Eddie Kramer Completes Posthumous Jimi Hendrix Trilogy With 'Both Sides Of The Sky'

Mar 9, 2018
Originally published on March 9, 2018 8:00 am

Producer and engineer Eddie Kramer still remembers the first time he heard Jimi Hendrix play. It was 1967 and he was assigned to work with a young guitarist that everyone in London was talking about.

"Jimi got up and plugged into the Marshall stack," Kramer remembers. "I had never heard anything like it. It just completely blew me away."

At the time, Hendrix was recording his debut album, Are You Experienced. Now, more than 50 years later, Kramer co-produced Both Sides of the Sky, the third album in a posthumous trilogy featuring the best of Jimi Hendrix's unreleased studio recordings.

When they worked together, Kramer and Hendrix fed off each other to push the guitarist's music to new technical heights. Kramer seemed to understand Hendrix's unique musical language. Kramer says he still hears Hendrix's voice in his head directing him in the studio.

"He did have a tendency to describe sounds in colors," Kramer says. "If he said, 'Hey, man, give me some of that green,' I knew exactly what he meant; it was reverb. Or if he said, 'Hey, man, more red,' I knew it was distortion. And then if it went purple, it was really stupid distortion."

Kramer would go on to mix and record every album Hendrix made before his death in 1970. Both Sides of the Sky captures studio recordings Hendrix made between 1968 and 1970. It was a transitional time for Hendrix, spanning the breakup of his first band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and his work with other players.

"He used the studio as a rehearsal place, and thank goodness that was happening, because tape was running and he would bring in different musicians to try to figure out what he was going to do with his musical direction," Kramer says.

Kramer says sometimes it would take Hendrix nine months to complete a song. Many of the songs of this record are audio cuts of songs prior to being completed. The album also features notable cameos from artists like blues guitarist Johnny Winter, as well as Stephen Stills. Stills sings the Joni Mitchell tune "Woodstock" which he would go on to record with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Kramer says there's not a lot of unreleased studio recordings left in the Jimi Hendrix vault, but 48 years after Hendrix's death, he still hasn't tired of working with the rock star's material.

"I get so excited," Kramer says. "I want to keep doing Jimi Hendrix for the rest of time."

Both Sides of the Sky is available now.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Jimi Hendrix died 48 years ago, but his music keeps coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAR MY TRAIN A COMIN'")

JIMI HENDRIX: (Singing) Hear my train a coming.

MARTIN: That's a track from "Both Sides Of The Sky," a new Hendrix record out today. It's the third album in a trilogy featuring the best of Jimi's unreleased studio recordings. NPR's Vince Pearson spoke with a legendary recording engineer who helped bring this project to life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAR MY TRAIN A COMIN'")

HENDRIX: Hey.

VINCE PEARSON, BYLINE: Eddie Kramer still remembers the first time he heard that monster guitar. It was 1967. He was the young engineer assigned to work with the new artist everyone in London was talking about.

EDDIE KRAMER: We put up the amps, and then we put up Mitch's drums. And then Jimi got up and plugged into the Marshall stack. And I had never heard anything like it. It just completely blew me away.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIMI HENDRIX'S "PURPLE HAZE")

PEARSON: Hendrix was recording songs for his debut album "Are You Experienced."

KRAMER: Miked everything up and recorded a bunch and said, Jimi, come up and have a quick listen. And he listened. He said, wow - and went back in the studio and proceeded to sort of readjust his amp and nodded at me. Check this out, Kramer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE HAZE")

HENDRIX: (Singing) Purple haze all in my brain.

PEARSON: The two fed off each other, working together to push Jimi's music to a new technical heights. Kramer seemed to understand Jimi's unique musical language.

KRAMER: He did have a tendency to describe sounds in colors. Hey, man, give me some of that green, you know. And I knew exactly what he meant. It was reverb. Or if he said more red, I knew it was distortion. And then if he went purple, it was really stupid distortion.

PEARSON: Kramer would go on to mix and record every album Hendrix made before his death in 1970. And he's still at it, bringing a kind of continuity to the posthumous stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIMI HENDRIX'S "POWER OF SOUL")

KRAMER: You know, working with Jimi so closely over those years, the sound is in my head. And I can hear his voice talking to me saying, no, no, not that, yeah, yeah, let's get that kind of sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIMI HENDRIX'S "POWER OF SOUL")

PEARSON: The new album captures studio recordings Hendrix made between 1968 and 1970, a transitional time spanning the breakup of his first band and his work with other players.

KRAMER: He used the studio as a rehearsal place. Thank goodness that was happening because tape was running. He would bring in different musicians to try to figure out what he was going to do with his musical direction. You know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITH THE POWER")

HENDRIX: (Singing) Watch out for some of those high-flying rides you've been taking. You know the ones that are flying too low.

KRAMER: Sometimes a song would take him nine months to bring to completion, and a lot of these songs are that. They are that takes prior to it being completed, which makes them very exciting.

PEARSON: There are also some cool cameos. Blues guitarist Johnny Winter shows up, as well as Stephen Stills. Stills sings a Joni Mitchell tune he'd go on to record with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WOODSTOCK")

STEPHEN STILLS: (Singing) Well, I came upon a child of God. He was walking along the road. And I asked him, where was he going?

PEARSON: Eddie Kramer says there's not a lot of unreleased studio recordings left in the Jimi Hendrix vault, but there is plenty more concert footage.

Is it meaningful to you to be still working on his stuff?

KRAMER: Oh, my goodness, yes. I love working on this stuff. I get so excited just putting the tapes up and hearing his voice. I want to keep doing Jimi Hendrix for the rest of time (laughter).

PEARSON: That's Eddie Kramer, the engineer and one of the producers of "Both Sides Of The Sky."

Vince Pearson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.