About Carol Kaye
A number of female musicians did their part to advance the cause of women in rock from the very beginning, but many of them were standing behind the mic (or the songwriter’s pen) when they did it — few female musicians joined the ranks of what were always known as sessionmen, largely due to society and its rigid definition of what femininity was. Yet
like Ray Charles, who once claimed “I’m not good because I’m blind,” Carol Kaye wasn’t notable because she was a woman. She wasn’t just one of the best session players of any gender, she helped revolutionize the instrument, one of a small handful of bottom-enders, including James Jamerson of Motown and some guy named McCartney, who took what was still thought of as an electric bass fiddle and taught it to back up rock, frontline funk, and redefine jazz. In the process she became, as near as studio records can reveal, one of the most recorded musicians of all time. Her gender was, and is, largely irrelevant.
Like so many bass players of the era, she began with guitar, which her parents both played professionally, and the atmosphere was not lost on her; three months after taking lessons, she was deemed good enough to become her tutor’s assistant. After the Kaye family moved from her native Washington state to Los Angeles, she had improved enough to join the city’s jazz scene before she’d even left her teens. In fact, it took only a couple of years for Little Richard’s producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell to discover her on a local stage. Before long, he had her playing guitar for a young gospel star who was going secular: Sam Cooke. She was soon in demand as a session guitarist. If you’ve heard the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me,” you’ve heard her guitar lines.
But it was in 1962, when a bassist failed to appear for a Capitol Records session, that Carol’s greatest legacy began, as she picked up the Fender Electric Bass and began the second phase of her career. Before arthritis began to take its toll in the late ’70s, Kaye performed on 10,000 sessions. Ten thousand, including sides by Sonny & Cher, the Beach Boys, and the Monkees, working as one of the famed “Wrecking Crew” of L.A. sessionmen (she doesn’t like the “Wrecking Crew” term, finding it narrow and cliquish), but also on scores of film and TV soundtracks. In fact, McCartney’s own celebrated accomplishments on bass owe a lot to Kaye; her bass parts on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, which Paul thought were the band’s own, greatly influenced his runs from 1965 on.