Legendary producer Eddie Kramer is only matched by Brian Eno and Phil Spector in terms of the amounts of bonafide icons that he has worked with over his career. Since he secured his first job at Advision Studios in London, 1962, Kramer’s CV has boasted no end of rock legends. His credits include The Beatles, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, to name but a few.
It is the latter two entries in the list that concern our story today. Given that Kramer’s heyday was in the ‘swinging sixties’, a time when the doors of possibility were swung open by numerous cultural phenomenons in music and fashion, it comes as no surprise that those who were there, right at the beating heart of this groundbreaking generation, have their fair share of stories to tell. It is understandable that bookstores around the world are full of discourse concerning such a hallowed time. A period of innovation, cooperation and controversy in equal parts, without the ’60s, everything that followed would not have been afforded a format to flourish.
As is well known, the ’60s also contained a fair share of tragedy, not just socio-politically. Many of our favourite musicians were pushing the boundaries and discovering the true limits of things that had prior to never been fully explored. Just as 1969 brought us the first man on the moon, it also brought us the tragic and murky death of the Rolling Stones founding member, Brian Jones. Found by his girlfriend drowned in his swimming pool, Jones’ death was classified by the coroner as “death by misadventure”. His liver and heart were significantly enlarged by alcohol and drug abuse.
Death by misadventure would be as good a term as any to describe the shift that characterised the 1960s moving into the ’70s, but that is a story for another day. In 1995, Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger summed up our point when he said: “I wasn’t understanding enough about his drug addiction. No one seemed to know much about drug addiction. Things like LSD were all new. No one knew the harm. People thought cocaine was good for you.”
Adventure and misadventure are the two defining points of the ’60s, and when you think of all the most iconic anecdotes from the era, you can place them in either category. In a May 2021 interview, Kramer divulged a lesser-known adventure of him and Jimi Hendrix attending a Rolling Stones show.
Appearing on Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French’s podcast, The French Connection, Kramer cast his mind back to that historic time in popular culture: “(There was) a concert in ’69 that I was very fortunate to go to, and the history of that one is kind of fun. I know exactly the dates and the time because it was November 27th, 1969 (Jimi’s last birthday). I got a phone call.”
This is also significant, as the vignette displays the ‘Purple Haze’ genius in one of his final recorded moments, as again, owing to misadventure, he would tragically pass away resulting from a barbiturate overdose the following year. Kramer remembers the buzz of the evening: “It was very unusual for me to get a phone call from Jimi. ‘Hey man, what’s happening? You want to go to The Rolling Stones, Madison Square Garden tonight?’ ‘Yeah, OK. Yes, Jimi, that would be fantastic, thank you.’ So he said, ‘Meet me backstage.'”
The iconic producer continues: “This is how the whole thing comes about – we met up backstage, we go up in the elevator, everybody knows everybody, of course, The Stones and Jimi are all friends, and it was just wonderful. Backstage, talking to all the folks that I know there, The Stones and everything, I had this beautiful shot of Mick (Jagger) and Jimi sitting on a bench, basically in the dressing room with the concrete blocks behind them and the hangers.”
Kramer then gets more sentimental, thinking of those fast, halcyon days: “It’s just such a beautiful shot, I treasure that. It’s these two iconic, wonderful rock personas sitting together, just talking. It always stuck in my mind, ‘Jesus, if I only had a video camera…’ Part of that in my head is also following up with – there was a show that Jimi did do in November that I did go to and take pictures of him backstage just by himself with a Flying V, practising blues, and that show was a great show.”
In casting his mind back, Kramer also remembered the time he watched Hendrix play a show at Madison Square Garden, although it wasn’t the visceral show involving burning guitars that we have since come to associate with the Stratocaster toting hero. Again, nodding to the misadventure of the time, Kramer remembers the show being nothing short of a disaster. Jay Jay French reminded Kramer of the occasion where Hendrix walked off stage “after about six songs”.
Kramer revealed: “Unfortunately… I believe something happened backstage,” he said, before adding: “Who knows who did what, but his drink was spiked with acid. It was a bad acid thing, and he was very upset”. Kramer then alludes to the vast amount of discourse concerning that period: “It wasn’t of his own doing. I don’t think he would’ve sabotaged his own show. Who knows who did it, but that’s part of the historical sort of information.”
Kramer’s revelations are just one of many anecdotes that make up a wider tapestry informing us of those heady days. Another tale of adventure and misadventure, his tale is one that offers us insight into the inner workings of two of music’s most iconic acts, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. It also serves to demonstrate that the late icon was a human, just like the rest of us. A fan of the Stones and a humble musician, Kramer’s tale endears Hendrix to us by peeling away the gargantuan mythos that surrounds him. Likewise, the tale displays the Stones are purely ordinary people, playing music and kicking back with friends, engulfed in a world of glitz and glamour.
Watch the backstage footage from that iconic moment below.