Backstage Pass: Eddie Kramer and the sounds of Woodstock

by  Peter Lindblad

Recording concerts at the Fillmore East could be an adventure, but the hazards Eddie Kramer encountered at the legendary venue were nothing like those he experienced at Woodstock.

A veteran producer/audio engineer who’d already worked on seminal albums by some of the biggest names in rock history by the time he got to Woodstock, Kramer was born in South Africa. He arrived in England at the age of 19, and it wasn’t long before he was recording records by The Kinks and Petula Clark for Pye Studios.

Even bigger engineering projects lay ahead, including his work with The Beatles, Traffic, The Rolling Stones and others, like Led Zeppelin. And then there was Jimi Hendrix, with Kramer helping shape the sound of such landmark albums as Are You Experienced? and Electric Ladyland.

Woodstock, however, was a very different animal. In addition to having to work with multiple acts and improvised set lists, there were massive crowds and a variety of technical issues to combat. Kramer, who worked the soundboard, recorded it all.

His work can be heard in the classic “Woodstock” movie and the Woodstock live albums. And now, as the world gets ready to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the event, Sony Legacy is issuing the complete Woodstock live recordings (see pg. 51 for a review) from five artists who headlined Woodstock: Johnny Winter, Sly & The Family Stone, The Jefferson Airplane, Santana and Janis Joplin.

The concert material in these releases will be packaged with newly remastered versions of seminal 1969 albums by those acts, including Johnny Winter’s self-titled debut, Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, Joplin’s I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, Santana and Sly & The Family Stone’s Stand! Kramer said he began remastering work on this project three weeks before our interview in early June.

Each disc will be housed inside a mini-LP cover with inner paper sleeves, with CD one showcasing the front and back covers of the original LP and CD two sporting performance photography of the artist playing at the festival. Fitting into a paperboard slipcase, the package will also contain a two-sided 16×20-inch fold-out poster — one side with iconic photography of the artist captured live at the festival and the other side displaying a classic crowd shot of the audience.

Available online, the CD versions arrived in stores June 30.

How did you become the man behind the soundboard for Woodstock?

Eddie Kramer: Ah, well, that’s an interesting story. I guess it all goes back to the time when I was working, more or less, underneath the stage at the Fillmore East. Because there they had this little system set up as a recording device, with an 8-track tape machine and a 12-channel console. And I used to do a lot of live recordings underneath the stage at the Fillmore, and that was the gear that they sent up to Woodstock. So I guess with that in mind, the film director, Michael Wadleigh, kind of knew of my live recording and that, in combination with the fact that Jimi Hendrix was going to close the show, I guess that gave them the idea, “Well, we might as well get Kramer to do it.”

Did you have any idea what you were getting into?

EK: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody did. It was quite a shock I think, but a pleasant one at that.

by  Peter Lindblad

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