People who think they know Jimi Hendrix’s music inside and out may have to think again. A new batch of compact discs being released this April might make you hear the legend’s music in a different light.
Let’s start at the beginning. You may remember Jimi’s family finally winning legal control of his recorded catalog. His father, Al, his half-sister, Janie Hendrix-Wright and her husband Troy Wright, then signed a worldwide licensing agreement with MCA Records.
“So What?” you say. “I already have all the Hendrix stuff on CD.”
Here’s the interesting part: Jimi’s work has never been put on compact disc with the material coming from first-generation original masters. It’s always been from inferior tapes mastered for different uses.
Add to that the poor treatment given Hendrix’s material from the people who formerly owned the catalog, like former Hendrix manager, the late Mike Jeffery, who cut material Hendrix was working on at the time of his death into several albums, to wring all the product out of it he could. Plus, the 21 years prior to 1995 saw over 20 albums released, some of it with new music added by studio players.
Lots of the stuff released was never intended for release, and was a shoddy representation of the man many consider the finest rock and roll guitarist ever.
Now, Experience Hendrix (which is what the family is calling the new company), and MCA hope to rectify this. Former Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer was brought in to master the tapes. He and Hendrix historian John McDermott found the flat master in a variety of odd places and in boxes marked with the wrong labels. They will be releasing First Rays of the New Rising Sun along with remastered versions of Are You Experienced, Axis Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland. First Rays of the New Rising Sun is the project Hendrix was working on when he died. Most of the material has been released before, but in a scattershot manner. Kramer thinks this release will be close to what Jimi wanted.
Vintage Guitar spoke with Eddie Kramer about the releases, and other topics. The gracious Englishman worked us around his lunch as he talked about recording with Jimi, his favorite tracks, and the Hendrix legacy.
Vintage Guitar: You must be excited by this series of CDs…
Eddie Kramer: Very much so. It was an incredible labor of love.
How long have you guys been working on it?
Well, basically what happened, we – John McDermott, myself, the family, and Troy – once the legal shenanigans had subsided, actually had the rights to the material, [so] we started assembling, or rather, reassembling the library and trying to make some sort of sense out of it. And, you know, we found a lot of stuff missing, which we tried to fill in the gaps, which we have done. In doing so, we also cataloged it and copied it to make sure there were safety copies of everything. It was an arduous task of matching numbers and looking at titles and finding out what was what…what’s supposed to be there. We discovered, in the process, the tapes that they should have been using, because nobody bothered calling me, you know, in the last 25 years, and said ‘Hey, you wanna come in and re-master Jimi’s work? ‘ I would have loved to have done it.
Nobody ever contacted you during that time?
No, and so they were using the wrong bloody tapes! In the mastering process, in the old days, we would take a tape, up it on the machine and equalize it, compress the signal and make corrections for the disk (record) format, which was, and is, a pretty primitive process. It’s easier now to cut good records, but in those days it was very tough. Vinyl was pretty crappy, and there wasn’t the sophistication of computer control for getting the grooves crammed in. At best, this EQ tape copy was a compromise to make the most of a somewhat-flawed system, if you see what I mean. Now, leap forward into the ’80s, here come CDs and what do the record companies do? They use their stupid EQ tape copy that’s got all the corrections in it for disk (records). That’s not the way to do it. In turn, those tapes were copied again and again. So you ended up with second and third-generation EQ tape copies that sound like crap.
So people with Hendrix CDs literally have third and fourth-generation copies?
Well, that’s what it would appear. Yes.
And this new series of CDs should set the record straight?
Well, what we did, we went back to the original masters for the most part, and found tapes that were very clean…
And were in some odd places too, right?
Yeah, yeah…let me tell you it was great to put up Electric Ladyland and look at tape boxes with Jimi’s original handwriting on. It was a thrill.
What do the new CDs sound like, to you, compared to the previous releases?
Well, basically, if I can sort of tell you the story of what we did when we brought the tapes into Sterling Sound. George Marino, who was the mastering engineer and a dear friend of mine. I’ve known him for 20 years or so…he and I decided right off the bat we were going to stick as closely as possible to the original tapes and not go overboard with EQ. But rather, do anything in the analog domain that’s possible. Obviously, we chose a nice machine to play them back on and individually corrected the Azimuth (vertical and horizontal planes on the playback machine) to make sure that was done right. Each song was done individually. Each was treated very specifically. When we played the tapes with our processing, our EQ, which was all analog, against the Warner CDs and the previous MCA CDs, the difference was absolutely stunning. It was as if someone had lifted a veil from in front of the speakers.
That much difference?
Big difference! Huge difference…and you can definitely hear it. And, of course, we did it in vinyl, too. We’re putting out the original gatefolds, the original covers. None of this other crap that was out there.
That sounds great. You’re not too fond, it sounds like, of some of the other stuff that’s been released?
That goes without saying. Some of that stuff was pretty