Mixing It Up with Classic Rock Legends
Engineer, producer Eddie Kramer shares his tales of working with ’60s, ’70s greatest acts
By Sean Donato and Paul Szaniawski
With constables outside the Olympic Studios in London, Eddie Kramer instructed another engineer to tell Mick Jagger over his recording headphones to stall “the fuzz” for as long as the singer could. This was during a time when the Rolling Stones were finding themselves in legal trouble over drugs left and right.
Without missing a beat, Jagger called the star-struck police into the sound-proof recording room and asked each of them to hold his headphones down on both sides. In no time, Mick Jagger was using the bobbies’ nightsticks as claves during the recording of “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” The sticks were left in and can be heard on the album today. Meanwhile, Kramer and the rest of the Rolling Stones cleared the marijuana smoke from the engineering room.
“That’s the story but it’s not the story,” Kramer told a couple of hundred students Wednesday night. “Some idiot left the front door open downstairs. Of course outside there’s a Rolls Royce, a Bentley and other fancy cars so they wanted to investigate. All they wanted was autographs. That was it.”
This was one of the many tales audio engineer and producer Kramer recounted to students in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater. He worked with music legends such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Kiss. Kramer spoke about working as an audio engineer in the 1960s and eventually becoming a producer.
“Kramer had a lot to say about how he was experimenting when he was starting off,” said senior Lawrence Benson. “I think that was a big influence on me because I’ve started recording myself. Take a lesson or two from the ways he was doing things back then.”
An advocate of making music without too much digital involvement, Kramer told the young artists present to “beware of Pro Tools,” the leading digital audio program.
“Accidents are the best thing about music,” he said. “We have a tendency today to clean things up so much.”
In 1969 Kramer worked on a couple of tracks on Led Zeppelin’s second album after the band’s American tour. That’s when he realized the raw beauty of mistakes.
“They sing a song called ‘Whole Lotta Love’ – anybody know that part in the middle that goes ‘Woman?’” asked Kramer as he loudly groaned the lyric. “And then you hear the little voice go ‘woman.’ That was an accident.”
Kramer explained he recorded the song’s vocals on two separate tracks. But when the song was played back for Led Zeppelin, one track had leaked onto the other.
“We’re listening to the song and then we go into this little break and you hear ‘woman,’” said Kramer. “Jimmy Page and I look each other and I say, ‘I can’t get rid of it. It just won’t go away.’ So we looked at each other instinctively and both go for the reverb button and there it was. Jimmy said ‘leave it just like that.’”
Kramer went on to talk about other serendipitous things that would happen while recording. For example, on The Beatles track “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” Lennon decided to use a French instrument called a clavioline that was found lying among discarded instruments left behind from other bands who used the studio.
Working alongside The Beatles in a politically charged era, Kramer spoke about protests and other political artists including rock legend Jimi Hendrix.
“In this day and age I want to know where are the protesters because I’m thinking back that in the ’60s we had the Vietnam war and the biggest protesting was done by student groups,” said Kramer. “Hendrix wrote a song called ‘Machine Gun,’ which is the most anti-war thing I could even imagine.”
Out of all the artists he recorded and produced, Kramer worked with Hendrix the most, traveling with him to New York in 1968. There he helped Hendrix create Electric Lady Studios.
“For me it was great because I could make sonic paintings. One of the key things as an engineer-producer is to interpret what the artist is looking for. And if Jimi said ‘Hey man, I want some of that green sound,’ I knew. We had a code and I knew that green meant reverb.
Kramer said there was “enough material in the vaults” to put out a new Hendrix record every year for the next 12 years.
Remastering Hendrix’s lost recordings and working with an all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band, called Lez Zeppelin, are some of Kramer’s current projects. However, many students in the crowd were curious about the producer’s past.
When asked who the craziest and most difficult artist he had ever worked with, Kramer was hesitant to answer at first.
“Do you want me to get in trouble?” Kramer replied. “I’d have to say David Coverdale from Whitesnake. And I’ll stop there.”