The prolific producer reflects on his steep learning curve
Woodstock: Music From The Original Soundtrack And More
Over a sleepless three days, Kramer records monumental sets from Hendrix, The Band, CSNY and more
We had to have vitamin B injections in the bum, absolutely, that’s the only thing that kept us going! It was three days and three nights of drugs and pills around you – obviously I was not into drugs, never have been – but there had to be a couple of sane, sober people there, recording and filming it. It was one of those magical historical moments that people have been trying to repeat with various degrees of success. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I’m not so sure I’d want to do it again. The recording gear came from the Fillmore East. I had one piece of the trailer truck backstage, which had been set up as a control room with just a 12-channel console, two tape machines, one of them was on an orange crate. It was pretty primitive, I had no communication with the stage, it was just all done by hand signals. But we got it done. You can’t even begin to imagine being onstage when you’re looking out at half a million people – you go, “Holy shit.” I remember standing on the stage, and Bill Graham says to me, “You know if all these people decide to riot we’re fucked…” It all ended well, though, no rioting. Jimi started at nine o’clock on the Monday morning. Half the people had left, there was a sea of mud there, but Jimi’s performance was inspirational, just phenomenal, one of the great performances of his career. When it got time for “The Star-Spangled Banner”, it just was searing and mindblowing.
With John Lennon in attendance, Kramer mans Bowie’s sessions for “Fame” and other cuts destined for his ‘plastic soul’ album
I hadn’t seen John since I’d done two tracks for The Beatles, “All You Need Is Love” and “Baby You’re A Rich Man”. It was great to see him again. He came in to play rhythm guitar for Bowie – God, he was good, he was like a bloody metronome, didn’t need a click track. Once that was down, the whole track was locked in. We did “Fame”, and I think we did a B-side, too, “Across The Universe”. It was fascinating to see how he interacted as just a session guy, not being John Lennon, but just a friend of David’s who happened to play really good guitar. The story is Carlos Alomar was jamming the riff that became “Fame” and Bowie walked in and said, “Oi, I want that,” and that started the process. Bowie had a very clear idea about what he wanted to do – I remember we adjusted the tape machine with the speed on each one of those passes [at the end of “Fame”], but it’s very clever. Those guys were all bloody fast. Bowie was brilliant about his choice of vocal takes, which ones to use.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival
A rediscovered live set from 1970 is the latest posthumous Hendrix release, masterfully restored by Kramer
Did I do a lot to the recordings? You might say that. It was a lot of work. I played every bloody part again! [laughs] No, you can never fix any of Hendrix’s stuff, it’s brilliant. It was a long process. We’re very proud of all of the restorations that we get our hands on. It inevitably takes a long time because I’m very detailed and I examine it from every aspect. For me, the whole restoration thing is akin to an archaeological dig, in the sense that you go in with a little brush and scrape away the dirt and try to find the gems that lie beneath. This was Jimi at the height of his career – there were many highs of his career, of course. Certainly, though, I think the last iteration of the Experience [Hendrix with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox] was a very, very fine band indeed, and this is a nice performance. A 5.1 system really makes a hell of a difference to this, because you find yourself actually in the middle of the audience.
The April 2018 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – with Joni Mitchell on the cover. Elsewhere in the issue, we pay tribute to Mark E Smith and there are new interviews with The Breeders, Josh T Pearson, Brett Anderson, The Decemberists and Chris Robinson and many more and we also look at the legacy of Rick Hall’s FAME Studioes. Our free 15 track-CD features 15 tracks of this month’s best new music, featuring Graham Coxon, Gwenno, Guided By Voices, Jonathan Wilson, David Byrne, Tracey Thorn, The Low Anthem and Mélissa Laveaux
Uncut: the past, present and future of great music.