Tales of Woodstock Untold in 5.1: The Eddie Kramer Interview

As someone once said, "I see that we meet again." Here we are, 40 years after Woodstock, the festival you were recruited to record onsite. Did you ever think it would be this big a part of your personal life? Well, hopefully it's not that big a part of my personal life. In terms of history, it's come back to bite me in the ass - but in a positive way. [chuckles] But, no, it's been interesting to go back after 40 years and have the opportunity to revisit and look at this stuff again. That, to me, was a great pleasure, especially since I didn't work on the original album.

Considering the almost primitive recording conditions you had… Yes, the console had 12 inputs and 8 outputs. There were also a couple of Shure mixers, and that was basically it.

What type of adjustments did you have to make? There was very little to do - but first we had to make sure all the lines were working. There were some buzzes and things that were always going to be part of the scene. As one could imagine, we were in the middle of nowhere, with power coming from not exactly the keenest source. Once we got past that, the fact of the matter was that we were using Shure 565s, which were the predecessors of the Shure 58s, for literally everything. There were no condensers. And, you know, each band presented its own book of problems, which were either in the playing, or the fact that the monitors weren't quite what they could've been. There was no double-miking; it was just a matter of trying to figure out what each band was doing as they were doing it. It was a minor miracle that anything got recorded at all.

Is it fair to say you felt lucky that you had Richie Havens to start things off? It was a nice way to start the show, for sure. And the fact that he was just with an acoustic guitar - well, he also had a second acoustic guitarist and congas - yes, that was a pretty easy way to go.

Back to the original soundtrack album that you didn't work on. . . Yes, let's be perfectly clear. As I said earlier, it was a great pleasure to revisit this material since I hadn't worked on its release. It was determined that somebody else was to work on the album, however shortsighted that was. But like I said, working on this Blu-ray edition for Warner Home Video was a wonderful opportunity to set the record straight and show what it could sound like. Have you had an opportunity to hear the 5.1 mix?

Oh yes. Before viewing Woodstock: The Director's Cut, 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition on Blu-ray, I went back and re-experienced the Blu-ray version of the Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock 5.1 mix that you originally produced for DVD. Incredible. Well, thank you. I certainly think the 5.1 of Jimi at Woodstock is as good as it's going to get. I tried to avoid pitfalls by presenting him in as true a fashion as possible without overenhancing things. The whole idea with a live performance such as Jimi's is to make it as big and as fat as possible, squeeze every last element that you can out of it, and give people the opportunity to enjoy a really astounding performance. And Jimi put on an object lesson in how to play the guitar. Yes, there are some hiccups and quirks, and some of the support musicians may not have been quite up to Jimi's standard, but Jimi was the guy in charge, and he did a fantastic job. There are some stunning moments there, no question.

Was there one particular "aha" moment when you were working on that mix, that made everything else fall into place? I can't really say that, but I can say - obviously, the beginning of the set is tough because the band members are getting used to their own levels onstage, and we're trying to figure out where everything is. There are some hairy moments in the first song, and then after that it settles down. But I think that's the case is every performance, no matter who it was at Woodstock. The first song is always a little shaky - in the band's performance, or a mike is missing, or something's going on because, well, hey! We're talking about Woodstock!

Now, as to the Woodstock release itself, let's be clear. I didn't have anything to do with the Woodstock Director's Cut mix. I did mix the 2 hours of the extras [Woodstock: Untold Stories]. And if you compare those two, well, there is no comparison.

You sifted through hours and hours of footage for that. The Hendrix project is what inspired us to go deeper into the vaults and start thinking along those lines. Once [film restoration specialist] Bill Rush and I figured out there was so much stuff sitting there that had never been heard, then we wanted to make sure the powers that be were aware that there was 10 hours worth of really good unreleased material, of which you see in new box set is about 2-and-a-half hours worth in the boxed set.

The fact of the matter is, 10 or 15 years ago, we couldn't have even done this. The technology wasn't at the right point. Certainly now, with all the WAV plug-ins I use, and the de-noising and de-clicking and all the rest of that, and the fact that some of the musicians were willing to lend their talents to fix some of the things that were obviously not there to make for a seamless performance.

So Bill Rush and I put our thoughts together on what could be done with outtakes of Santana, Canned Heat, Johnny Winter, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Creedence; the list went on and on. Once we figured that out, we put together a demo reel for the powers that be at Warner. And they jumped up and down and said, "Wow, we should really put this out for the 40th anniversary." And that sort of started the process.

Of the 10 hours of footage that you found, was there a longer pre-edit or rough cut than what's in the boxed set? Obviously, when you're looking at 10 hours of material, there's no way you're going to put all of it out. You have to figure out who is the most important artist, and then you go from there. You make an A list, a B list, and a C list, you figure out the best performances, and you hope the legal department can get all the rights. There's always going to be a stumbling block.

So did you mix more than what was released as Untold Stories? It's not a question of me making the call, it's a question of legal making the call. It's their call.

Right, right. So there could have been other material… There could have been, and there was.

Okay. Got it. Would you like to do further live-music surround-sound mixing? If there is the accompanying video or film, then I think 5.1 makes an awful lot of sense, because you look at a band on stage, there it is, with the audience wrapping around, which is what I did with Woodstock. I wanted you to get the feeling that you're in the center, 30 to 40 rows back in the best seat in the house - or in the mud, as the case may be. To have the feeling as if you're there: That, to me, is very exciting.

So what was your opinion on the Creedence stuff, the Carlos Santana stuff, and all the rest of it, and the 5.1 I just did?

I'd seen and heard some of that stuff by way of unauthorized sound and footage before. After experiencing what you've done with it aurally, I liken it to wiping off a windshield. In a sonic sense, it's like the music has been "cleaned off." Oh good, and the visuals were restored too. I'm curious - did any of the other artists stick out for you, like Joe Cocker ["Something's Coming On"]?

I did enjoy Joe's performance, but I also liked Jefferson Airplane ["3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds"] too, as we hadn't seen a whole lot of them officially. And the interplay amongst the Santana band [on "Evil Ways"] was amazing. That was a totally rescued track, you know? He [Santana] overdubbed his guitar - just for the first part of it, not the second part. You would never know. The whole idea of it was to have it rescued and restored; otherwise, it would have never been seen. He agreed to it as soon as he heard it. I did a demo, and he said, "Let's do this." I went up to San Francisco to record it, and he nailed it in under an hour. It was fantastic. And the same with some of the percussion tracks; there was a lot of leakage, and we had to fix that too. But it was an integration of what was there originally and what was put on recently, and, from my perspective, it was seamless. There's a certain point where he comes in with the guitar solo, and that's the original - that's not messed with at all. There's a whole backstory as to why he was like that. [chuckles]