Capturing the shy, studious side of Jimi Hendrix on camera
During his time working with Jimi Hendrix, music producer Eddie Kramer took photos of the legendary guitarist which are now on show at Camden’s Proud Galleries, discovers Alex Bellotti.
Like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when the world turns to colour, the songs of Jimi Hendrix threw a psychedelic haze irreversibly across the music industry. When it came to putting his sound to record, however, it was – to labour such an analogy – sound engineer Eddie Kramer who proved to be the magician behind the curtain.
Born in South Africa, the 73-year-old moved to London with his family in 1960, where he began learning his trade as a music producer. By 1967, he was an engineer at Olympic Studios in west London; it was here Hendrix chose to record his debut record, Are You Experienced – sparking a collaboration with Kramer which would cement their place in rock history.
“The day I met him, which was I believe early in January ‘67 when he walked into the studio, he was very shy,” says Kramer, who has also worked with artists including The Beatles, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. “He was wearing a grubby white raincoat and sat in the corner being very quiet until all the gear arrived.
“We set it up, then Jimi plugged in and played. Of course I knew about him; his first hit was Hey Joe, which had come out a few months before. Just listening to the wall of sound he was creating made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and it was totally overwhelming trying to decide how the hell we were going to record him. But we figured it out, and we became quite close because I was able to interpret what he was thinking and get sounds that he hadn’t heard before.”
Living around Hampstead and Finchley at the time, Kramer set about experimenting with revolutionary recording techniques, including phasing – a large factor in Hendrix’s trademark psychedelic sound – and audio panning.
The guitarist was so enamoured with the results that he continued to work with Kramer on future albums, and also put him at the helm of a groundbreaking £1million recording studio in New York City called Electric Lady.
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A keen photographer, Kramer took pictures during this period of Hendrix both in the studio and onstage – the results of which are on display in a new exhibition at Camden’s Proud Gallery. He explains how, despite the musician’s rock ‘n’ roll demeanour, Hendrix was “never so out of it that it affected his performance”, and that even his raw, electrifying playing style was in fact the result of a tireless work ethic.
“When you hear the music it sounds improvised, but any track that he did was meticulously – and I mean meticulously – researched.
“There’s a famous song called Voodoo Child which you’re probably aware of. That was recorded in two takes: one rehearsal, one take – bang. But it took him ten days of preparation to work out who the musicians were going to be and how the arrangements were going to go.
“He always had tonnes of those yellow legal pads and he’d write in very specific language what the intro was, the verse, the chorus, what each instrument was going to be playing, the tempos...”
Hendrix spent his childhood in Seattle, where his strict upbringing initially curtailed his aptitude for the guitar. Kramer believes this discipline – furthered by a stint in the US military – was a key factor behind the “explosion of sounds” he produced when manager Chas Chandler finally discovered him in New York and gave him a chance as a solo artist.
While Hendrix and Kramer for the most part maintained a professional friendship, the exhibition also charts time they spent together outside of work, such as when they met the Rolling Stones backstage at Madison Square Garden in 1969 (above).
The musician’s death in London at the age of 27, Kramer says, was a tragic accident, and as such came as a shock to all those connected with him.
“It was, how shall I put it… it was like I was hit with a Mack truck. I walked down to Electric Lady in New York City on Eighth Street, down the stairs and into the studio. This was on the morning I’d just picked up my Green Card, so I was really happy, thinking, ‘I’m now legal!’ But then I looked at the receptionists and everyone was crying. What the hell was going on? They said, ‘Haven’t you heard? Jimi died’ and I was just… oh jeez.
“It was very tough. He was our leader; we built that studio for him. It was definitely a shock, but he would have wanted the show to go on and it did. We kept working hard and the studio still operates today – 45 years later and it’s still cranking!”
Jimi Hendrix by Eddie Kramer runs at Proud Galleries Camden until October 25. Visit proud.co.uk