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50 Years Later, Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios Is Still An Artistic Haven

Aug 26, 2020
Originally published on August 26, 2020 9:02 am

Fifty years ago — on Aug. 26, 1970 — Jimi Hendrix opened a psychedelic recording space in Greenwich Village, N.Y. Created by an artist and for artists, Electric Lady Studios broke the mold for what a recording studio could be.

"Imagine what it's like to have a studio built by flower power, hippie, acid-tripping kind of people," says Nile Rodgers, the guitar player known for his work in Chic and as an arranger, composer and producer.

"When a musician walked in there, they really felt like, 'Wow, I can make some great music in here,'" says Eddie Kramer, the studio's recording engineer who Rodgers calls "the magical sauce of Electric Lady."

"I was very fortunate to have been associated with Jimi Hendrix right from the beginning of his career in London in 1967, which is when I started recording him," Kramer says. "In 1969, Jimi and his manager bought a club called The Generation. The idea was to make it a place where Jimi could jam and they wanted a tiny little 8-track studio in the back corner.

"I was invited to come down and have a look and see what I thought of the idea," Kramer continues, "and I said, 'Guys, that's a terrible idea. You want Jimi to have a nightclub? That's craziness.' The fact that Jimi spends so much time in the studio, spending about $150,000 a year, I said, 'Why don't we just build it into the best studio in the world?' And Electric Lady Studios was born."

Hendrix died less than a month after the studio opened. Although Electric Lady rocks on today, it collected dust for years during the early 2000s. Electric Lady's managing partner, Lee Foster, remembers what it was like back then.

"The music business had sort of fallen on its head. You had Napster; you had digital recording. There was an idea at the time [that] we no longer need recording studios," he says. "When I first arrived here, you could just tell that people had sort of given up. We went a full 10 months without a single recording session in this building. I was sort of thrust into this position of 'Make it work or we're going to shut it down.' "

Foster ripped up carpets, threw out couches and we painted the walls to bring back the original vibes and make it a space where musicians felt inspired. Nurturing that aspect paid off.

"These days, if you're here," Foster says, "you're running into Mark Ronson, Lady Gaga, Lorde, Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creator, A$AP Rocky. For me, as a fan of music, it's like watching the Avengers walk around."

In the last decade, everything from Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy single "All of the Lights" to Lady Gaga's A Star Is Born anthem, "Shallow," has been recorded at Electric Lady. Nile Rodgers, who has worked with the likes of D'Angelo, Femi Kuti and Hall & Oates at Electric Lady, remembers his last visit to the studio while working on Random Access Memories.

"I was working with Daft Punk and Thomas [Bangalter] said '[You're] kidding, you did Chic records here? Give me the mystique of what you guys created.' And that's when we did 'Get Lucky,' " he says. "It just flowed from being in that space and being in that room and feeling the magic of history."

With 50 years of history in the walls, Lee Foster thinks that if Jimi is watching, "he is very proud of what we're doing here and very proud of the music that's coming out of here."

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Fifty years ago today, Jimi Hendrix opened a psychedelic recording space in Greenwich Village. Created by an artist for artists, Electric Lady Studios broke the mold for what a studio should be. Hendrix died less than a month after it opened. And Electric Lady collected dust in the early 2000s, until it was reborn as a palace of hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNTITLED (HOW DOES IT FEEL)")

D'ANGELO: (Singing) How does it feel?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHALLOW")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) I'm off the deep end. Watch as I dive in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL OF THE LIGHTS")

KANYE WEST: (Singing) Cop lights, flashlights, spotlights, strobe lights, streetlights - all of the lights, all of the lights.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LE FREAK")

CHIC: (As singing) Freak out. Le freak, c'est Chic. Freak out. Now freak.

NILE RODGERS: I did INXS, Hall and Oates.

EDDIE KRAMER: Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, Lena Horne.

RODGERS: D'Angelo and Macy Gray, and Questlove was on drums.

KRAMER: David Bowie, I worked with there. John Lennon. Stevie Wonder was a client.

RODGERS: Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Duran Duran. Imagine what it's like to have a studio built by flower power, hippie, acid-tripping kind of people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAVE YOU EVER BEEN (TO ELECTRIC LADYLAND)")

JIMI HENDRIX: (Singing) Have you ever been - have you ever been - to Electric Ladyland?

RODGERS: Hi. I'm Nile Rodgers. I'm a guitar player, an arranger, a composer, producer. I was working with Daft Punk. And Thomas said, you're kidding You did CHIC records here? Give me the mystique of what you guys created. And that's when we did "Get Lucky."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET LUCKY")

PHARRELL: (Singing) She's up all night till the sun. I'm up all night to get some. She's up all night for good fun. I'm up all night to get lucky.

RODGERS: It just flowed from being in that space and being in that room and feeling the magic of history.

KRAMER: He has a place when a musician walked in there, they really felt, wow, I can make some great music in here.

RODGERS: To me, Eddie Kramer was the sort of magical sauce.

KRAMER: Yes, my name is Eddie Kramer. And I was very fortunate to have been associated with Jimi Hendrix right from the beginning of his career, when I started recording him. Jimi and his manager bought a club called The Generation. The idea was to make it a place where Jimi could jam. And I said, why don't we just build him the best studio in the world? And Electric Lady Studios was born.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KRAMER: I remember the conversation with Jimi, and he said, hey, man, I just want some round windows, man. The lights were so perfect because the walls were white carpet so that we could wash the walls in different shades of the rainbow colors. And Jimi would say to me, hey, man, I feel purple, man. I need some purple on that wall. And give me some red, you know? 'Cause for him colors and sounds really were totally integrated. If he said to me, if we're mixing - says, hey, man, throw some green on that sound, then I knew exactly what he meant by green. To me, green was reverb.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KRAMER: But Electric Lady Studios went through some really tough times in the early 2000s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEE FOSTER: We went a full 10 months without a single recording session in this building.

KRAMER: Lee Foster - he saved Electric Lady's butt (laughter).

FOSTER: My name is Lee Foster. I'm the managing partner here at Electric Lady Studios. The music business had sort of fallen on its head. You had Napster. You had digital recording. There was an idea at the time - you know, we no longer need recording studios. I was sort of thrust into this position of, make it work or we're going to shut it down. And, you know, we ripped up carpet, and we threw out couches, and we painted the walls. And my response has been to sort of go back to the beginning. I think a group of us were able to bring it back to life.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WEEKND SONG, "PRAY FOR ME")

FOSTER: These days, if you're here, you're running into Mark Ronson, Lady Gaga, Lorde, Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, A$AP Rocky. You know, for me, as a fan of music, it's like watching The Avengers walk around. Electric Lady Studios is now 50 years old, and I think if Jimi is watching that he is very proud of the music that's coming out of here.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE SONG, "VOODOO CHILD (SLIGHT RETURN)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.