Over the decades, legendary producer and engineer Eddie Kramer has been behind the console with the best of the best: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Kiss to name a few. As an engineer/producer myself, I always felt a strange affiliation to Kramer. Upon discovering him during university I always thought it had something to do with the albums he had moulded, namely Led Zeppelin II, five of the Stones albums, The Beatles ‘All You Need Is Love” and one of the top-selling albums of the 1970s, Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive”. Just a few years prior I had played these very LP’s full blast walking down my school halls listening to the tightly ‘pocketed’ grooves and riffs on my purple iPod nano. However, it was the work he did with Jimi Hendrix, the man who revolutionized rock guitar that for me had set him apart from his contemporaries.
As it turned out that wasn’t quite the affiliation that made the difference in my life. Not only did Kramer, like myself start out as a musician before ending up on the other side of the spectrum behind a mixing console but I soon discovered he was born and bred in my hometown of Cape Town, South Africa. There is a strange paradigm to growing up in Cape Town, in many a way it feels as if you’re walking the streets of any top tier European city but something still gives it that edgy 3rd world experience, a reality that makes one feel lightyears away from the luxurious streets of Paris and Rome. You most certainly feel miles away from being in a room making music with the likes of Hendrix. As a young man working in the music business with strong ties to my Jewish identity, using my voice as a Jewish and Israel rights activist it wasn’t until I discovered Kramer had been Bar Mitvahed on the very bima I had once stood at the tender age of 13 that these parallels took on a whole new meaning of inspiration. As if my very soul, passions and identity were tied directly to his existence.
I scoured the internet to find any and every interview, mixing tutorial or studio tour he had given often finding myself in stitches of laughter at his use Yiddish to describe the most emotionally charged and exciting moments of his career. Every time I entered a bar or turned the corner onto one of Cape Town’s cobble streets I imagined him standing where I was, wondering if he could have fathomed the greatness that awaited him.
What always intrigued me about the role of an engineer/producer is a sort of philosophical mystique associated with being ‘the invisible man’ behind the music and the creator of the sonic identity that the artist becomes synonymous with to a listener. In an era of digital music where often the sound can be a little sterile the most important lesson I took from Kramer was ‘leave the damn mistakes in’. The most intriguing example of this is in Led Zeppelin’s ‘A Whole Lot of Love’ where an accidental bleed from a prior vocal take of Robert Plant was mistakenly printed by Kramer creating what is known today as the backward echo effect. Instead of starting again, he did what most creative geniuses do and accentuated the mistake making it sound intentional, adding tons of reverb to the vocal bleed making Plant sound like he was foreshadowing the vocal lines from afar.
As Kramer states ‘it is his very connection to Jewish philosophy that resulted in his creative approach behind getting an album ready for release – just as the ancient psalms of King David exist today once the music is out in the universe, that’s where it remains. No matter how many love it or hate it, no matter how many hear it. It remains and it exists far longer than we ever will’