Carol Kaye is one of the most prolific pop music musicians you’ve never heard of. She and her 4-6 strings have backed some of the most popular songs, movies, and television series of the past fifty decades, and can be heard “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” guitar on Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” and Richie Valens “La Bamba”…among others!
Born in Everett, Washington to a family of musicians, Kaye began cutting her professional teeth playing jazz nightclubs in LA. Kaye says that there were many female musicians in that scene, saying “There were many fine women in the jazz world that worked constantly with the men. Rock’n’roll came along and took over the former successful jazz clubs, and women simply didn’t want to play rock’n’roll.”
A big break came in 1957 when she played guitar for Sam Cooke’s recording of “Summertime” and “What a Wonderful World.” But it was when she picked up a Fender bass guitar in 1963 that her extensive career as a studio bassist began. She’s even credited with coining the term “electric bass” (instead of “Fender bass”) because of her first of many bass tutorial books, “How to Play the Electric Bass” (1969).
From her website:
People used to ask how you got in the studios, we’d all say: “Learn how to grab a parking place, don’t be late, and carry a pencil, don’t be egotistical, oh and yes, know how to create, read music and play your — off.”
She played bass on the Beach Boys’ acclaimed Pet Sounds and many other Brian Wilson collaborations. She not only rubbed musical elbows with some of the biggest names in American music (Phil Spector, Quincy Jones, David Axelrod, but was acclaimed by them too. She also played for the soundtracks of movies (including but not limited to The Addams Family, Hawaii Five-O, and The Brady Bunch!) and television shows including but not limited to Get Smart, M*A*S*H, and Mission: Impossible) And really I could go on because her career was that extensive! She’s was also the mother of three and taught guitar and bass for most of her life.
Do you wish there was a fun song sung by another awesome female musician about Carol Kaye? Well wish no longer, since Laura Veirs has exactly that song on her new album July Flame that goes, “Not a household name but she’s been in your head all day,” giving Kaye some credit she sometimes wasn’t on other artists’ record. You can listen to the song onKCRW’s website.
Some final words from Kaye: “I never thought of myself as a ‘woman’ playing music. Do men think of themselves as, ‘I am a man playing music’?” Hell no, Carol! Keep on plucking.
Where I got all that info!
Carol Kaye home site
Venus Zine’s The Greatest Female Guitarists of All Time
Carol Kaye on Wikipedia