Carol Kaye might not be a name that registers in circles outside of the music nerd fraternity, but there is a fat chance that just about everyone in the western world has heard her play at one point in their lives.
She has played on so many songs, in fact, that nobody knows the exact figure with the accepted rounded total standing at 10,000. And being a Los Angeles session musician in the 1960s means that a fair chunk of that whopping number are bona fide classics.
What’s more, she was a trailblazer. The sad truth is that she couldn’t just settle for being a brilliant bassist, she was handicapped by her gender on that front. No, her unfortunate predicament was that she had to far outstrip her male counterparts if she was going to make it. However, as Quincy Jones famously remarked, “she could leave the men in the dust.” And as she famously added herself, “when you hear somebody with balls, that’s me.”
Now aged 86 and living in Hollywood, she was asked WeekendFest to take a look back on her gilded and prolific career in order to champion the ten best songs that she has ever played on. One of her earliest mainstream recordings was on Sam Cooke’s smoother than buttered silk classic ‘Summertime’.
Kaye says it was 1957 and she was guitar soloing in a jazz band, but as she states, “you don’t make a lot of money playing jazz.” When Cooke’s R&R walked into the studio one day and asked her whether she would play on a record she was hesitant at first, “but I knew it looked like money,” she adds, “and I had two kids to pay for.”
She went down to the studio where Cooke and his crew were playing and was asked to lay down some fills. The result is one of the most extraordinary records of all time, it’s a song that sounds like the sonic equivalent of a grand cathedral, both haunting and beautiful at the same time.
After her success on Sam Cooke’s record, it would seem that her future was in the bass. Kaye didn’t mind this one iota, simply because when she was playing the guitar, she had to lug around all sorts of 12-strings, electric guitars and an endless list of other variations, whereas with the bass the space in the back of her car was suddenly freed up for groceries and other home life necessities.
The second song on her list is the Ray Charles crooning anthem, ‘America The Beautiful’. But after Ray Charles, the singers being sent down to Hollywood in the late sixties just couldn’t compete. Kaye and other old jazz cohorts had no problem churning out hits for labels, “but at least give us something to work with,” she pleaded. Thus, thereafter her career progressed into all sorts of different fields from The Motherlode in Canada to the pure pop of the Righteous Brothers.
Elsewhere she champions the Jimmy Webb-written Glen Campbell classic ‘Wichita Lineman’ which featured her iconic descending bassline intro and was described by Bob Dylan, no less, as the greatest song ever written; the bristle “happy song” of ‘Sloop John B’ by The Beach Boys also features, and Jack Cocker’s rattling “fun” song ‘Feelin’ Alright’.
Carol Kaye’s ten favourite songs that she’s played on:
- ‘Summertime’ by Sam Cooke
- ‘America the Beautiful’ by Ray Charles
- ‘When I Die’ by The Motherlode
- ‘Good Vibrations’ by The Beach Boys
- ‘Wichita Lineman’ by Glen Campbell
- ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ by Ray Charles
- ‘Sloop John B’ by The Beach Boys
- ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ by The Righteous Brothers
- ‘The Way We Were’ by Barbra Streisand
- ‘Feelin’ Alright’ by Joe Cocker