It’s hard to imagine one of rock’s most iconic musicians being shy and reserved, but, as it turns out, the great Jimi Hendrix was riddled with insecurities. In a recent interview, the legendary producer Eddie Kramer, who took the helm on some of Hendrix’s most celebrated albums, revealed that the guitarist actually hated the sound of his own voice.
The revelation comes as a surprise to his fans, for whom Jimi Hendrix symbolises the very pinnacle of artistic excellence both technically and creatively. Despite his short life, the musician managed to create some of the finest records of the late 1960s and early ’70s, defining the sound of the era with his astounding musical dexterity. To this day, he is a point of reference for ambitious guitarists around the world, having pioneered the modern electric guitar style that we take for granted today.
However, as Kramer revealed, Hendrix may have been a confident guitarist, but he was by no means a fearless singer: “He hated his voice,” Kramer began. “I used to make these three-sided screens facing away from the control room and put him around this side, turn the lights down. He didn’t want anybody to see him sing and he’d stick his head around and say, ‘Was that alright?'”. Now, from Kramer’s comments, it’s hard to say whether Hendrix was a nervous singer or if he just needed some distance from other people in order to deliver the best take possible. Hendrix did – let’s not forget – sing in front of tens of thousands of people on a regular basis.
It’s quite possible that Hendrix required that feeling of isolation that Kramer so artfully simulated in order to give a suitably unrestrained performance. It’s not uncommon for singers – regardless of whether they’re virtuosos or not – to withdraw into themselves to access the necessary emotional depth for a song. Consider how many times you’ve seen vocalists close their eyes during a more intimate number. It doesn’t mean that they’re shy. They’re just trying to give the best performance possible.
Indeed, according to Kramer, Hendrix was constantly reaching for the best possible sound. Describing the atmosphere in the studio when he was recording with Hendrix, the producer said: “If you walked in there, you would feel that too. It’s so pervasive. But if I sat there in the control – and just sat there quietly – I know if I’m in there mixing, he’s sitting right there on my shoulder.” Many of those recording sessions lasted hours on end and stretched well into the night. Hendrix would often refuse to leave the recording booth before he was satisfied.
Studio time was all the more precious to Hendrix because, as Kramer notes, his sessions weren’t being funded by a major label: “Well we would start at 7pm and be done by midnight. Chas [Chandler] was financing it, so it wasn’t as if the record company was paying it, it was still at that level,” he said, before going on to add: “They were just looking to make another single; they weren’t ready to make a record, didn’t have the money for it. He sold his bass to get money to get studio time. Chas was funding all this by himself, he believed in Jimi.”
Thank God somebody did. Without the support of those closest to him, it’s perfectly possible that Jimi’s albums – such as Electric Ladyland – might never have been completed. After all, it’s not as though Hendrix had all the time in the world. Despite Kramer’s comments, it seems that he didn’t necessarily hate his own voice, he just required very specific parameters within which to perform. He was a notoriously shy man but, in his recordings, his voice contains all the furious energy of a man destined to leave an indelible mark on the history of popular music.