Of the tens of thousands of people who attended NAMM 2016, the majority probably spent most of their time amongst the crowds mobbing the major product manufacturers. The booths representing makers of guitars, basses, effects pedals and drums were packed shoulder-to-shoulder from the moment the show opened at 10:00 am until it closed at 5:00 pm each of the four days. (The term “sensory overload” doesn’t even begin to describe the constant wall of noise.) The four days were also Facebook heaven for fans posting selfies and photos posed with their favorite rock stars.
In a quiet room away from all that madness, a handful of those who recognized a real opportunity were treated to what might be described as a near-religious experience for anyone who is a fan of the music of Jimi Hendrix—a talk by Eddie Kramer, who was not only Hendrix’s producer and engineer, but also his partner in creating new and revolutionary sound effects and recording techniques during the three albums Hendrix made in his brief lifetime.
At age 74, Kramer looks remarkable fit and trim. With almost daily announcements about noted musicians passing, Kramer has seemingly avoided the ravages of time and excess that has consumed so many of his contemporaries. He has the energy and enthusiasm of someone decades younger, dancing around and playing air guitar while sharing examples of work he did with Hendrix, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
In the all-to-brief lecture he gave at NAMM (at an hour, he barely scratched the surface of the vast body of his work) he focused on his early career, with the work he did with Hendrix in particular. In addition to being a recording engineer and producer, Kramer is also a photographer, and he shared many photos he took of Hendrix during recording sessions. It was fascinating hearing Kramer describe how he and Hendrix experimented to created sounds that no one had made before, one example being the phasing effect on Axis Bold As Love. Kramer also showed photos and described Hendrix’s interactions with the Beatles and Rolling Stones. As he is one of the last surviving members of Hendrix’s inner circle, the audience soaked up every word, sound and image Kramer presented.
Kramer followed that up with his recollections of the work he did with Led Zeppelin. Among the interesting facts the audience was treated to was that Robert Plant’s now-famous vocal echo during the break before the outro in Whole Lotta Love was actually a mistake. There was a bleed-through overdubbing sessions, but Kramer and Jimmy Page like the sound so much they left it in. Kramer also showed numerous photos he took during outdoor recording sessions at Mick Jaggers’ country estate for songs that would appear on Physical Graffiti and Houses of the Holy. Again, for everyone in the audience it was fascinating to hear the detailed recollections of an insider who was present during the making of some of rock music’s most iconic records.
After that, Kramer moved on to the mid 70’s to talk of how he was introduced to a band named Wicked Lester, which later became much more well known as KISS. Just as he was delving into that subject, the NAMM moderator gave the signal “ten minutes.” What? So soon? There was only time for a very brief question and answer session and then the whole thing was over.
Eddie Kramer could have easily spoken for double the length of time and no one would have minded a bit. An amazing man with a fascinating history and a dynamic personality, he has a keen sense of storytelling that kept everyone’s rapt attention. One hour may have not been enough, but he made the most of every minute.