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Back to School with Eddie Kramer

From the Mix archives…an interview with Eddie Kramer, August 1983: If there was a sound of late ’60s and ’70s rock, a man who had a huge role in creating

From the Mix archives…an interview with Eddie Kramer, August 1983:

If there was a sound of late ’60s and ’70s rock, a man who had a huge role in creating it was Eddie Kramer. In a production and engineering career that has spanned 30 years, the South African-born Kramer has been behind the board for the biggest names in music, including The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Traffic, Peter Frampton, Carly Simon, Joe Cocker and Bad Company. He’s perhaps best known for three long-term associations—Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Kiss—that continue to influence rock musicians and producers today.

Kramer’s recent projects include remastering all of Hendrix’s albums for the Hendrix family, whose recent court victory in obtaining the rights to his tapes could mean the release of a new album every year for the next ten years. About 105 minutes of music and interviews, including 12 never-released tracks, were released earlier this summer on a BBC Sessions double CD. And Kramer also worked on the recently completed Band of Gypsys movie, produced by Arweld Ltd.’s Neil Aspinall and Chips Chipperfield and directed by Bob Smeaton, the team that made The Beatles Anthology documentary. The film, shot in New York, London and Los Angeles, includes 20 minutes of never-before-seen footage, plus interviews with Kramer, Buddy Miles, Billy Cox and others. The film and the CD version, Band of Gypsys II, are due out this month.

For the past five years, Kramer has been lecturing at American colleges, to “give something back” and “raise the bar of excellence.” This past March, he was in Boston for a Major Residency in Music Production and Engineering at Berklee College of Music. Kramer’s four days at Berklee began with a first-day lecture, where he warned students about long introductions to songs. “The most important thing is to make a connection emotionally, lyrically, rhythmically in that first 30 seconds,” he says. “You have to connect with the audience right away, and if you don’t, you’ve lost them.”

The next three days were spent recording, mixing and mastering a Berklee student’s original song. From 60 tapes submitted, Kramer chose “This Ride” by Meghan Toohey, a 21-year-old senior Songwriting major from Chelmsford, Mass. Of the ten runners-up and five finalists, half were women, which, according to Kramer, reflects the music industry today: “Women are at the cutting edge of rock. I didn’t realize until I met Meghan that she was the guitar player on the demo. She’s gonna be big! She’s got the potential to be a prominent artist.”

Since Kramer’s days in music school (he studied classical piano at the University of Cape Town, South Africa), there have been radical changes in technology. Kramer thinks of the computer as a working tool for mixing. “I love music,” he says. “Everything I do is based on music, not on technology. I know what technology will do for me because of the experience I’ve gotten over the last 30-odd years, and I know how to get the sounds, but I don’t let the technology rule what I do. I go by instinct—by feel—and I want musicians to play from the heart. Music is the god that we worship. We strive for excellence in music, and the technology helps us get there.”

While at Berklee, Kramer had a lot of other advice to offer the next generation of recording engineers and producers: “The industry is growing. We’ve got film; we’ve got television, radio, record production. The thing is not to restrict yourself to any one area. Maybe you have to go into film or TV, and maybe you won’t like it immediately, but maybe it’s a springboard to get you into the area that you want. Know the technology—know your computers. Be dedicated. Be passionate. And be prepared to take a lot of hard knocks! And it’s a lot about attitude. It’s about anticipating what the producer and the engineer want ahead of time. You’ve got to be two beats ahead.”