The Incomparable Legendary Bassist Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye

Young women growing up are always looking for role models.  But in the pre-Internet days so much of the information we take for granted today, simply wasn’t available.  So, strange as it may seem, I’d never heard about Carol Kaye until just recently.

Some time ago, when I first met Bob Gadd from Levi guitars, I think he thought the idea of a girl playing bass was quite unusual.

Bob mentioned the name Carol Kaye.  I had to admit I hadn’t heard the name.  But I filed it away and more recently I decided to do some research.  And, oh my goodness, I’m so glad I did.

Thanks to the Internet and especially to Carol herself (see the Carol Kaye Official Website), there are volumes of information available about her and her career.

Carol was born in 1935 and grew up in a time where a woman’s place was no longer in the kitchen.  During WWII women had enjoyed a new kind of freedom and more and more women became gainfully employed.

Originally from Everett, WA, US, she grew up in the Los Angles, CA area.  By the age of fourteen, in 1949, she was teaching guitar and playing jazz professionally.

She grew up in a time where there weren’t that many female musicians.  But in her own words, back in the forties and fifties, there were a fair amount of women that played in local bands and many that played well.  The difference was in those days when women got married, they left their careers behind them to stay home to mind the house and to raise children.  It makes you wonder how many great female careers have been forfeited.

Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye

One factor in her success may have been her choice of instrument.  In the forties a better choice might have been clarinet or trumpet.  But instead she chose guitar.  This in a time when the electric guitar was gaining prominence, but before Fender had produced the first solid body electrics.

In 1957 she started doing session work with Sam Cooke and for five years found session work as a guitar player.

Then by chance, in 1963, she filled in on bass for another session musician that didn’t show up.  In the years that followed Carol became a favourite and was one of the busiest session bass players around the LA music scene.  During the sixties and early seventies she worked with countless performers including the Beach Boys, The Monkees and Simon and Garfunkel.  As well, she’s worked extensively in film and worked on scores with Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg.  (See her wiki page for much more name dropping)

Mostly she was part of a group of about twenty musicians that were part of most any type of music session recordings done in Los Angles during the sixties.  The most commonly used name for this group was The Wrecking Crew.

Fortunately, again, the Internet has provided so much that in the past would have been lost.  And it seems that a number of people have been working with Carol to provide background information about some of the most influence recordings of our day that she has worked on…

This video talks about some of the Beach Boys sessions she had worked on.  Very cool so hear some of those classic bass line being played by the hands that played them so many years ago…

In this video from Bass Player TV Carol goes into some great bits of jazz theory…


Carol Kaye Trailer

In addition to being a prolific player, Carol is also an author and written or coauthored many books.  Most of these books are related to electric bass instruction.  In the early days, basses were often referred to as “Fender” basses.  Carol was instrumental (punny) in correctly calling the instrument “Electric Bass”.  And in a twist, Carol has shown that those that can, can also teach.

For anyone wanting to learn more about the history of bass and the history of the music of sixties, Carol is an amazing source of information and loves to tell stories about her experiences.

Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye

For me I was just blown away by how many of those bass lines that are burnt in to my head from when I was a kid where played by Carol Kaye.  Amazing!

“Stay Tuned!”


PS  To all those that think real bass players don’t play with a pick.  Check out the videos.  Carol and Chris and me all have at least one thing in common.  ;^)


Other references…






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