“I’m going to kill myself. And I want everyone to know O.J. Simpson is innocent. They did it.”
Those were Kramer’s last-known words, spoken to 911 dispatch on February 12th, 1995. After that, the one-time Iron Butterfly bassist was never seen again.
Iron Butterfly is synonymous with the ‘60s. They conjure a certain undulating, lava-lamp primitivism–a plodding, booze-soaked, excess that is both quaint and transporting. By the time Kramer joined the band in 1974, their best days were behind them.
But in 1968, Iron Butterfly slurred, fuzz-riffed and drum-soloed its way to immortality with “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”
With its nonsensical refrain, lysergic indulgence, and all-around heaviousity, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” became the quintessential Acid Rock tune and a template setter for the future of hard rock and heavy metal.
The 17-minute epic was whittled into a 2:52 single version, which cracked the Billboard Top 30, pushing the album to 30 million in sales. Butterfly scored a touring gig with Jefferson Airplane, and even landed a slot at Woodstock the following year. If you can’t recall seeing Iron Butterfly in the Woodstock documentary, there’s a reason for that.
Butterfly Blows the Big Gig
Iron Butterfly never made it past LaGuardia Airport. Though the reason is unclear, the band was detained on its way to Woodstock. Their manager sent a telegram to the festival promoter demanding a helicopter. He insisted that Iron Butterfly be delivered directly to the stage for their performance, whereupon they would be paid, and immediately returned to LaGuardia by helicopter.
Production Coordinator John Morris responded with the following acrostic message:
“For reasons I can’t go into / Until you are here / Clarifying your situation / Knowing you are having problems / You will have to find / Other transportation / Unless you plan not to come.”
Needless to say, no helicopter arrived, and Iron Butterfly appeared only on the famous promotional posters for the event.
This unfortunate sequence of events, along with a healthy dose of alcohol, spelled the beginning of the end for the band’s original lineup. Over the next two years, Iron Butterfly shifted, splintered, and ultimately, called it quits in 1971.
In the mid-70s, original Iron Butterfly drummer Ron Bushy was barely scraping by in Los Angeles. He tried his hand at running a small recording studio.
It was about this time that he met Phillip Taylor Kramer. The Youngstown, Ohio native was bumming around L.A. with a bass guitar and a burly 6 ft 5 frame. The latter earned him passing work as a ditchdigger and, eventually, a gig as a bouncer for the Whiskey A Go Go. The legendary Sunset Strip venue had given flight to the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Doors.
It was also here that Bushy and Kramer became acquainted. As Bushy recalled in a Maxim interview years later, “I was having some problems wiring some electrical stuff and Taylor came over to help. The guy was a genius.”
Kramer and Kramer
In fact, Kramer had always had a penchant for innovation. His father was a professor of electrical engineering, and clearly imparted plenty of lessons to his son. And perhaps not all of these lessons were about engineering itself. Ray Kramer actually spent the better part of his profession working to discredit Albert Einstein’s theories.
Ray Kramer believed that his Universal Theory would shatter the alleged limitations of time and space, and provide pathways for man to travel great distances across the galaxy in the blink of an eye.
As the future would have it, Phillip inherited his father’s brilliance and eccentricity.
At age 12, Phillip won a science fair for popping a balloon with a laser. Ten years later, he was hanging out with the guy from Iron Butterfly.
Return to the Planet of the Butterfly
Kramer and Bushy became close friends. They even worked together for a time, doing costume and set building for schlocky Hollywood fare like the short-lived Planet of the Apes TV show.
Planet premiered in 1974. It was routinely trounced in the ratings by Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man, and was canceled before the end of its first season.
Bushy decided the time was right to reform his old band. He asked Kramer to join him. The young bassist was ecstatic.
Under Bushy’s guidance, the new lineup produced two albums in a single year. Both Scorching Beauty (January ’75) and Sun and Steel (October ’75) were received poorly by critics and listeners. Fans felt the albums bore little resemblance to the original Butterfly.
When the new lineup called it quits, Bushy and Kramer collaborated first in a band called Magic and, subsequently, in a band called Gold. The latter recorded a single album that was never released.
By 1980, Phillip Taylor Kramer’s career in music was over. But his career as a tech genius was just beginning.
Missiles, Fractals, and Facial Recognition
Phillip Taylor Kramer parlayed his talents into a second life, earning a degree in aerospace engineering. He was successful right out of the gate. One of his first gigs was a contract to develop MX missile guidance systems for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The former long-haired acid rocker now had top-secret government clearance. Those who knew him say he made the transformation with ease, blending seamlessly into the conservative, crew-cut world of defense contractors and military officers.
His music industry bonafides did, however, help him secure funding for his next big project. The innovative tech startup, Total Multimedia, Inc. (TMMI), counted Michael Jackson’s brother Randy among its investors. Formed in 1990, TMMI (dig the butterfly logo) aspired to develop fractal data compression technology for CD-ROMs.
In spite of its technical credibility, TMMI struggled to gain traction as a profitable business. The startup declared bankruptcy in 1994, an occurrence which friends and family say took a heavy toll on Kramer.
This is also about the time that things in Kramer’s life took a sharp left turn.
O.J. Simpson and The Celestine Prophecy
TMMI was on life support. The company’s board recruited a transformational CEO named Peter Olsen. Olsen was a former VP for MCI. He was also engaged in the ongoing search for spiritual enlightenment. This quest was a cornerstone of his business philosophy. TMMI’s company culture was suddenly enshrouded in mysticism.
The Celestine Prophecy became required employee reading. James Redfield’s then recent bestseller offered a blueprint for a personal spiritual journey, and advised its readers to vibrate at a higher frequency. Kramer dove headlong into this spiritual journey and, as per Redfield’s counsel, began to vibrate at a higher frequency.
It was at that frequency that he found the ability to commune with aliens. It was also in this state of enhanced perception that he received a cryptic message from his shaman:
O.J. Simpson was innocent.
The Trial of the Century
On June 17th, 1994, Hall of Fame NFL running back Orenthal James Simpson was charged with the gruesome double homicide of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her acquaintance, Ron Goldman.
Simpson drafted a suicide note before leading Los Angeles police officers on a televised mid-speed chase down the I-5 Freeway. The pursuit only ended peacefully when Simpson’s former USC football coach John McKay succeeded in reaching the agitated fugitive by phone and pleading with him to surrender.
Ultimately, Simpson did surrender before sitting as defendant in “The Trial of the Century.”
Americans were transfixed by the made-for-TV court proceedings. Phillip Taylor Kramer was among the transfixed. Some claim that Kramer wasn’t just transfixed but that TMMI was in fact enlisted by the DEA and FBI to analyze video evidence for the Simpson trial.
Simultaneously, Kramer was increasingly obsessed with his own scientific quandary. How he could apply his unique knowledge of gravitational waves to his understanding of data compression in order to create a groundbreaking method of communication? He knew he was on to something, but he struggled to make sense of his ideas. He became increasingly sleep-deprived and excitable.
Kramer Cracks the Code
As Kramer worked tirelessly into one particular evening, his concerned father made a fateful suggestion. Ray Kramer reminded his son of his Universal Theory–the one that would prove Einstein wrong. He suggested it might be useful here.
Apparently, it was just the breakthrough Kramer needed. He became increasingly excited, phoning friends and assuring them that he was on to something big. It was something so big, in fact, that Kramer warned friends and family that he was in imminent danger. He had “cracked the code” and a lot of people were going to want to know what he knew.
He told his father that his mind contained immensely valuable revelations—that if he ever called 911 threatening suicide, it should be received as a coded message that he was in mortal danger.
On February 11th, Kramer told a friend “I have to be very, very careful, because people are going to want what I’m working on…We have to get off the planet.”
The next day, Kramer was scheduled to retrieve some new associates at the airport. Though he arrived there, he mysteriously departed 45 minutes later without picking up his colleagues. Kramer proceeded to make 17 calls to family and friends including his wife, father, and Ron Bushy. His last call was to 9/11.
Kramer indeed found his way off the planet. He was neither seen nor heard from again.
Echo in the Canyon
A comprehensive 1999 article from Maxim describes Decker Canyon as a 40 minute drive west of L.A., and a pretty good place to dispose of a body. To wit, the canyon hid the secret of Kramer’s whereabouts for five solid years.
Massive search parties, tireless efforts by friends and family, and even the support of a local congressman could not turn up evidence of Kramer’s final resting place. When hikers stumbled on his Ford Aerostar five years later, it would be impossible to determine the actual cause of death.
Those who knew him, including family, friends, and bandmates, refuse to believe Kramer’s death was self-inflicted. Even coroners could only conclude years later that his death was “probable suicide.”
But the full truth remains unknown to this day. Did Kramer take his own life? Was he targeted by a clandestine government agency? Or does the truth fall somewhere between paranoia and intrigue?
As with Kramer’s unfinished work, there are few satisfying answers.