I am going to start by saying what may be regarded as socially unacceptable (by today’s standards)… when it comes to thinking about bass players and guitar players, most of the world would likely agree it’s a male dominated role… a “guy” thing.
Well, please allow me now to distance myself from this chauvinistic assumption by stating there are a few very notable exceptions. For example, here is a lady who is regarded as the most-recorded bassist in history, with upwards of 10,000 sessions to her credit.
The very idea of picking the highlights of this lady’s very successful and prolific career is daunting, to say the least. But I am going to try to cover some of the highlights here.
As a session musician, Kaye was the bassist on many Phil Spector and Brian Wilson productions in the 1960s and 1970s. Carol was also a member of the Wrecking Crew.
She played guitar on Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” recording session and is credited with the bass tracks on several Simon & Garfunkel hits, and many film scores by Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin. One of the most popular albums Carol contributed to was the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
Here Carol can be heard playing some very fluid and melodic lines behind guitarist Joe Pass in this very funky little number called SLICK CAT.
Carol Kaye video overview – Unlike most bassists, Kaye primarily uses a pick (or Plectrum), rather than plucking the strings with her fingers.
With Carol, it was all about TIME: the BEAT and the GROOVE – playing in “the pocket”
Carol Kaye held the highest standard for TIME. The feel of the music had to be precise. Here she demonstrates some of her timing and picking technique to rock star Gene Simmons.
Born in March 24, 1935 in Everett, Washington, to professional musicians Clyde and Dot Smith, Carol grew up in poverty near Port Angeles.
Her introduction to the guitar began at the age of 13, when her mother saved some money for lessons.
“A friend of mine was taking guitar lessons from a man named Horace Hatchett in Long Beach,” she recalls, “so I went along with my friend. I brought my steel guitar and he said ‘Play it for me.’ He must have seen something because he said, ‘I’ll give you lessons for free if you come work for me.’”
In 1949, at the age of fourteen she began teaching guitar professionally.
“It wasn’t that [I was a woman] that made me want to play,” Kaye says in a phone interview. “I had to play because I was a poor kid that stuttered. As soon I could start playing music, I could put food on the table. I found something that I was really great at.”
A few months later she was a professional jazz guitarist by the age of 14. She did the jazz club circuit playing bebop, which was very popular at that time.
Throughout the 1950s, Kaye played (bebop) jazz guitar in dozens of nightclubs around Los Angeles with many noted bands including Bob Neal’s jazz group, Jack Sheldon backing Lenny Bruce, Teddy Edwards and Billy Higgins.
Then in 1957 Carol met Robert Alexander “Bumps” Blackwell, who was the manager of Little Richard and producer for Sam Cooke.
Blackwell was a musician, producer and composer who worked with the top names in early jazz and rock and roll. Born in Seattle on May 23, 1918, by the late 1940s his Seattle-based “Bumps Blackwell Junior Band” featured Ray Charles and Quincy Jones, and played with Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway and Billy Eckstine. In the early 1950s, he moved to Los Angeles and there he got hired on with Art Rupe’s Specialty Records label.
Bumps discovers Carol:
“I played the guitar on a song. Bumps Blackwell had come into a club and saw me playing bebop jazz, and he asked me to play on a record he was producing. I really didn’t want to do it because I liked the clubs, but I needed the money. It wasn’t long till I realized there was more money in making records.”
1960 / Carol Kaye on guitar / Sam Cooke / Summertime /
“Sam Cooke was a very nice guy. He was so happy because he just had his first hit record with You Send Me. He was on top of the world. In fact, driving to the record date, I heard You Send Me on the radio, so it prepared me for working with Sam.
“He was an exceptional singer, and he knew how to pick the best material. Because this was my first session, I was a little reserved at first, but Bumps told me, ‘Play some of that stuff you did in the club,’ so I did some fills. Pretty soon, I had it down.”
Meeting Blackwell led to some other early studio gigs for Carol with Ritchie Valens, on “La Bamba.”
It was not long before Carol saw security in studio work because it paid well enough for her to support her mom and her own two kids.
“I was working a day job in the daytime and playing every night too,” she says. “And so I went into studio work and I did five years on guitar. Then the bass player didn’t show up [for a session] and I thought I would have a lot more fun playing bass than guitar.”
1964 / Carol on Guitar with special effects * / Jewel Akens / The Birds And The Bees
* Recorded at Gold Star Studios with sound engineer Stan Ross employing the innovative technique of “chorusing” by patching Carol’s guitar into a Leslie (organ) speaker.
Playing a Fender bass gave Kaye the ability to invent and play her own lines, and by 1964 she became the number one bassist for session work.
“At first I didn’t want to do studio work,” she says, because I knew that you get in there, you get locked in there [and] you can never get out. But the jazz clubs started to get shut down and reopened as rock clubs, so the handwriting was on the wall.”
Kaye was involved in many of the greatest pop songs of all time via the producers behind them. One of those was Phil Spector, who produced for several hit groups including the Righteous Brothers.
1964 / Carol on Bass / The Righteous Brothers / You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
Carol Kaye and Ray Pohlman both played bass on this session. With his “wall of sound” approach, Spector started recording four acoustic guitars, when that was ready, they added the pianos, of which there were three, followed by three basses, the horns (two trumpets, two trombones, and three saxophones), then finally the drums.
“Phil was a bit odd at times,” she remembers. “Sometimes it got a little rough. He picked on me one time: ‘Okay, you got the part down Carol?’ ‘F— off Phil!’ I don’t know why I did that. He was a genius.”
1965 / Carol on Bass / The Beach Boys / California Girls
Kaye credits almost every note to Brian, with the only exception being a fill she invented at the end of the bridge section.
1965 / Carol on Bass / The Beach Boys / Sloop John B
The instrumental section of the song was recorded on July 22, 1965 at United Western Recorders, Hollywood, California, the session being engineered by Chuck Britz and produced by Brian Wilson. The master take of the instrumental backing took 14 takes to achieve.
1966 / Carol on Bass / Nancy Sinatra / These Boots Are Made For Walkin’
“Arranger Billy Strange believed in using the two basses together. Producer Lee Hazlewood asked Chuck to put a sliding run on the front of the tune. Chuck complied by playing notes about three tones apart (4-6 frets apart), but Lee stopped the take. ‘No Chuck, make your sliding notes closer together’, and that is what you hear.”
In 1966 Carol played bass on the Beach Boys’ single “Good Vibrations, ”
Carol went on to play on the group’s classic album Pet Sounds.
“When I first met [Brian Wilson],” she says, “it was just simple rock and roll, and he got better. I think we trained him accidentally and he knew that we liked him because he had a lot of talent and he was nice to work for, although it got boring to work on one tune for three hours.”
1967 / Carol on Bass / Sonny and Cher / The Beat Goes On /
Carol devised the distinctive syncopated bass line that is featured on the released recording, replacing the original walking bass line in the prepared arrangement.
1967 / Carol on Bass / Ray Charles / In The Heat Of The Night / Quincy Jones
“What a great, great project. I worked with Quincy Jones on the film music, playing fuzz bass on a lot of the cues. That was pretty cool. Not many people knew you put fuzz on a bass; they thought it only worked with a guitar.
“Playing the title song with Ray Charles was a dream come true. Ray was so easy to work for. I thought he was a real salt-of-the-earth kind of man. We traded a lot of jokes back and forth. He was a good kidder.
“We cut the track at Ray’s studio. I asked to have his vocal way up in my headphones because that’s what I wanted to play to. On some records, you want to cook with the band. With Ray Charles, you wanted to cook with his singing. His vocal was the most important thing, so that’s what you had to support.”
1968 / Carol on Bass / Glen Campbell / Wichita Lineman /
“Jimmy Webb, the songwriter, played piano on the track. I always thought he was a great talent. It’s a shame that he had to suffer so much to create, but that’s the way life and art can be sometimes. Not always fair.
“There wasn’t any music in front of me, just some chord changes. I played the roots and tried to let the tune unfold. When you have a great song – and I could tell right away that Wichita Lineman was very special – you try to create a background for the words. You don’t want to get in the way.
“At one point, though, Jimmy Webb stopped me and had me do some fills. Then it was decided that I should start off the song. So that’s what you hear: me on my bass, playing this little bouncy part that introduces the number.
“Glen sang his butt off. He really captured the words and set a mood. It was incredible to see him go on and become such a success. A truly nice man.”
1969 / Carol on Bass / Motherlode / When I Die / cut in Toronto, Canada
“I improvised most of the bass-line. Steve on Sax vocals – arranger (jazz man), Smitty organ vocal (jazz man), Kenny guitar, vocal drummer was Stoney – I’m the only outsider on bass. This line is in my Elec. Bass Lines No. 2 book (and CD). Could have been another “Chicago” …I hung out with them – had a great time and musically, they were THAT GOOD…excellent musicians, singers, good guys – super-talents in Canada, they had no support by record co.
“It felt so great to record in Toronto in 1969, I considered moving there. Instead, I quit recording entirely for a few months while I got my Gwyn Publishing Co. Inc. going (my educational books/courses) and published the classic Joe Pass and others’ books too.”
“I often think of the Motherlode, they were wonderful musicians, Steve the arranger was a great jazz sax-man, Smitty on organ, played Jazz and blues, and Kenny on guitar was pop and what a great vocal sound they all got. Drummer was Stoney, very good drummer. They truly were a modern fantastic group!”
In 1969 Kaye took time off to write a book, “How To Play The Electric Bass“.
Her book has some great lines in Rock-Pop-Soul-Motown-Gospel even jazz lines, great transcriptions of Carol’s hit lines of Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, OC Smith’s Little Green Apples, Nancy Wilson’s hit of Peace Of Mind & Out of This World, some BB’s lines, Fills, blues, phonky funk, and wild lines but including her famous made-up Sonny & Cher line “The Beat Goes On”.
A year later she returned to the studio but wouldn’t do any more rock and roll dates.
“I returned to doing Studio work, turning down all rock & pop dates, (was burned out), but enjoyed doing the Movies and TV-Film Shows I was recording (since ’63), and did some choice record dates with Henry Mancini, Ray Charles, Glen Campbell etc.”
1969 / Carol on Bass / Joe Cocker / Feelin’ Alright
“This was with Paul Humphrey on drums and Artie Butler on keys. Artie started out the riff, and Paul and I joined in. We got such a groove. The whole thing just rolled. Before you knew it, we were locked in beautifully.
“Joe Cocker was in the studio singing with us, which was great. In my opinion, he’s one of the only white guys who can really sing like Ray Charles, so to have him right there, working off of everything we did, it was such an inspiration.
“We played our hearts out on that song, and we nailed a great take. Then an engineer told us that we had to do it again – somebody had forgotten to roll the tape! [laughs] Oh, my goodness! You’re kidding me, right?
“Well, we did it again and got it just as good. No, we got it really good. But you know what? There was something about the version that didn’t get recorded, the one that nobody will ever hear – it was THE take! [sighs] Oh, well…”
1971 / Carol on Bass / Lou Rawls / A Natural Man
“Lou was funky as heck! He was so much fun to play for. We had a great time. Lou always wanted me on his dates. We definitely bonded. We had a long history, too, because he sang background vocals on the Sam Cooke dates I did.
“This is just a funky tune, a really good feeling. That’s Earl Palmer on the drums. He got a good groove going on, and I locked in with him like you wouldn’t believe. I always enjoyed playing with Earl, especially on something cool like this.
“And everybody knows, you can’t beat Lou’s voice. He could make any song his own. What a special artist.”
1972 / Carol on bass / Ray Charles / America The Beautiful
“There’s certain dates you play and you know they’re important. With America The Beautiful, it was iconic. First of all, there’s the song itself. But the marriage of the song with the singer is what counts, and Ray Charles singing America The Beautiful, well, you can’t improve on that.
“When we cut this, I kept thinking of Ray’s own struggles with the country. He’d been through so much, from being a blind black kid and all that that entails, to playing the clubs in the South and being booed and having to stay in black-only hotels, to fighting for integration and human rights…I felt like we were telling his own story, not just that of the country.
“As a bass player, I knew I had to keep it simple. This wasn’t a song where I was supposed to call attention to the part or move the music. It was all about Ray. All I had to do was find the right spaces and let him shine. There were a couple of fills I did. I think of them as background singers going, ‘Amen!’ That’s the only embellishment you need.”
A favorite session of Carol’s was recording on Barbara Streisand’s 1973 song “The Way We Were.”
“It was all cut live – strings, the band, and Barbra sing right there with us. I think we did 32 takes, which was quite a lot. I was trying to work around Barbra’s vocals, but Marvin Hamlisch, the producer, kept getting annoyed. ‘Stick to the part, Carol. Don’t ad-lib,’ he told me.
“I was getting pretty bored playing such a simple part, so after 31 takes I just decided, ‘Oh hell, I’m gonna go for it.’ [laughs] I played some real interesting lines and fills. Barabra’s voice held this long note, and the feeling was electrifying. She gave it her all, I gave it my all, and the whole thing came together.”
Unfortunately I was never called by that guy again, which is kind of funny because he got a big hit out of it.”
1995 / Album / Picking Up On The E String /
1995 / Carol on Bass / track B2 / Boogaloo
This is a 10″ vinyl compilation. Carol Kaye plays Fender bass on all 8 tracks with Joe Pass on guitar.
For a typical recording session Kaye and her colleagues would work hard and long in the studio.
“We didn’t sleep past five or six hours a night,” she says, “and that’s why we sat and drank coffee all the time. Guys had to crack jokes to keep from killing each other because you were so tired from the lack of sleep and then playing the same old rock and roll sometimes.”
There was a camaraderie between Kaye and the other instrumentalists.
“We were all pulling together with the feeling of ‘We better make this a hit so we can keep working next year.’ The guys didn’t think of me as a woman at all. I was just one of the guys, which is fine.”
She would like the public to know that there were other people behind those hit records too.
“The only thing we cared about was getting the check,” she says. “Back in those days, the musicians were not recognized. Who would have thought that record companies would have put our names anyway—a bunch of white people and black people working together with one blonde chick on bass at a time when they had race riots.”
She continues: “A lot of our group has died without being recognized by the public. It’s not that we want the recognition but let’s get the truth out. I think the kids ought to know about us. I think it’s important they know the truth in back of those hit records, and what it took.”
Kaye is modest about being regarded as a pioneer for women musicians in contemporary pop. “I don’t put myself to be leading in that field,” she says. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. It’s good that they know that I did that. That’s what you do when you’re older—you pass along what you learned. It’s a joy to show people the stuff.”
Carol Kaye: Session Legend Full Interview.
Electric bass credits
Credits for recorded singles on bass
- “Soul Reggae” (Charles Kynard)
- “The Daily Planet” (Love))
- “Andmoreagain” (Love)
- “Homeward Bound” (Simon and Garfunkel)
- “California Girls”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Sloop John B”, “Help Me, Rhonda”, “Heroes and Villains” (The Beach Boys)
- “Natural Man” (Lou Rawls)
- “Come Together” (Count Basie)
- “Feelin’ Alright” (Joe Cocker)
- “I Think He’s Hiding” (Randy Newman)
- “Games People Play” (Mel Tormé)
- “Cantaro” (Gene Ammons)
- “Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home” (Darlene Love)
- “Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (The Lettermen)
- “Little Honda” (The Hondells)
- “Hikky Burr” (Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby & TV theme)
- “I’m a Believer” (The Monkees)
- “Indian Reservation” (Paul Revere & the Raiders)
- “In the Heat of the Night”, “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, “America The Beautiful”, “Understanding” (Ray Charles)
- “It Must Be Him” (Vikki Carr)
- “Little Green Apples” (O.C. Smith)
- “Midnight Confessions” (The Grass Roots)
- “Mission: Impossible Theme” (Lalo Schifrin)
- “Mannix Theme” (Lalo Schifrin)
- “Out of This World” (Nancy Wilson)
- “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”, “Rhinestone Cowboy” (Glen Campbell)
- “River Deep – Mountain High” (Ike & Tina Turner)
- “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” (Simon and Garfunkel)
- “Sixteen Tons” (Tennessee Ernie Ford)
- “Somethin’ Stupid” (Frank and Nancy Sinatra)
- “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” (Nancy Sinatra)
- “This Diamond Ring” (Gary Lewis & the Playboys)
- “The Twelfth of Never” (Johnny Mathis)
- “The Way We Were” (Barbra Streisand)
- “Soul & Inspiration” bass, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” guitar (The Righteous Brothers)
- “Carry On” (JJ Cale) – JJ Cale Styles Book
Album credits on bass
Selected highlights include:
- Pet Sounds (The Beach Boys, 1966)
- Neil Young (Neil Young)
- Light My Fire (Gábor Szabó and Bob Thiele)
- Music from Mission: Impossible (Lalo Schifrin, 1967)
- Song of Innocence (David Axelrod, 1968)
- Songs of Experience (David Axelrod, 1969)
- Release of an Oath (The Electric Prunes, 1968)
- There’s a Whole Lalo Schifrin Goin’ On (Lalo Schifrin, 1968)
- More Mission: Impossible (Lalo Schifrin, 1968)
- Mannix (Lalo Schifrin, 1968)
- Bullitt (Lalo Schifrin, 1968)
- The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground (Don Ellis, 1969)
- Let It Be (Bud Shank, 1970)
- Dirty Harry (score by Lalo Schifrin, 1971)
- Northern Windows (Hampton Hawes)
- Big Man (Cannonball Adderley)
- Reelin’ with the Feelin’ (Charles Kynard)
- Charles Kynard (Charles Kynard, Mainstream, 1971)
- Cameo (Dusty Springfield, 1972)
- Joe Williams Live (Joe Williams, 1973)
- Hugo In Wonder-land (Hugo Montenegro)
- Your Good Thing (Lou Rawls)
- You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (Lou Rawls)
- The Funky Organ-ization of Henry Cain (Henry Cain)
- The Zodiac : Cosmic Sounds
- Pride (Pride) (1970)
- Thumbs up (Ray Pizzi, Carol Kaye, Mitch Holder)(1999)
- Picking Up On The E-String (Carol Kaye) (1995)
- Freak Out! (Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention)1965
- Absolutely Free (Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention) 1966
- Cosmic Brotherhood (Bill Plummer, 1968
Recorded credits on guitar
- “Then He Kissed Me” (The Crystals)
- “Danke Schoen” (Wayne Newton)
- “Johnny Angel” (Shelley Fabares)
- “La Bamba” (Ritchie Valens)
- “Let’s Dance” (Chris Montez)
- “Needles and Pins” (Jackie DeShannon)
- “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny & Cher)
- “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (The Righteous Brothers)
- “The Birds and the Bees” (Jewel Akens), with a Leslie speaker effect
- “Mannix Theme” (Lalo Schifrin)
- “The Daily Planet” (Love)
Despite the belief that Kaye played on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” single, a session list compiled by Craig Slowinski for The Smile Sessions box-set liner notes reveals that, although she unquestionably played on several sessions for the song, none of those recordings made the final edit as released on the single.
Teaching materials by Kaye
- How To Play The Electric Bass
- Personally yours (1970)
- Electric Bass lines series Nos 1-6
- Jazz Improv For Bass
- Pro’s Jazz Phrases Bass
- Bass DVD Course
- Music Reading DVD w/Manual
- Teaching Playing Hangin’ DVD
- Jazz Bass CD & Guide
- Rock-Funk Bass CD & Guide, produced Joe Pass
- Carol Kaye: Bass CD
- Bass Performances CD
- Hit Bass Lines CD
- Jazz Improv Soloing DVD Course
- How to play Electric Bass chords