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Thread: Eddie Kramer Interview - Studio Sound Magazine 1997

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    Eddie Kramer Interview - Studio Sound Magazine 1997



    If you thought that the Hendrix back catalogue had finally dried up, you're about to learn that it's not so. SIMON CROFT reveals the sound of things to come, and talks to engineer Eddie Kramer

    THE MUSIC OF ..JIMI HENDRIX is back. Not that it has ever been away, but since his untimely death on 18 September 1970 Hendrix has been the subject of some reprehensible releases, and some reissues of questionable quality. Now the man's music - which always seemed to come from somewhere between the Mississippi and Mars - is to be reissued, having been completely remastered for CD and audiophile 180gm vinyl release. There is a new Hendrix album on the way, and even some outstanding tracks that have never been released before.

    Now the Hendrix estate has gone to court and gained ownership of his recordings, every tape in the library has been backed up to Dolby SR and digital formats for posterity. The Hendrix family sensibly entrusted this labour of love, and the subsequent remastering to the engineeer who was there for the original recordings, Eddie Kramer.

    EK 'It all sounds fresh, it sounds great,' Kramer enthuses. Thank God we found, for the most part, the original flat masters, in fantastic shape. No shedding, we didn't have to bake a thing. Some of the tapes are the original l.R56 BASF. Some are copies, but for the most part they are the original flat tapes.'

    SS Kramer's comments on previous remasters of Are You Experienced, Axis Bold as Love, Smash Hits and Electric Ladyland are largely unprintable, and parTicularly unsuitable for small children. However, it is fair to summarise his feelings by saying that the new versions have much greater transparency, compared with releases based on EQ'd masters.

    EK 'Once the machine was lined up, we were really blown away by the clarity of the stereo image,' Kramer affirms. That was the one thing that really stood out for us.

    'Hendrix fans, and music fans in general, will he thrilled, I think. Engineers, and the Hendrix family who have heard the result have said, "Mv God; it does sound a lot clearer, and an awful lot better". I'm really thrilled about that.

    'I am even more thrilled that the family has gotten the tapes back, and that they are now with the rightful owners, and that I've had the privilege of working with the tapes again.'

    SS Mastering was done at Stirling Sound, using an Ampex ATR 100 tape machine, and a mixture of equalisation that included two Pultecs, a Sontec unit, and sometimes a combination of both. A Focusrite Blue 330 - the mastering EQ with rotary switches - also saw some action. The output of this chain was led to a Sonic Solutions system without limiting, and then onto the 1630, ready for preparation of the CD master.

    EK 'On Electric Ladyland I used the Pultecs because I thought that particular album deserved that particular type of EQ whereas the other ones I felt the Sontec was needed,' Kramer considers. 'We also used a Focusrite equaliser. You're talking about a third of a dB, very tiny amounts of EQ here. But the amazing thing is you can put 1/2 dB or 1/4 dB at 1Ok and it sounds like 20dB! You have to he very, very careful:

    SS HELPING INTERPRET HENDRIX' artistic vision was one of Kramer's original responsibilities - as such he was careful to gain the benefits of 1990s technology without messing with the mixes themselves. He is appalled by the idea of adding digital reverb, for instance.

    EK 'No, no, that's really interfering,' he insists. 'But tonally, if a certain track is lacking in bottom end and you can add bottom end, bring out the bass guitar and bass drum without effecting the vocal and the guitar, then do it. Of course, if someone comes up with a multitrack tape that has never been mixed before that's a different story, but once again, would I mix it with a view to making it sound like a 1990s type band?

    'No, I would mix it with a view to making it sound like Jimi Hendrix from the 1960s. Obviously, with all the technology I can bring to bear to make it very present and full bodied.'

    'Thinking about the way records were mastered in the 1960s and 1970s, they were limited by a mechanical process. Records were cut on a lacquer, which is an imprecise system. There was a real art to trying to get anything on a disc at the best of times. You were dealing with styluses that were being heated to a certain temperature, and were cutting to a certain depth. Then you would have tracking errors and distortion.

    'By the time you'd hit the end of the side you would not be able to put too much bass on. You have trouble with phase, trouble
    with all sorts of things. 'So here we are in the 1990s where you can put the full frequency range on and not worry about these things. Not that we've taken liberties, but we've enhanced what was there and hopefully made it sound like something that Jimi would have wanted.'

    SS There is also a new album, First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, which includes not only some previously unreleased material, but also combines the tracks on Cry of Love with others, such as 'Dolly Dagger', which found their way onto other albums.

    EK 'It's really the last album he did, with all the extra tracks. It's probably the way Jimi would have wanted it. It's about 69 minutes of music. It really is lovely, it flows very well, and it sounds gorgeous.'

    SS According to Kramer, there is more material to come, thanks to tapes which were in the possession of Hendrix' manager Chas Chandler, who died recently. 'It is true that Chas had some master tapes. I've heard them, and they are brilliant. There are songs that have never been released before, and alternative takes of previously released songs.

    EK 'Trust me, over the next few years there's going to be some marvellous stuff released - really wonderful, wonderful stuff.'

    SS Kramer engineered every Hendrix album from Are You Experienced to Cry Of Love, as well as co-producing the posthumous releases War Heroes, Rainbow Bridge and Hendrix In The West.

    EK 'The first time I heard some of these tapes after 25 years it freaked me out because I couldn't believe I had done so many crazy things,' he says. 'I guess the passage of time had dimmed the memory banks slightly, but when I heard it I went, 'Christ I remember what I did then!' He ponders for a moment.

    'Yeah I was panning left to right but at the same time I was moving the faders down and up, trying to get the sound of a motorcycle going across left to right. Hey I remember what I did there, it was a 7 1/2 ips slap delay going to an EMT plate at 1.6 seconds. '

    'The earliest material was recorded at Olympic Studios in the UK, using successive submixes from 4-track to stereo, in order to free up another pair of tracks.'

    SS But by April 1968, Kramer had succumbed to repeated requests and joined Hendrix at the Record Plant in New York.
    Kramer describes the studio desk at the time as "the biggest piece of junk I'd ever worked on".

    'I was working on 12-track; the 12-track was a 1-inch format, a bastardised format. It was absolutely horrendous and noisy.
    It did not last long. We took four songs of Jimi's and transferred them from 4 to 12. Jimi filled up the last eight tracks. Then they decided to scrap the 12-track machine and buy a l6-track machine, which was a damn good thing. So when the 12-track was transferred to 16, Jimi filled up the rest of the tracks. All my 4-track recording had already been through three generations before it even hit the 16-track, so it's amazing that it sounds okay.

    SS As is well documented, around a year later Hendrix decamped to the $1m studio that he had Kramer build for him; Electric Lady. The studio used an Ampex 16-track, but Kramer could see the trend and had it wired 24-track. In order to understand anything of the Hendrix sound, however, you need to start not with the multitrack or the mixing board, but with the man himself.

    EK 'Of course, he had just a superb amount of control over his instrument,' Kramer acknowledges. 'To watch him play with his massive hands, he could barre the whole neck of the guitar with his thumb.

    'The guy had such control, not only over his guitar. but also over his sound. He knew instinctively how much distortion to get and where to place the guitar in relation to the speaker to get the sustain. He was a total master of the instrument and of sound.

    'A lot of the early stuff, particularly the stuff that Chas was involved in, was not as loud as you think. If you listen to the multitrack tape, the guitars are not that loud. Later on, when Chas was not in the picture, the volume came up. If you listen to Little Wing that's quiet.

    SS The Hendrix armoury of effects pedals included wah wah, fuzz boxes that were often customised by Roger Meyer, and the Univibe rotating speaker effect. With more tracks to record on, Hendrix and Kramer started to record the guitar in stereo, using a Y lead from the instrument, two Univibe pedals, and two Marshall 1OOw amp setups.
    Kramer, who trained as a musician before becoming a sound engineer, is often reluctant to talk about specific recording techniques, but is prepared to reveal the basic concepts behind the guitar miking method he has evolved from the Hendrix days.

    EK 'It's a combination of three microphones on a single source to get the tone. when you put three microphones on a single source, you avoid the phasing problems you get when you mic two speakers:

    SS Kramer's chosen setup is an Electro-Voice MI60, Sennheiser MD421 and a Shure 57 with some pre-delay (usually on 15ips) to an EMT plate.

    EK I'm not going to tell you the exact positioning of everything, but it's usually very close miked and then I'll have a Neumann 67 or something like that as a distant mic. The others are very, very close to the cones, I mean a 1/2 inch away.

    SS OTHER INGREDIENTS in the unmistakable Hendrix sound include stereo phasing, backwards guitar parts, and rhythmic use of the desk's pan pots. The Beatles had used phasing before Hendrix - indeed, George Martin revealed to Kramer during an Olympic recording session that the fundamentals came from a 1949 BBC Radiophonic handbook - but for Axis Bold as Love, Kramer's assistant engineer worked out how to create phasing in stereo, using nothing more than two tape machines and a VFO control, decided to demonstrate the innovation using the drum fill that starts the heavily effected section that can be heard on the album today.

    EK 'We put that on and said, "Jimi, we've got something we want to play you". We sit him clown in the middle, put the tape on, with the two machines and the VFO with the big knob controlling the speed of the motor on the second machine.

    'We start the tape up and the drums are going from left to right. You have to do it below 60 cycles (in the UK at least) at around 59, and you can hear the thing going swiissshh. It flies across from left to right and its the most amazing stereo phase, flange or whatever you've ever heard.

    'He freaks out, he's on the floor and he says, "Oh my God, It's like this dream I had, I dreamed this sound, it's like being under water, it's the sound I heard in my dream, play it again, play it again". After that, everything had to be phased because he dug the sound so much:

    SS Although Hendrix was always a consummate improviser, Kramer stresses that much of effortless, seemingly almost casual, motifs stemmed from intense periods of planning.

    EK 'I would give him a 1/4-inch tape, and if he wanted to do a backward solo, he would study it, backwards: the whole bloody song,' Kramer recalls. 'He would know exactly, to the point where you would play the tape and you'd have no clue where you were because its playing backwards, and he'd say, "Yeah, right there". On the button, he would know exactly where to come in, how long to play the solo, and he knew what it would sound like when it came back. He was fantastic, he was just amazing.'

    SS Kramer's trademark use of faders and pan-pots came partly from the lack of outboard.

    EK 'We had reverb, tape delay, tape delay and reverb - and ... erm, more tape delay. That was basically it. Compression and panning of course. 'The panning that I do is rhythmically orientated. The idea that I have in my head is that it's supposed to draw attention to a particular rhythmic pattern. Or if it's a guitar solo. I try to build it so that it is sweeping across from speaker to speaker and then it ends up in the middle usually, at the peak of the solo.'

    SS Now in his own studio, Hendrix felt free to take part in the mixing process, and during the Electric Ladyland sessions became a second pair of hands for Kramer.

    EK 'If there was any kind of mistake we would just keep going.' says Kramer. 'It would be a performance mix of about 16 minutes long.

    'He'd be grabbing pan pots. I would be grabbing pan pots and faders. Things would be moving up and down on the VFO, trying to make the tape delay slower or faster. And he'd be going. "Yes, yes, no, no, that one", and we'd be laughing and falling over one another.

    'It was very exciting. Once we had started that process, it carried on into the final album For a multitude of reasons, when he died it was obviously a severe blow to the world. And to me. I couldn't go back into the studio for about two months. It was really such a shock.

    'Fortunately, Jimi and I were able to mix a bunch of tracks before he died. And you could really feel the difference of his input. He and I would mix together, it was really a joint mixing performance if you will.'

    SS THE CRY OF LOVE saw Hendrix clearly moving in new directions, but listening to this and The Band of Gypsies album leaves a feeling that the great guitarist was by no means sure ot the best way forward. Kramer believes that what I Hendrix really needed was time out to experiment with new areas of music, without the pressure of producing an album. Had Hendrix been given that space, the tragic turn of events after his Isle of Wight Festival appearance may have been averted.

    EK 'A lot ot people think that Jimi was this stoned out, freaked-out guy, not in control. Bullshit. This guy was so in control of his sound, of his music. He knew exactly what he was going to do, how he was going to do it, and what it was going to sound like,' Kramer says vehemently.

    'If he would describe to me: I want it to sound green, or yellow, or purple or something, I knew, kind of, what he was talking about, and I could try to go for that sound. But the work that he put in prior to coming into the studio was so critical.

    He was prepared. I've seen his notes: pages and pages of notes. I've seen legal pads full of notes; a whole song broken down into chords, where he would put his hands on the fretboard, what the bass and drums were supposed to play, the type of
    rhythmic feel. It may sound casual or kind of crazy, but it was extremely worked out.

    'Obviously, a lot was left to chance. A goodly amount of what we did was flying by the seat of our pants, no question, but he was prepared. That's what made it so damn funny. Jimi was one of the funniest guys in the studio. I mean he would be cracking jokes and making fun of himself and me, and Mitch, and Noel - and be laughing all the time. He was a lot of fun
    in the studio. It was like our playground.


    Last edited by RobbieRadio; 05-12-18 at 10:18 AM.


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