For millions of guitarists, hearing Are You Experienced by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin II were life-changing events. Producer and engineer Eddie Kramer remembers both records well but for his own wholly unique reasons: He was present during their creation, working closely with Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page to realize their visions on what would become two of rock's most celebrated and iconic albums.
"I don’t think we realized for some years later how impactful it all was," Kramer says. "When you’re doing the work, that’s all you’re focused on – getting things done, getting them right. All that I wanted to do was satisfy the clients and not make a fool of myself. I wanted to get the best sounds that I could. It wasn’t until the mid-‘70s that I looked back at what we’d done in the ‘60s and thought, ‘Hey, that was pretty interesting.’"
Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, Kramer studied classical piano at the prestigious South African College Of Music. Gradually, his interest turned to jazz, followed by rock 'n' roll. "And then the rot set in," he says with a laugh. "It was a downward spiral from that point. This caused some sadness for my father, who wanted me to be a concert pianist." Kramer pauses, then adds with a chuckle, "Once he met Jimi Hendrix, he changed his mind."
In 1961, at the age of 19, Kramer moved to England, where he embarked on his recording career, taping local jazz groups before getting a job at Advision Studios in 1962. In short order, he moved over to Pye Studios, where he learned the ropes from chief engineer Bob Auger. "He was an absolute genius," Kramer recalls. "A very important mentor."
In addition to Auger, Kramer credits Keith Grant from Olympic Sound Studios (Kramer joined the facility's team in 1966 and worked on recordings by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, among others) and producer Jimmy Miller with teaching him the ins and outs of recording. "I was fortunate in that I had three really good mentors," he says. "The gradual process of learning the craft under these great engineers really focused my attention on what I was supposed to be doing. I think the whole concept of being an apprentice, so to speak, or a tea boy, under a mentor has great merit."
These days, many aspiring music makers are capable of creating sophisticated recordings on their laptops. While Kramer admits that quality work can be done with Pro Tools and home setups, he firmly believes that something important is being lost in the process.
"Having musicians in a room looking at each other eyeball to eyeball, grinding it out, fighting over it – it’s vital to making good music," he says. "The concept of somebody on their own with their laptop and headphones is such a selfish procedure. To me, it should be a communicative effort, and that’s how you get the raw feeling of musicians interacting with one another. That’s the glory of a great production.”
A triple-threat record maker, operating as producer, engineer and mixer (and even songwriter, so he's a quadruple-threat), Kramer has, over the years, put his sonic imprint on a staggering number of classics – in addition to Jimi Hendrix and Zeppelin, he's helped shape landmark releases that run the gamut from AM pop to stadium rock to thrash metal crunch. On the following pages, he looks back on 11 of his most notable recordings.
Currently, Kramer is involved in a number of projects, such as a long-planned memoir, From The Other Side Of The Glass. He's also worked on the development of the DTS Headphone: X, which he describes as "essentially an app that has been created so that with any pair of headphones in any source will get you exact replication of speakers. It’s the scariest and most wonderful thing you have ever heard.”
Kramer is also set to launch a new line of wireless F-Pedals at the upcoming NAMM in January 2014. "I'm very lucky to have paired with my friend Francesco Sondelli," he says. "Francesco is very imaginative and worked very, very hard on these pedals. It’s got some technology that nobody’s ever done before.”
In addition, he's just wrapped an EP with the Memphis-based band American Fiction, set for release in January, and will soon be working with 13-year-old blues guitar phenom Ray Goren. For more on Eddie Kramer, visit his official website and Eddie Kramer Archives.