When asked about the techniques used to record Hendrix's guitar, Eddie Kramer's response is concise and to the point. It might be slightly different, of course, but the basic principle's the same — a ribbon and a condenser, along with compression and EQ and reverb. All that stuff was always added during recording. After the acoustic guitars, drums, bass and lead guitar for 'All Along The Watchtower' had been tracked, the Electric Ladyland sessions switched location to the US. Hendrix wanted to move back there, and when Record Plant owner Gary Kellgren invited Eddie Kramer to come work at his newly opened studio in New York City, the engineer jumped at the opportunity.
He was, after all, ready for a change. Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell behind his kit at the Record Plant. I didn't feel at all appreciated.
All Along The Watchtower
Consequently, April 17, , was the date of Eddie Kramer's arrival on American soil, and amid all the upheaval the Electric Ladyland project provided him with a strong sense of continuity despite the sudden change of environment and transition from four-track to track. What's more, it also included the Record Plant's very first sessions, interspersed with Hendrix's frequent assignments on the road.
It was quite a challenge, and in the beginning it wasn't easy, but once I got used to the vibe I was flying. I loved it. The culture was so completely different — 'If you do a good job, you're gonna get paid, brother,' — and so was the technology for me, going from four to track and bypassing eight-track completely. What a wake-up call.
In A Nutshell
Good God, it was so noisy, it was horrendous. We scrapped it after the first couple of months and went straight from 12 to track. When the songs we'd recorded at Olympic had been transferred from four-track half-inch to track one-inch, Jimi had said 'Wow, man, now I've got eight more tracks to fuck around with. But then we scrapped the bloody machine after transferring all of the track tapes to track. In fact, listen to any of the tracks on that album and the lack of hiss is so apparent. That's down to the way we hit the tape — we hit it very hard and got all the necessary compression that came with it.
Also, what with all the intensity that was going on, there was a fair amount of signal on the tape, and that really helped. It was quite a journey. The control-room window was so thin, and the wall itself was so thin — we had these four huge inch Tannoys mounted above the window, and when Jimi would blast we could hear him through the wall.
There was virtually no soundproofing. The room was constructed out of breeze block, there were two thin curtains, and that was it. Very primitive. This was the antithesis of what I'd been used to in England, but nevertheless what we got out of it was magic. The board was fairly flexible: not a great-sounding console, but we made it work. Chas Chandler, the former Animals bass player who had discovered Jimi in and since guided his career, was initially at the helm in New York as manager and co-producer to continue the work that had commenced in London.
However, as has been well documented, he grew quickly tired of all the hangers-on attending the sessions, and decided that he wanted to opt out. Chas liked to run his sessions in a very strict, formal manner, without wasting time.
All Along The Watchtower songs
He'd say 'We're here to work. The hangers-on must leave,' and it was left to me or Chas to tell the hangers-on to take a hike. Well, I guess that caused some friction and eventually Chas couldn't really take it any more. He hated wasting time, and if Jimi wanted to do 30 takes it would drive him nuts. Not musically, per se, but the boss in terms of not allowing any wasted time, and I think the restrictions he placed on Jimi for the first two albums were really good.
I don't necessarily agree with what happened on the Electric Ladyland sessions, but without Chas there would have been no huge superstar. To start with, Chas recognised Jimi's talent, and then he was able to corral that raw talent and develop it and encourage it. He would sit with Jimi every night, helping him to write lyrics and helping him with the song structures, encouraging him to write. However, during that third album the sessions took their own course, and Jimi, with his strong vision, just allowed things to happen in a very casual way.
The classic example of this was 'Voodoo Chile', which was really created as a jam but a very, very calculated jam.
“All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan
I mean, after Chas left [ the project ], Jimi had wonderful aid and assistance from a quite unlikely source: the Scene club which was, fortunately for him, around the corner from the Record Plant. Having booked the session for seven o'clock, we'd be sitting there, tapping our fingers on the desk and twiddling our thumbs, wondering when he was going to show up. After he'd done this a few times we all knew this was Jimi's way of working.
He'd be over at the Scene at 10 and show up at the studio at 12 or one, dragging behind him an entourage that included musicians whom he had sussed out as being the key players to try out that evening.
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There was a certain sound he was looking for, and he'd eyeball the musicians very carefully to make sure that they were going to be compatible with what he wanted to do. Generally speaking, he got the cream of the crop, because at that time, , there were some phenomenal musicians around, and 'Voodoo Chile' was a classic example of Jimi figuring 'OK, I'm gonna get these guys in to play this particular song'.
He'd bring them in at midnight or whenever, and everything would be ready: the amps, the mics, the headphones — I'd tested everything.
Then he'd show them the song, and there'd be one run-through and one take, maybe two. It was done. So, to the outside observer there were the hangers-on and the whole rigmarole with onlookers, and sometimes that made it a bit challenging to work, but it never detracted from Jimi's goal. Chas may have commented 'Oh, he's playing to the gallery,' but it didn't seem to bother Jimi.
All Along the Watchtower
In fact, it probably encouraged him to play more to the gallery, because maybe that was the vibe he was looking for. But with the Electric Ladyland album his role diminished as soon as the sessions moved to the States. You could tell there was a sea change in Jimi's behaviour, in his attitude and so on. I think the album as a whole has a journeyish feeling to it — and I'm not referring to the band, for Chrissakes.
It rambles a bit, but it rambles with a purpose. And I love how there are so many different moods. Of all of Jimi's albums, it's the one that has the most moodiness — to some people it represents the most fun that you could have on a record. I mean, it was very daring to make a double album with all that experimentation. That was making a statement in And although it was looser than his previous records, it had a purpose, it had a focus. The purpose was 'Let's be loose! He could basically do anything he wanted — it was his album, from soup to nuts, and while it bears the stamp of Chas on some of the songs it very much shows Jimi's freedom in the creative process; the freedom to do a minute opus like ' Hendrix recorded all of his vocals for the album at the Record Plant, and as usual a Beyer M was the mic of choice while a three-sided screen provided him with the desired privacy.
He was very shy about his vocals. The truth was, he had a great style and I loved his vocals, but he hated them. He was so embarrassed by them. I mean, it was very emotional and very personal, and I can't think of anybody else doing what he did. He was eminently capable, and the singing was an integral part of what he was doing, because he would often take a guitar solo and sing the melody line in unison with that solo — which is an old jazz trick — and it was wonderful. So, for that matter, was the constantly evolving 'All Along The Watchtower', recorded in consecutive layers: acoustic guitars, drums, bass and electric lead taped at Olympic, before the vocal and percussion overdubs took place in New York.
The unusual structure of the narrative was remarked on by English Literature professor Christopher Ricks , who commented that "All Along the Watchtower" is an example of Dylan's audacity at manipulating chronological time: "at the conclusion of the last verse, it is as if the song bizarrely begins at last, and as if the myth began again.
Heylin described Dylan's narrative technique in "Watchtower" as setting the listener up for an epic ballad with the first two verses, but then, after a brief instrumental passage, the singer cuts "to the end of the song, leaving the listener to fill in his or her own doom-laden blanks. Critics have described Dylan's version as a masterpiece of understatement. Andy Gill said "In Dylan's version of the song, it's the barrenness of the scenario which grips, the high haunting harmonica and simple forward motion of the riff carrying understated implications of cataclysm; as subsequently recorded by Jimi Hendrix Dave Van Ronk , an early supporter and mentor of Dylan, disagreed with the majority view when he made the following criticism:.
That whole artistic mystique is one of the great traps of this business, because down that road lies unintelligibility. Dylan has a lot to answer for there, because after a while he discovered that he could get away with anything—he was Bob Dylan and people would take whatever he wrote on faith.
So he could do something like 'All Along the Watchtower,' which is simply a mistake from the title on down: a watchtower is not a road or a wall, and you can't go along it. John Wesley Harding was released at the end of , on December 27, less than two months after the recording sessions. The recordings came from separate concerts earlier that year at the Forum adjacent to Los Angeles, both with Dylan backed by the Band.