Jimi Hendrix is a music icon, but he didn't reach that status by himself.
Lots of people along the way had an impact, and of course, someone had to record that timeless catalog. Fortunately for us all, Hendrix picked legendary producer Eddie Kramer out for that task.
Kramer and writer and filmmaker John McDermott recently dropped by Q104.3 New York's Out of the Box with Jonathan Clarke, celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of Hendrix's most important works, Electric Ladyland.
Kramer saw all of it unfold, from the album's initial sessions in England to where it was completed in New York City. He also had the foresight to document many of the scenes from the studio in photos, many of which are included in the new Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Ladyland 50th Anniversary Box Set.
Kramer says the album's Hall of Fame personnel was a function of Hendrix's ebullient personality, not so much his desire to collaborate with big names.
"[We were at a studio] on 44th and 8th [in New York], and two blocks away is this famous nightclub that Jimi used to go jamming in called The Scene," Kramer recalled of the Electric Ladyland sessions. "... Jimi would be there from like 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. We're sitting in the studio, everything is all set up, we're ready to go, all the mics are checked out. He comes strolling in at midnight, dragging behind him 20 people."
Occasionally those people happened to be other rock stars who were keen to jam.
"Couple of rehearsals, one take, two takes maybe, and there's 'Voodoo Child,'" Kramer explained. "Done, finished, thank you very much. Live from the floor, there it is."
Hendrix was always resourceful. McDermott says fans might be surprised to learn how little thought the guitarist put into the setup of his instruments; as long as he had a guitar, good things were going to happen.
"Jimi was kind of an off-the-rack guy," McDermott explains. "He wasn't somebody who was really precise. He would go to [a guitar shop] and get a white [Stratocaster] or a black strat. ... He would take a strat, turn it over, re-string it and play. ... I just think he was somebody that was able to make things happen with a very simple setup."
He continued: "It's interesting when you think about Electric Ladyland. Jimi's playing through small Fender amps. It isn't like a Marshall cranked all the time — some of the songs have that. I think he and Eddie were always experimenting with tone and sound and mic'ing and doing things that weren't necessarily just turn everything up and blast."
There were plenty of times things didn't go off so easily, however. Kramer recalled late-Rolling Stones guitarist Jones' contribution to Hendrix's rendition of "All Along the Watchtower."
"Dave Mason was playing 12-string acoustic guitar, Jimi was playing 6-string, and Mitch Mitchell [was on drums], and somehow or other, there wasn't a bass player at that moment because Jimi wanted to play bass. Noel [Redding] got really pissed off and went to the pub and said, 'See you later,'" Kramer said. "I remember very clearly that Jimi was quite uptight, not only with Mitch but with Dave because he couldn't get [the main riff]. ... So once they got over that, we're at about Take 19, deep into it, and all of the sudden I hear this really horrendous piano. *Clank clank clank* wrong chords, all out of time. It's Brian Jones! He had slipped in the studio and was completely out of his mind and he stumbled onto the piano in the middle of a take."
Kramer convinced Jones to have a seat near the console. Soon the session was over and when Kramer turned around to check on Jones, the guitarist was fast asleep on the couch. Jones would later be credited with percussion on the track.
Check out the full interview with Kramer and McDermott above!
And while you're at it, take a listen to Hendrix's classic version of "All Along the Watchtower":