After more than a decade of keeping developers at bay, the future of Toronto’s El Mocambo club now appears stable since it was purchased in 2014 by celebrity investor Michael Wekerle, who has vowed to resurrect its status as one of the city’s premier live music venues. As extensive renovations are getting underway, the person overseeing the club’s new sound system not only reflects the El Mo’s illustrious history, but Wekerle’s own classic rock leanings.
It was early 1977 when Eddie Kramer got the call to bring a mobile recording truck from New York to Toronto to capture the Rolling Stones’ two secret shows at the El Mo. At the time, the Stones were in crisis, with Keith Richards mired in heroin addiction, and the emerging punk movement posing a real threat their status as “the greatest rock ‘n roll band in the world.”
Although only one side of the double album Love You Live captured what went down at the El Mo, the drama surrounding the shows instantly made the club a rock ‘n roll landmark. And no one appreciates rock history more than Eddie Kramer, considering he’s played a huge role in creating so much of it over his remarkable 50-year career as a producer and engineer.
During his Canadian Music Week celebrity interview conducted by Ralph Simon, the youthful 74-year-old went back to the beginning when, in late 1966 as a junior engineer at Olympic Studios in London, he was paired with an unknown guitarist from Seattle named Jimi Hendrix. “He was very shy,” Kramer recalled, “but when he plugged into his Marshall stack and started playing, it was something I’d never heard before. We were both bursting with ideas, and kept trying to one-up each other. That’s what formed the bond.”
Kramer remained Hendrix’s most trusted studio collaborator until the end of his tragically brief life, also helping Jimi construct his New York studio, Electric Lady. From there, Kramer worked with the Beatles, engineering “All You Need Is Love,” and with the Stones on Beggars Banquet. His next most notable partnership was consummated soon after, when he helped Jimmy Page piece together the various sessions that became Led Zeppelin II, most notably the psychedelic middle section of “Whole Lotta Love.”
Kramer confessed that one of the questions he still gets asked the most is how the subtle delay in Robert Plant’s vocal on that track was created. “That was the biggest mistake I’d ever made,” he laughs. “We were doing the final mix and suddenly we heard the remnants of a previous vocal take during that section when Robert’s singing the ‘Way down inside…’ bit. I couldn’t find where it was coming from, so I just put some reverb on what was bleeding through. Jimmy loved it and we decided to keep it that way. But that’s always been my attitude; sometimes it’s better to leave the mistakes in.”
Kramer is now committed to passing down that knowledge in Toronto, and discovering some emerging local talent, once the El Mo is back up and running. Along with live rooms on two floors, Kramer says the new building will also house a state-of-the-art recording studio.
“The plan is to refurbish every inch of the building’s interior. Only the front and back will look the same. It’s an opportunity I couldn’t really pass up when I got Michael’s invitation. When it’s all finished, the El Mocambo is going to be the premiere live venue in Toronto, and possibly all of Canada. We’re going to make some great records there too.”