio. Then he got his record deal and he was able to afford a better studio. He’d heard about this cool hip studio called Olympic. I was tapped to do it. The studio manager called me up and said there was a guy like a mannequin with big hair and said that because I did all that shit, I could do him and that’s how I got the call to meet Jimi Hendrix.

He was such an innovative player. How much of what he became so well known for was there in those early days?

The history of Jimi’s rise to stardom was a journey he took when growing up in Seattle. Going into the army and taking his guitar with him and hooking up with Billy Cox on bass and playing shows in the army. After he was discharged from the army, he went out on the road on the Chitlin’ circuit with Billy Cox. Jimi of course played with The Isley Brothers and Little Richard too. He was on a very strict and tough learning curve. He learned his stuff, he had to. When you’re on the Chitlin’ circuit you are going to see every guitar player known to man. There were so many great players that would do these tumbling moves on stage and put on a show. He copped a lot of the tricks of the trade and figured out a way to utilise them in his act. He took in everything that he saw. He was like a sponge and he developed his own style from that. Once Chas brought him over to England it was only a matter of time before he brought out all of the show stopping tricks.

How much were you able to help him create his vision with the new studio technology that was developing at that time?

Jimi was had a very clear vision of what he was after. We were very lucky because Olympic was a cutting-edge independent studio not connected to any record label so we could experiment how we wanted. Chas was marvellous. He said to me that the rule is there are no rules. So, we were free to experiment and I love to experiment. Jimi would turn to me and ask if I could get a green sound on his guitar and I knew exactly what he wanted, whether it was a red sound or a purple sound and I’d just dial some knobs and tweak shit until I came up with something cool. Then he’d come in and go “Whooaah, OK!!” and run back into the studio and start tweaking his amp and his pedals. He loved to try to up the ante. We were trying to impress each other in a friendly way. He knew that I could get him sounds that’d take his sound a little bit higher. I loved to interpret what he was playing and see if I could improve on it or make it sound different.

You recorded three albums with Hendrix over a period of 2 years. There were so many great songs over such a short period of time. How did you see him progressing as a musician?

If you look at the path from Are You Experienced which was fairly primitive, by the time you got to Axis we were really rocking and trying different things, even more than we had done. I spread the drums out into stereo, a separate track for the bass and another for Jimi’s guitar then I mixed that down to two tracks on another four-track and kept bouncing back and forth to give us the separation that we wanted but you had to be really quick on your feet and make sure that the sub-mixes were on the money otherwise they’d come back to bite you on the ass.

His final release before he died was with the Band Of Gypsys which was a live album. Why did he decide to do a live album with a new band with new material at that point?

We were in the studio Electric Lady that we’d built for him and Jimi and I spent four months working on Cry Of Love before Jimi went to England and passed away. It was a double album that we were planning so that was the last album that I worked on with him. All of his albums stand up in their own right on his musical journey but the Band Of Gypsys was part of his growth. Woodstock is when he announced “We ain’t nothin’ but a band of gypsys” so you got a heads up that something’s coming down the pipe and that would end up being, within a few months, the Band Of Gypsys. He had to a record an album for Capitol as part of a lawsuit that had haunted him which is why he put out the live record first but I thought it was a brilliant album and to have Billy and Buddy working with him was phenomenal. He was just heading in a different direction which took in Funk, R&B and Blues and all the rest of that, incorporated with Rock ‘n’ Roll on the top. He was very happy experimenting and always wanted to push the boundaries. The same thing with the Cry Of Love album, that was going in another direction.

You have been the curator of much of the Hendrix archives over the years. Did you come across any technical difficulties mixing those songs bearing in mind many years have passed since they were originally recorded?

It is a challenge but it’s very rewarding. You get to dive into the vaults and I think I’ve dug as deep as I can go now but you never know what will show up. The challenges were that the tapes were 45-50 years old and I had to treat them with great care. Literally everything was copied from the tapes into the digital world so we very rarely had to go back in and use tapes with one exception. For the 50th anniversary of Electric Ladyland, I remixed the whole album in 5.1 surround sound from the original 12-track one-inch tapes. I had to scratch my head and try to look back on what I was thinking all those years ago when recording the original album. I had to figure out what the hell we were doing and analyse it but I think I achieved it because when you hear the surround sound mix, it’s pretty happening as Jimi is now spinning around the room. I had this joystick where I could move him around the room in the mix. It was fabulous. I’ve created it so you’re in the middle of the room and you’re surrounded by the band. It’s so exciting. I’ve done a few performances of that in a room with 50 or so people and they just lost their shit. It’s the kind of thing that Jimi would have approved, I think. He loved to experiment and he would have been right there if he’d been alive today.

What about the live recordings?

Some of the live stuff can be a little tricky as you have to try to preserve Jimi’s guitar and if there’s feedback you have to try to figure out how to get out of the feedback without screwing up the sound and I think we can do that these days. The digital world has given me many, many more avenues to go down and I can combine the best of analogue and the best of digital to make the best sound for Jimi.

You were also worked as engineer on a number of Led Zeppelin albums including II and Physical Graffiti. Jimmy Page was an experienced musician in his own right and produced all of the albums himself. As a producer was he totally focussed on what he wanted from the recording sessions?

Oh yes, Jimmy Page was the driving force and the organizer. His years and years in the studio as a session musician really payed off. When I first met him, he was brought in to do a guitar overdub on a Kinks record when I was at Pye in 1964. Next time I met him was in 1967 at Olympic with John Paul Jones. They were on a session for Donovan on Hurdy Gurdy Man. Next time I met him was in 1969 for Led Zeppelin II. I knew John Paul Jones as he was always in and out of the studio and we became friends. He played me the first Zeppelin album at his apartment and I was blown away, I thought, bloody hell, what’s this, it was incredible. I asked him what his band was called and he said Led Zeppelin and I said that I thought it was a bloody stupid name. I always said to him afterwards how completely wrong as I was as it turned out to be the best name in the world.

How were you able to capture John Bonham’s drum sound so well in the studio?

We recorded some of Zeppelin II in New York and a lot was done in England, L.A and Vancouver and we mixed the whole album in A&R Studios in New York. There was a bunch of us working on that record. You could record John Bonham with three mikes and you’d be rocking as he just hit so bloody hard and played with such a great tone so all you had to do was stick the mikes in the right place. However, it changed when they found Headley Grange, which was a lovely old mansion to record in and I got to record them in another mansion which was Mick Jagger’s house called Stargroves and those six tracks were spread onto Houses Of The Holy and Physical Graffiti and there’s some bits on Coda. I also recorded them live on the The Song Remains The Same. Recording the band was really easy as they were such professionals and instinctively knew what to do, even if Page was showing Bonham what he wanted. Once Bonzo got it, he’d just kill it. His instincts were incredible.

Physical Graffiti was a big step forward musically from Led Zeppelin II. Were you able to push the limits of the studio technology when you recorded this album?

We were recording in a bloody great big mansion and we utilised different rooms for different acoustic purposes. Bonham was in a big conservatory room with a semi-circular glass window which had a wonderful live sound to it so all I had to do was stick up three mikes and the overheads and the close-up mics and away you go. The same thing would happen with Page but in a different way so we ended up sticking his Fender amp in the fireplace and mic’d it backwards. We did all kinds of stuff like that. Sometimes we would record outside like we did for “Black Country Woman”. The two basic acoustic guitar tracks were done outside on the lawn with a bloody great big aeroplane flying overhead which you can hear in the intro. I hit the talk back button and said “What about this aeroplane then?” and Robert said “Nah, just leave it”

By 1973 you’d worked with The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Johnny Winter and Humble Pie to name just a few. What made such an experienced engineer and producer work on the demo by the then previously unknown KISS?

That was done at Electric Lady. They had done an album as Wicked Lester and it wasn’t very good unfortunately and it went straight down the toilet. Gene and Paul were trying to figure out what to do next and they thought they’d be a Heavy Rock band. It was Gene and Paul’s concept. Their producer asked me if I’d do a demo as my scene was the Heavy Rock stuff so I said yes. I put them in Studio B and recorded a four-track demo with them and that ended up getting them their record deal. I thought it was brilliant. They were wonderful.

When did you first go and see them live?

I went to see them for the first time live at the Hotel Diplomat with their manager Bill Aucoin and they were so impressive. Their make-up, boots and everything was primitive back then but their energy levels were incredible. Technically speaking they weren’t quite together yet but you could not believe the excitement from the crowd. They were loving it. It was absolute genius combining Kabuki theatre with Glam, fireworks and bombs. It was wonderful. It was entertainment on a wide scale.

Why didn’t you end up producing the first album?

I don’t know. I guess it was the record company in their infinite wisdom. They did a couple of albums with other producers but they went out on the road and just toured like crazy. They built up a huge following.

How did you end up doing Alive?

I got a call from Neil Bogart from the label, he was great and he called me and asked if I wanted to do a live KISS album. I said that I’d call him back in a minute. On my desk was a tape that I was about to make a commitment to record by a band called Boston. I called up Tom Scholz and I told him to put the record out the way that it was because it was bloody marvellous. The demo was incredible. I loved the challenge of recording KISS. I thought, here was a band that was fairly primitive and they were still working on their stuff but I thought they were really exciting and thought we could make a great record so I called them up and said let’s do it.

How did you go about recording them?

We ended up recording live in Jersey and in Detroit and other places. We recorded about three shows. I took the tapes to Electric Lady and I had tape loops running 60-70 feet across the studio floor and four or five tape machines with applause, it was like a film mix. You couldn’t always get that applause as good as you wanted it in these live performances. We had to fix a whole bunch of crap and there was a lot of patching. There was a lot of things going on, on the stage with them jumping up and down in these 6-inch boots with bombs and fireworks going off so it was very tough to get everything in tune, so we certainly had to fix things afterwards but hey, does the record sound great? It became a huge album. We thought we’d sell 300,000 or 400,000 copies as they had about that many fans but it just took off like a rocket. I don’t think the band ever looked back.

How did you get those explosions during “Deuce” and at the end of “Black Diamond” to sound so huge on the record?

They were recorded of course but I just had to make sure that when you got to that point you just cranked the faders up. It’s there, it was on every bloody instrument and at some places you’d have to tame it down. It’s enough to take the speakers out.

Were you hoping to produce Destroyer after you’d done Alive?

I think that was a band decision. It’s always up to Gene and Paul. I was very happy to do the work I did with them. Just look at the career they’ve had, the music they’ve made and the amount of fans that they have and they are still out there.

The first studio album you worked on was Rock and Roll Over. How was that experience?

We recorded that in a theatre in the round at the Star Theatre in Nanuet, New York. That was a lot of fun to make. Ace would come in and say “Hey Curly, look at all those lights”, then he’d pull out a BB gun and shoot the lights out. It was nuts. Recording in that big space with a truck, I’ve done that many times and it seems to have worked. I don’t know if you’d get away with that today.

When you recorded Love Gun, it was the first time each band member sang a lead vocal. How did you coax Ace to sing?

He was always a bit self-conscious about singing. I think it changed when it came to his solo record. I remember we at Plaza Sound doing some overdubs and I told him to lay down on the floor with a pillow behind his head. He had a bottle of beer in one hand and a hand held 58 in the other and he started to sing as he felt very uncomfortable standing. As the song progressed, he got more and more comfortable and more in contact with everything. By the time we’d finished that song he was vertical. Once he got the feeling that his voice was solid and that I could get a performance out of him he was very happy. Ace is a great musician. He might not be the world’s greatest singer but he has so much character.

You also produced Alive II. Was this a similar scenario to Alive or was there more of the source recordings used on there?

By that time, the truck was a little better and the band was tighter. Things had definitely improved and the technology had improved again. We had done some recording in Japan but it wasn’t intended for a live album, it was for Japanese television.

Why did you change the running order of the setlist from that tour on the album and start with “Detroit Rock City” rather than “I Stole Your Love”?

It wasn’t me mate. You’ll have to ask Gene or Paul. They decided on the running order for the album.

“Tomorrow and Tonight” was never performed live. Why did you include a version of that from a soundcheck rather than say “Take Me”, “Hooligan” or “Do You Love Me”, that were performed live on the tour?

That was Gene and Paul as well. I very rarely got involved in those arguments. That was up to them. It wasn’t worth arguing about.

You also produced Ace Frehley’s solo album. It must have been quite different just dealing with Ace on his own without the rest of the band there?

He was pretty articulate in the studio and knew what he was about getting his sounds. Once again, we recorded in a mansion, this time in Connecticut, live with a sound truck which gave us the ability to create all of those lovely sounds. I love Ace. He’s great.

You have been pivotal across your career in some of the greatest live albums produced from the KISS albums, Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive and Humble Pie’s Rockin ‘The Fillmore as well as the Woodstock Live recordings. How challenging is it for you to record a live show to capture the feel and excitement of that event?

I think the basic principle I go in with is how to make the band feel happy and comfortable that we are recording the show. I tell them, that it is their show and not to worry about me and that I have them covered. I try to keep the band relaxed about it. I’ll tell them if we didn’t get it tonight, we’d get it tomorrow as I usually record at least two shows. If a mistake is made, I can always fix it. I put them in a position where they don’t know that I’m recording and make it as subtle as possible. I do all the testing beforehand and make sure the PA is good. We talk about the set and we talk about what we’re trying to capture and then I say, guys, you just forget about me and go and do your show, that’s the best thing you can do.

Recording an outdoor festival such as Woodstock must have presented some unique issues for you?

Woodstock was a very unique recording. I got the call the week before to this little gig where there’d be maybe 50 to 100,000 people there. Jimi was the star, closing the show and they thought as I did Jimi, that I should record the show. I arrived early in the morning and looked at the place and thought, oh my goodness, this was going to be fun. It was a mess but we got it done. I only had 6-tracks of audio on an 8-track tape as track 8 was a pulse tone to sync the cameras for the sound and track 7 was an audience track so only 6-tracks of audio for the bands. It was very tough. Communication between the stage and the back of the truck was very primitive. It broke town in terms of the headphone feed for me. It was just a nightmare. The bands would go on until two in the morning and then we’d start again early the next day. We got pretty much no sleep and the only thing keeping us going were these huge vitamin B injections in the bum and they didn’t half hurt. The miracle was we got it done and recorded and have tons of stories to tell about it which will be in my book. Just imagine standing on that stage just before it started and I’m looking out at a sea of half a million people. Bill Graham, the promoter was standing next to me and he said “Hey Kramer, if these folks decide to riot, we’re fucked!!” and I said “Yup, thanks a lot Bill, I’m going back to my truck now”

What was the biggest development in recording that really opened up possibilities for you in the studio?

I’d say it was probably at the beginning of the digital world when Pro-Tools came in once I figured out how to make it sound better. That was about ten years ago when I got involved with a company called Burl. I used their converters to convert analogue to digital and they could preserve the sound without altering it. All my records now, no matter what I do, go through this conversion process.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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1 Comment

  1. What an amazing interview with the legend great reading too & a great sense of humor to go with it, brilliant stuff.

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