Gary James' Interview With Eddie Kramer
Setting The Record Straight
He was only 27 years old when he died, but Jimi Hendrix is now regarded as the greatest guitarist that ever lived.
Much has been written about the life and death of Jimi Hendrix. Most of it has been false. Eddie Kramer knew Jimi Hendrix He produced many of his records. In fact, Eddie Kramer produced albums for a lot of people including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight by John McDermott with Eddie Kramer (Warner Books) is an insiders view of Jimi Hendrix. The following is an interview with one of Rock's greatest producers: Eddie Kramer about Rock's greatest guitarist, Jimi Hendrix.
Q - Eddie, why did you title the book "Setting The Record Straight?" What, did you want to set straight?
A - Well, boy, that's a leading question isn't it? Let's see. The problem is so much of what has been written prior to our book was garbage. John McDermott (co-author) came to me and said, "Look, how come in the previous books, none of the authors had interviewed you or Chas (Chandler, Jimi's personal manager) or any of the key people that had worked with Jimi?" I said, "I don't know, I know the books are garbage, that's why I never read them." I said if we're going to do anything, let's set the record straight and I guess that phrase stuck. We embarked on this very long-term project. It took us about 3 years to put the book together and get all the interviews done. There was just so much garbage that had been said about Jimi and we wanted to make sure that we approached the book from an honest point of view, and talked to all the people who really knew him and worked with him.
Q - You write in the preface of the book, "I sincerely hope that the world's perception of Jimi Hendrix, specifically the image of the stoned-out, undisciplined musician, has been as far as I'm concerned, permanently altered." Who do you think is responsible for promoting that image?
A - Oh, I think one can level that criticism at a multitude of sources. Certainly the press. The press generally speaking, is mis-informed and usually has their own agenda. Unwitting comments by some people. Unwitting observations. One does not know the person superficially. One has to work with that person to see where he or she is at. Fortunately, I was lucky or blessed, if you will, to have been given that privilege of working with a genius and working closely with him for four years. I got to know him fairly well. Certainly not as well as other people who hung out with him, but, from a working stand pointe, I got to know him pretty dam well.
Q - How did you first meet Jimi?
A - I knew about Jimi in 1966 when he first came over (to England). There wasn't a person in the record business who didn't know about Jimi Hendrix. He came over in October of 1966. I started working with him in January of '67. So, I guess my first meeting with him was our first session at Olympic Studios in London.
Q - Did the record company hook you guys up?
A - No. There was no record company. There was Chas Chandler, who was the producer. He was Jimi's producer for the first two albums and part of the third. But, it was really out of Chas's pocket. I think that these sessions were being done because at that point the label hadn't been solidified.
Q - When you were in the studios with Hendrix, did you realize how great of a talent he was?
A - It was obvious that this man was a genius on the guitar. How great, in retrospect, I really was much too young to get any objective opinion on the man, except that subjectively when I was working with him, it was frightening to watch him work. He was so awesome. We got on very well. We used to laugh and giggle in the studio a lot. I would created sounds for him and he would create sounds for the record and we would just spark off each other, I guess. Was I aware of his genius outside of the studio? No, I don't think so.
Q - Was Jimi actually the co-producer of a lot of the albums he recorded? Was he calling the shots in the studio?
A - Well, that's not true strictly speaking in Jimi's case. Certainly on the first two albums it was very much Chas. Chas had a very distinctive hand and handle of the whole process on what Jimi was writing. He helped him write songs. He coached him. He was his mentor. And, I think it was a very necessary process. Fortunately for Jimi, Chas took interest in him and brought him to England, which everybody knows about. More to the point, Jimi lived with Chas, and they were together twenty-four, seven. The lines of communication were very well open. Chas was a task master and Jimi rose to the occasion. Jimi had to curb his natural feelings towards wanting to produce himself initially because Chas was so much in charge. Chas had this, I guess you could call it a Pop sensibility, that pre-determined the songs. They had to be two and a half, three and a half, four minutes at the most. He came from that Pop culture. I think it forced Jimi to think in terms of an eight bar solo. Everything had to be condensed and squashed into a short time slot. I guess this was very good training for Jimi. Then of course as things progressed and we hit the third album, as we got to "Electric Lady Land", that's when Jimi and Chas part ways and I became more actively involved in the production. It became the Jimi Hendrix Experience with Jimi at the helm. And, that's not to say on the first two records he didn't contribute. Of course he did. But, if you're talking in terms of pure production, it was Chas's production, my engineering skills, and Jimi's music, with Jimi saying, 'Hey, how about this? How about that for a sound!'
Q - Before reading your book. I never realized that Billboard (magazine) said of Hendrix," His modal turned chicken choke handling of the guitar doesn't indicate a strong talent."
A - (Laughs)
Q - How could Billboard be that far off?
A - Well, it often happens with new talent you know. And, one has to remember the context in which it was said. Think about what the time slot was. Sounds like a 1967 review. Now remember, Billboard was a fairly conservative magazine in those days, and I'm sure the reviewers were pretty shocked when they saw Hendrix, of course most Americans were shocked when they saw Hendrix. Just think about it the context, politically, and musically and what was going on in America. It was a disaster in the sense there was nothing happening in America, sound-wise, that came even close to what Jimi was doing. And, he was an American guitar player, who was discovered in America, brought to England, and became a star in Europe first, then came to America and did Monterey. From that point onwards, he was huge. But, obviously the people at Billboard at that point were probably very conservative and just weren't receptive.
Q - Was Jimi Hendrix a political person? Did he involve himself with political causes?
A - I don't know that he was involved himself with causes so much as he was a humanitarian. He certainly had a sympathetic ear to various causes. Certainly he was anti-Vietnam. Certainly he was into stuff that I guess by 1967-1968 standards were very far out. He was into Women's Rights, Freedom of the Individual, etc. I don't think you can say he was really political, but, I think he had tremendous inner feelings about the individual. He didn't see himself as Black or White or any color specifically. And yet, he was approached by the Black Panthers. So, obviously he was aware of that. Race obviously became an issue at some point. I don't know if you could say he was actively politically oriented.
Q - In your book, you quote Jimi as saying about Alan Douglas, "He can help, but I don't want that guy to have anything to do with my music." What didn't he like about Alan Douglas?
A - Oh, God. (Laughs) So many things. There's stuff that I cannot tell you on the record. I can give you a little hint. I was in the studio with Jimi at Electric Lady and apparently Alan Douglas had rung his doorbell. Somebody had left him downstairs. There were strict instructions not to let anybody into the sessions and somehow he got into the control room and Jimi whispered to me, 'Get rid of this guy, please!' So, I had to kick him out. And, I'm glad I did because later on, we seriously kicked him out as you can imagine. There was a huge $90 million dollar lawsuit against Alan Douglas, etc. The estate was being manhandled by an attorney and Alan Douglas. Basically, the family was being ripped off for many years. It was a very unpleasant scene, and fortunately we won and the family has the rights back and we're putting out great product. Since the time John McDermott, myself and Janie Hendrix have taken over the re-release of all the material, four million units have been sold worldwide. It was quite substantial.
Q - Wasn't there some controversy recently about moving Jimi's grave?
A - Some idiot woman who was employed by the cemetery made a proposal to Al Hendrix (Jimi's father) without consulting the family, without consulting anybody. He said, 'That sounds kind of interesting.' He wanted to do something special, but, there was never mention of moving the body. So much crap. So, without consulting anybody, she blasts this thing on the Internet. It was just so dumb. She got fired because of it by the way. It was total b.s. The family's going to make a new memorial, because what happens apparently is the grave site really gets chewed up with all the people coming up to see the gravesite. So, they want to make a nice memorial where people can stand and not get wet and all this stuff. So, that is the plan.
Q - Is there anything to the report that Michael Jeffrey (Jimi Hendix's manager) did not die in a plane accident, that he faked his death?
A - No, The guy died. Gerry Stickells (Jimi's Rd. Mgr.) identified the body. Quite frankly, if Michael Jeffrey was still alive, he would've been all over us and tried to get money out of somebody. Somebody was smoking something when they saw him. (Laughs). You have to remember, when you talk about setting the record straight, you're talking about John McDermott, a tough Boston New Yorker / Englishman / Russian Polish English Jew who's not going to b.s. anybody. He's gonna give you the straight stuff. If it's not in our book, it didn't happen.
Q - Do you believe there was anything strange about the circumstances surrounding the death of Jimi Hendrix?
A - No. I can tell you one thing . The only thing that was not so much strange, which you can read in the book, is that there was a gap of 20 minutes where someone panicked and we know who that person is (Monika Dannemann) and of course she died last year. She panicked basically. That's the deal. She could have saved him, but, she didn't know how, or didn't want to, or was too frightened or whatever. A very sad thing happened. Was it an accident? Absolutely.
Q - You know, I could bring up the stories that have been told to me over the years, but, I don't want to enrage you.
A - Well, it's not a matter of rage. A lot of people who weren't there, just don't know. (Laughs). They're just surmising. One has to look at it like this: It was a tragedy. A man died. He left a legacy, which is fortunate that he did. He was a genius. He was a great guitar player. There were so many stars who died during that time period. The famous trio; Jimi, Janis (Joplin), and Jim (Morrison) and many others. Unless you were there, unless you were part of that whole thing, you don't know what happened. From what we've been able to determine, we've given what we feel is the truth about what happened and that's the end of it. Other people can say whatever they want to say. But, were they there? (Laughs).
Q - After completing the book, did you learn anything about Jimi Hendrix that you didn't know?
A - Oh, tons. Yes. John McDermott was very clever in what he was able to dig up. He's a historian and a very sharp guy. He dug up all this stuff. The F.B.I, had Jimi's name down as a person to go get because Jimi was outspoken. He was a rebel and a maverick so the F.B.I, definitely had their eyes on him. They were determined to get him at some point. I mean, there's all that stuff if you want to dig around in that department. Stuff that I didn't know about his past, about how he grew up. There's another whole story there.