Eddie Kramer – Woodstock interview
Mike Hobson (Aug, 18 2004)
MH: Okay, so Dr. Kramer, how, how did you originally get the gig of recording at Woodstock.
EK: Oh, let's see now, you're really testing my memory banks, aren't you Mr. Hobson.
MH: Well, you know, these are questions people want to know. Like how did Kramer end up in that trailer?
EK: Yeah. I think he was transported there by visiting angels.
MH: Is that right? Literally, how did you get up there? Did you drive up on your own? Did you walk…?
EK: Well, that's all part of the whole story. Obviously, since Jimi Hendrix was the main star who, poor poor guy, ends up closing the show on the Monday morning – he was supposed to have gone on Sunday night.
MH: So actually, he was to be the highlight of the show and as such he would have ended the show.
EK: That's right As a result of the fact that Jimi was to be the headliner and since I was working with him at the record plant, Michael Wadley who was filming Woodstock, called up the record plant and said 'well, let's get the guy who's recording Hendrix to record this thing.' And since I had a little bit of a reputation for being an engineer who liked to record live things, I got the gig.
MH: I guess it was your Fillmore East recordings.
EK: Absolutely and in fact, that's exactly where the gear came from. Hanley Sound supplied the sound for the Filmore East and they also had this 8-track Scully sitting in the basement which is where I used to record a lot of bands from underneath the stage of the Filmore East. So they figured 'oh, we'll get Kramer. We've got the gear. He does Hendrix. And we'll send him on up there.' And they called me up and said do I want to do it? And I said 'sure that sounds like fun.' Little did I know.
MH: So you ended up actually recording all of Woodstock and not just Hendrix. Correct?
EK: Yeah well, there was another engineer there who split some of the chores with me. A guy named Lee. But I did most of the work though. You know, I did most of the miking and I was up for 3 days which I've always referred to as 3 days of drugs and hell. Funny thing is I never took any drugs. They gave us vitamin B shots in the ass to keep you up. Oh god they hurt.
MH: What day did you start?
EK: I arrived there on a Friday morning. It was Friday, Saturday, Sunday. It was supposed to be three days. So I arrived at, I think six a.m. The sun was coming up. I had my camera bag with me and a change of clothes… if that.
MH: Were there already a lot of people there?
EK: I had to walk the last mile to the site because the traffic was unbelievable. It was already backed up. And I'm walking up this hill and I crest the hill and I look down at the sight and I could see the stage and I'm thinking 'wait a minute, the stage is not even finished yet and in about four or five hours we're going to be starting the show.' And this thing looked like hell. I mean it was just unbelievable chaos.
MH: People trying to set a stage up?
EK: Yeah. I mean it was under major construction still and I figured 'oh jeez this is gonna be….' I knew right away we were in for it. So at around 12:30/1:00 I walked out into the audience to see what was happening with the PA because they were having some problems. Out in the middle of the audience there was a little shed that had been constructed. It looked like something from a third world country. Inside was the actual mixing consol and some of the rack amplifiers and all I saw was this guy bending over the console. The console was flipped up in the air with a 2X4 holding it up and smoke was pouring out of it and I thought 'oh shit'. This guy was soldering and he was burning some wires and God knows what… Anyway, eventually it got going and it worked and I ran back to the truck and we were ready to roll and about an hour later..
MH: So that was the Front Of House (FOH).
EK: Yeah, out in the crowd in this little shed.
MH: And they ran the cables all the way back up to...
EK: All the way from the shed to front of the stage and then to these towers where they had lights and the PA. There were always people yelling 'get down off the towers'. We were behind the stage which eventually got kind of sort of finished with these pieces of wood hanging out at various angles and a sort of canvas tarp flapping around on top of that protecting the…well you see it in that one wonderful scene where that great big bloody storm comes over with Joe Cocker on stage and the shit just ripping open because it was never constructed properly.
MH: So where were you?
EK: I'm behind the stage in a tractor-trailer, the back end of a tractor-trailer. Not the whole tractor-trailer, just a quarter of it…
MH: With a Console and tape machines?
EK: With this consol that was I think 12 inputs and 2 little Shure mixers stacked one on top of the other. We had the one 8-track one inch machine, plus another one in a kind of like an orange crate just sort of held there by a couple of wires – quite literally hanging on by a thread. The communication with the stage broke down after the first five minutes. It was a matter of guys running back and forth, so you can imagine the amount of delay line…
MH: So were there a lot of technical problems?
EK: Here's another example of something that broke down. Someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to have a circular stage on top of the main stage. It was a platform, divided in half so that the front half would be the first band that's on and the back half would be loading up the next band. The circular platform had wheels on so that, in theory you could turn it around and then the next band would be presented to the front of the audience, right?
MH: So you wouldn't have the stage changes with drum sets and so forth.
EK: Yeah. But after the first band was on, they tried to turn the thing, and all the wheels fell off.
MH: Because it was too heavy.
EK: It just broke and just sat there for the whole time.
MH: So they did have to go back to plan B which was change…
EK: Yeah, plan B, which was, you know, improvise. There was a lot of improvising going on.
MH: Which I guess, part of what you were saying is that the delay at the beginning along with the stage collapse which, if it had worked, would have facilitated bands circling, you know, coming on and off…
EK: Yeah, it would have made it maybe a little easier.
MH: But all these problems contributed to the delay that ended up having Hendrix end the show on Monday morning rather than Sunday night.
EK: You have to add into all this, that the performers ran on and the weather was terrible at times. When you add all of those moments up you get Jimi appearing Monday morning.
MH: What time did he go on Monday? Nine or Ten in the morning?
EK: They started at nine in the morning.
MH: So, you were at least, nine to twelve hours delayed.
EK: Easy. So that, that kind of set the stage for what was going to happen.
MH: You mean in terms of the performance?
EK: I mean obviously Jimi had to pull some miracles - which he did. Jimi always came to the front when it was necessary. And it always seemed to me that the band that he had picked was never quite what it should have been. But Jimi could never say no to his friends. And even though he had Mitch and Billy there, thank God… The rest of the guys were just 'oh Jesus.'
MH: Kind of thrown together.
EK: They were just, I mean a very loose band of gypsies, which is what he called them and so apropos, I think.
MH: So what about the music.
EK: I was never really taken with what they were trying to do. It was very, very loose. Poor Mitch is trying to keep the groove going and so was Billy. At times it kind of sort of did work, but you have to focus on Jimi. Jimi is the one who is driving the whole thing. Without his ability to keep the rhythm going and keep the pulse going and keep the vibe going and generally just push things forward, it would have been… I mean it was a little messy, but Jimi is the one who comes out on top as always.
MH: anticipating playing on Sunday night, when did Jimi and the band arrive?
EK: I think he was there a day before.
MH: Okay, so they would have probably been there on Saturday.
EK: Yeah, he was digging the whole scene. He loved it. I mean he thought it was absolutely unbelievable.
MH: But of course, that also takes a lot of energy out of you.
EK: I mean, you can imagine how many bloody joints were smoked and God knows what else, and what other chemicals were inhaled in order to stay on top of it. But he looked amazingly fresh and he played beautifully, obviously. As far as Hendrix' performance it seems to me that when he was on his own, when he does his own little side things, he was just so magnificent. He didn't even need a band. It was the great historic moment, you know, the 'Star Spangled Banner.' It was absolutely stunning.
MH: What a great choice.
EK: And so appropriate for that time. You really get, it's 1969, we're in the bloody Vietnam War and he really didn't like that. And obviously it's a protest song and this is the perfect audience and the perfect time to do that as a protest.
MH: It's interesting we don't interpret it that way now.
EK: To this day, I remember, it is a magnificent rendition of that song and so appropriate.
MH: So, you were up the whole entire time recording?
EK: Pretty much. I mean, I think I slept a few hours every night on the floor of the tractor-trailer. They stopped, I think about midnight, one o'clock, maybe two a.m., something like that. It was late.
MH: And then they started up again nine or ten the next day.
EK: Oh, no, no it was eleven. Eleven or twelve, but still you're not getting much sleep.
MH: You're probably also doing maintenance on the machines.
EK: We're trying to make things work and repair cables and so on.
MH: In spite of the chaotic picture you paint, the sound quality on 8 tracks of one inch is still pretty amazing at capturing the moment.
EK: It wasn't bad, but you know, when I look back on it, I remember that the console was noisy. You couldn't switch between tracks and when a band would come on and you had to try and figure out – 'what the hell. Who's singing what, where and how…?” You know, it was a bit of a nightmare to try to assign the right musician to the right track.
MH: Were there sub-mixes going on? I mean you only had 8 tracks to work with.
EK: Yeah, the board was a 12 input console probably with some direct outs and some swtichable tracks
MH: So you you'd keep the vocals separate and then bass and…
EK: I always tried to keep, well obviously the drums would be on one track. Percussion would be on another track, Jimi's guitar on another track, bass and then the vocals and you're almost done by that point. 'Cause you have to leave a track for audience and a track for the code. So in essence you're really down to about six tracks.
MH: So did you guys have a mountain of tape?
EK: There was a fair amount there.
MH: I mean, because you were using one inch on, what, 12 inch reels?
EK: a one-inch on 10 1/2 inch reels.
MH: Yeah, so at 15 IPS that was what?
EK: Half an hour.
MH: Half an hour?
EK: Yeah, every 25 minutes we would start the next reel. In other words, we had the two machines so they would cross over one another.
MH: And that worked, that worked pretty much without fail?
EK: Yeah – we got it all.
MH: Wow. Pretty amazing with all the rain and all the other crap going on.
EK: Well, we did have power.
MH: It was generator power, I guess?
EK: Ah. That's a damn good question.
MH: It must have been cause you were out in the countryside. You can't really get…
EK: We were on a farm; it's possible we could have pulled lines in.
MH: So what, what were some memorable moments for you, you know, when you pan back over that whole thing?
EK: There's actually one very funny moment for me was, I remember when we were just about to start and, about five or ten minutes before we were about to kick it off.
MH: So this would have been Friday night?
EK: Friday afternoon.
EK: And we're standing on the stage looking out over this sea of people. Must be half a million people, four hundred thousand. An awful lot of people. And Bill Graham's standing next to me and he says 'you know Eddie, if these people decide to riot, you know we're fucking dead.' And I said 'Thanks a lot, Bill.' And I went back to the truck and I skedaddled out of there.
MH: How was Bill Graham?
EK: Bill's so, um, he had a very gruff exterior. A funny guy. I liked him an awful lot. He was terrific. Very tough man.
MH: Did he stay around the whole show.
EK: He was there for quite a bit of it. I seem to remember a scene where somebody's car was stuck in the mud behind the stage and there was Bill Graham, Michael Jeffrey and a bunch of other people, pushing this car out of the mud.
MH: You should have snapped a picture of that one, Eddie.
EK: You know, I took lots of pictures and they virtually all got destroyed. There's a guy who was the main sort of stage manager and announcer, Chip Monk. He borrowed my Woodstock pictures and I think his father died and his mother threw out his photographs and mine.
MH: What a tragedy.
EK: The only photos that still survive are these two or three I have of Jimi at Woodstock. In the middle of the show, you know, Jimi was playing pretty well, there. The levels were set. And I said 'Guys, please watch the levels, I'm gonna run out to the side of the stage for about thirty seconds.' And I ran out with my camera and I snapped a few pictures of Jimi and came back. And it was just an amazing event.
MH: Besides Jimi's performance, albeit delayed, what, were there any other, you know, funny things that happened to other bands that came on?
EK: Well, I think, you know, the Grateful Dead decided that they wouldn't want the show, their part of the show, to be put out for any reason.
MH: Oh is that right?
EK: Yeah. I don't know what the reason was. Maybe they felt they didn't play well, or something. I don't know.
MH: Was it the typical case where some guys came out and really played their asses off, and others were kind of luke warm or mediocre at best?
EK: Well, I think everybody played reasonable well, I mean everybody had their moments. You're aware of who played great. I mean certainly, like Santana did. Even Sha-Na-Na had a good set. Obviously Jimi's performance was stellar. I think Woodstock's remembered for two or three things. It was the first show for Crosby Stills and pretty much. Well it wasn't their exact first show, but it was one of their very first shows in front of a large audience. That kind of made them. The same thing happened with Joe Cocker. It made him. Sha-Na-Na, believe it or not, same thing happened to them. And Jimi of course was a big star and he just ripped it all up.
MH: So any other details that you can remember that are worth sharing on this, the 35th anniversary of that now historic event.
EK: I just think the general confusion was rampant and the food was in short supply. It was chaotic and all those negative things, but then you throw into the pot , haha , no pun intended… you throw into the cauldron the fact that these artists… Joan Baez, I mean you can name every artist who was there. They all felt that there was something very very special in spite of the chaos, in spite of the mud, in spite of all this discomfort. I think it probably challenged the musicians to perform in a very superior way. I think a lot of the performances were just incredible. I mean you can't help but get a vibe and a bug from a half a million people. I mean it's palpable. Its just, you can imagine you stand on that stage and you look at that sea of people and you go 'oh my God! I'm playing for a city here. I'm in a small city.' And as overwhelmed as the facilities where I think the artists themselves delivered pretty radically great performances. And that's what I remember. I remember the chaos, but I also remember with great fondness the fact that these artists were just in awe and yet were so inspired by the moment. It was as if these half a million hippies had come together for a single purpose. And they were celebrating a particular lifestyle and political revolution and this was a very momentous occasion. It made headlines all over the world. This was one of the great events of the '60s. It closed out the '60s. In fact, Woodstock really sort of shut the door on the '60s.
MH: Do you think that people like Graham and others had an idea about how this was gonna turn out?
EK: Nobody did. Nobody. I think the promoters of the concert thought there was going be maybe a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand at most.
MH: And it turned out to be?
EK: Half a million. Four hundred thousand… It was just overwhelming. Everybody was overwhelmed and they just had to deal with it.
MH: That's a lot of…
EK: That's a lot of bodies and a lot of toilets. Can you just imagine the smell? The smell of unwashed bodies and shit
MH: Eddie, that's fantastic. Hey man, thanks a lot for sharing a few moments and recollections with us. Be well, my friend.