dimecres, 1 de març de 2017

Carol Kaye. Living Legend of the bass: "I was good as most men if not better"

Carol Kaye is one of the most important session musicians in the history of music. She started to play jazz guitar at the age of fourteen. At twenty-one the producer Bumps Blackwell saw her playing bebop in a jazz club with Teddy Edwards band and he asked her to go to the studio the next day to accompany with her Epiphone Emperor a successful Sam Cooke. After this recording Kaye became a studio musician, first playing the guitar on famous songs such as "La bamba", "Then He Kissed Me" and many others. In 1963 she accepted a job to play bass and after that day she became the no. 1 call bassist. Her sense of rhythm, her talent for improvising bass lines and her fine musicianship allowed her to play on more than 10,000 recordings and on famous records like "Pet Sounds". She also played the score for movies such as "Bullitt", "Heat of the night" and many others. We talk with her about her life, her career and her sounds, because we are great fans of Carol and her iconic glasses which remind us of the image for our meetings.

Interview by: Lídia Noguerol 
Photos from Ken Onda Pinterest



"I was nº1 Call on bass" Carol Kaye

Poster of our meeting

As I work in a library, I would like to start by talking about books. In another interview you talked about “Q”, Quincy Jones’ book, which mentions that women have been working alongside men in jazz since 1920. Could you explain the ambience you found in the bebop scene when you started to play?

I didn't start to play music because there were "women" playing music, I did music because I was poor and had no other way to make a living, and was good at playing music.  Always there were a few women in the Jazz fields working with the men, yes, but in the heavy bebop jazz only a few.  I got gigs because I was GOOD, because I was as good as most men if not better.  And I was highly respected, although Jazz didn't pay enough money to raise my two children and mother with, I had to work a typing day job also, working day and night. 

At that time women were working with the men, we never thought of ourselves as "women musicians", only like the men, as MUSICIANS....men were easy to work with, if we were top professional musicians, it was easy then....I don't like how some women complain that "they're not given a chance by men" or some other complaint about men.....to the top professional, you are always treated as an equal if you play as well as, and are as professional as, the "men"....no problem. 

It's the whining women who can't play that men have the problems with, same as us women who are top professionals.....whiners don't play well.  A problem with anyone, doesn't matter what sex you are.​


Carol Kaye in a concert with Henry Busse's band, 1955

You explain that in the world of rock’n’roll and surf rock there were “ditchdiggers”. Could you explain why? Do you think that rock’n’roll was music for men?

"Ditchdigger" is a bad term for boring but strenuous music, just boring rock and roll high-energy is all.  Most of the Studio Musicians were fine Jazz musicians and/or (pre-rock) big-band musicians who had to dumb down to play/invent rock lines for those kinds of records, and some were just downright dumb.  Not all, but many were "ditchdigger" types of record dates, yes. It has nothing to do with if you are a man or a woman.


Carol Kaye played 12-strings guitar in this record 

In the eighties you suffered harassment. Do you think that after the seventies, the role of music change? Did women loose the respect which they had had in the jazz bebop scene?

Rockers simply were ignorant of the fact that fine jazz musicians created their 1960s records, that's a history that still isn't known.  There were very few women in music in 1960s - probably because Jazz women musicians did NOT want to play rock and roll at all....rockers were mainly on drugs too, those who played live rock....a field very different from real jazz which is the toughest music to invent and play.  The entertainment values were more important than how elite the music was by the 1970s, it was more visual then, like TV was.  




Carol Kaye in the mid-seventies

Your parents were both musicians. Your father was a trombonist and your mother was a pianist. How do you think they influence you? Did they push into music? 

You have to understand...parents back in the terrible depression of the 1930s couldn't care less about what their kids did. It was the HARDEST time in history to just put food on the table.  Nothing to do with today's standards at all.....kids were beaten up, wives were beaten up, it was a very HARD time.  No-one influenced me to play, I played because I earned money to put food on the table for my elderly mother and myself.  And it was easy for me to do, playing music was natural for me.


Jazz French Horn Combo with Carol Kaye, 1958

Before bass you played guitar. Why did you choose the guitar first?

I never chose bass, it chose me.  I have ALWAYS been a guitar player.  My Autobiography "Studio Musician: Carol Kaye, #1 Hit Bassist, Guitarists" tells of my story of being poor, having a guitar thanks to working for a music teacher who taught me quickly and it all got me going to make money playing guitar gigs at 14 years old, etc. I was already a popular Studio Musician after my Jazz guitar career. When the bass player didn't show up at the studio, they wanted me to play bass, which I did, learning on the job quickly and soon I was No. 1 Call on Bass. They all called me first for record dates, movies, and TV work on bass. 



H.B. Barnum L.A. Soul Jazz Band. Carol Kaye on electric guitar


How did your choose your instruments like Epiphone Emperor?

I was poor and bought a used guitar in a pawn shop, it sounded good, and I had just enough money for it in 1956.


Carol with her Epihone Emperor 

What difference did you find between bass and guitar?

Totally different instruments, different techniques, different roles in music.


Carol playing her white  electric bass 

Did you use tricks and techniques from guitar to play the bass?  

No, you have to separate the two entirely different instruments.


Carol playing the guitar 

Your playing style is defined by the way you use the pick and how you achieve the mute using a doubled-up piece of felt taped on the top of the strings when you play exclusively with a pick, or foam in front of the bridge when you play with the fingers. Did you use these techniques because you prefer this sound or was it the choice of the producers?

It was the best sound for recordings.


Carol Kaye on muting


Carol's pick

First time I heard of you was in the book “Pet Sounds” by Charles Granata. I know you have spoken many times about this sessions. In this book the author said that Brian Wilson’s music have a jazz feeling. Do you agree?

Brian Wilson himself talks about the fact that Jazz influenced him. He didn't just hear harmonies in 3-parts but the all-important 4-part harmonies and how chords moved. Yes, a jazz influence.

Carol Kaye in one of Brian Wilson sessions

In the film “Love & Mercy”, there is a scene where you talk with Brian about a double bass line:”I think you might screwed up here. Well you’ve got Lyle playing in D and the rest of us in are in A minor. How does it work ? Two bass lines in a different key? And Brian answers: “I mean, it’s all playing in my head, the orchestration, the five vocal parts. I think it’s gonna work. Let’s try it.”Are you happy with this scene or would you like to change anything?

That film is making up stuff, it's FALSE.....I NEVER SAID THAT, and no we NEVER had a tune written in two keys...others have poor memory and a drummer [Hal Blaine] said that. How would he know?  He doesn't read notes. 

Hal Blaine was the drummer who played on "Pet Sounds". He invented the name of "Wrecking Crew" to refer to a group of studio musicians which worked in L.A. Carol Kaye doesn't agree with this name. She explained in Granata's book that in the sixties nobody of this group used this name. She said that Hal Blaine invented this name in the nineties. In 2008 Danny Tedesco, the son of one of the studio musicians made a film about them called "Wrecking Crew". Carol appears in it but she is not very happy with the result. 


The personal sound of Carol Kaye is heard from the beginning to the end of "Pet Sounds" (Charles Granata) 



Carol Kaye with some musics of the "Wrecking Crew" 

Granata explained that Brian Wilson also played and appreciated the bass and on “Pet Sounds” the bass was more prominent as a solo instrument. Jerry Cole said:”Brian created many things around the bass parts played by Carol  Kaye. Carol had a fundamental role in laying down the foundations of many recordings. Her style with the pick and her rhythm were excellent”. What did you explain about your participation in Granata’s book? How many interviews or conversations did you have with him?  

Chuck Granata is a person you can trust with being truthful in reporting....I think I saw him for an interview about Brian just one time, that's all he needed.  He's a truth-seeker and a good man. A fine author.




Granata's book about "Pet Sounds"


Charles Granata also said that the way you played the guitar and bass was influenced by Charlie Christian, the father of the electric guitar. Who else do you consider as a major influence on your playing style?  

Sax players in Jazz, there are a few others, too many to name here, but Artie Shaw was a huge influence, Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts (who also influences George Benson he told me), Sonny Stitt, many many others. You take your influences from many who you admire in music.


Carol Kaye between bassist Marco Panascia and George Benson 

You worked with Phil Spector and Brian Wilson in the Gold Star Studio. What differences were there in the way they worked and recorded?

Very different, Brian was a nice unspoiled kid with good natural musical ideas. He had a sly sense of humor, was always great to work for, we all admired him. Phil Spector was also into musical line ideas but lived more for the entertainment value of getting the sounds and bouncing them around. He was a little weird and saw a psychiatrist a lot, and practiced his psychiatry on us sometimes in the way of being sarcastic. Half the musicians loved him, the other half thought he was nuts....I had no opinion, but thought he was nice to my two kids who I brought down to the dates sometimes.


Carol Kaye with Brian Wilson in a studio session 





Carol Kaye playing Fender Jazz Master Electric Guitar on Phil Spector date. 

Sadly David Axelrod passed away a few days ago. Could you explain what it was like to work with him? Do you remember some special moment with him? What’s your fauvorite song by him?

I don't listen to the stuff I record, you always move on to the next date and have no time except a little time with your kids and you don't listen to "music" to rest your mind.  You do music twelve to fourteen hours a day, you're tired, and need your six hours sleep.  David had his ideas but at first, he'd write some chord changes and then want us to invent funk on those chord changes, and then he'd write on top of the ideas we had (rhythm section only). He wasn't a schooled writer but had some good ideas, yes. He always appreciated the fine Jazz musicians. He was in our corner all the time to be "recognized". A good person but, yes, he did drugs earlier, and smoked all the time.  He was loyal to real musicianship. 



Carol's bass in a David Axelrod song 

Another interesting thing I read about you is your revindication of Bumps Blackwell and the great contributions other early Afro-americans made to the general recording industry in the late 1950s. You said that “Bumps Blackwell was the influence over all the producers in 1957 with his innovative Sam Cooke recordings, making black music to morph on over the Pop for the first time of the history”. Do you think that  these kinds of contributions should be more remembered in the times of “black lives matter”? 

I have nothing to do with that group. I don't think Bumps would either if he was alive.  He was very innovative, yes, and is written about and featured in many movies for his producing work.


Robert "Bumps" Blackwell 



Carol Kaye with Spider Webb

You have said that you like a deep bass sound, but some producers love the picky trebly sounds, for example in the Motown recordings. Your sound was compressed slightly “to much more or less what the Detroit bass sound was”. For me it was a big surprise to discover that Motown had an office in LA since 1964. Why did Motown go to LA in the sixties? Could you explain more things about your relationship with the Detroit label? Why do you think Motown wasn’t so successful in the seventies when they officially moved to LA?

We all stopped recording for Motown by 1971, they weren't honest in their hiring.   Hollywood was where ALL the finest of Studio Musicians were, and they came out for many of the great tracks we had cut for them (offices were here in 1963, see Billboard Announcement about that). They've been here all the time, and about 40% of their recordings were done here with many bassists, drummers, tons of Studio Musicians doing the recording, but yes, it started in Detroit.



Motown opened their first office in L.A in the Vine & Sunset Tower in 1963

You became a studio musician because you needed money to raise your children and take care of your mother. Did this necessity give you extra motivation for being the number one call in electric bass?  

Not at all - YOU DON'T AIM for anything in the temporary Studio Work but to keep working. You NEVER TURN ANY WORK DOWN, as you will be replaced easily in studio work which everyone wanted to do. I just happened to be the ONLY ONE who got the great bass sounds, and could create great framework hit lines for the records, as well as sightread the best for the important movie and TV recording work.


Carol Kaye as mom

You have participated on more than 10,000 recordings, many of them are famous hits. When you played on these records did you realise that you would be part of musical history? Many bass lines of these records were invented and improvised by you as a jazz musician.

You NEVER do anything for "history" nor "fame" at all ...you do it for MONEY!  Always! It wasn't 10,000 recordings at all, it was over 10,000 RECORDING DATES where you do three, four, five tunes per date (in movie work it's called CUES). So it's way over 40,000 tunes and cues.  Everyone worked that hard back then, recording day and night in the 1960s. See my book which has the complete Recording Work Log in it. 502 pages of career!


Cofee was the best friend of Carol as a top studio musician 

You prefered to work on films scores more than a rock studio musician. How did you record original soundtracks? Did you watch the movie and at the same time sightread the music in the darkness?

It takes a whole book to answer that one, it's dark yes, but each music stand has a light on it, you go with the click-track beating a beat quietly to the music which you sightread perfectly (or you don't work at all). Usually there is only ONE TAKE, then on to the next cue of written music.  I was hired a lot because I also could create better bass lines than they could write, Quincy Jones told me. Others too. So for about 1/3 of the time, they wanted me to create my own bass lines, and sightread the rest of the cues.


Carol Kaye with Gibson bass 

Which of the movies you played on was your favourite? I ask you about the film, not the score.

I liked them all, the music was good to play.  I liked Thomas Crown Affair, Airport, Ironside, Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Pawnbroker, Heat of the Night, etc. 


Carol's bass sounds in this film

You have written educational books about how to play the bass since 1969. You started because your fellow musicians asked you how to play this and that. Nowadays you have your own publishing house and as an educator you insist on the importance of the chordal music. Why do you consider chordal education important?

That was how everyone taught music in the creative 1950s, chordally.  The stuff they try to use today, notescales was never the right way to teach music. Notescales are NOT creative notes, they're travelling notes. Real teachers teach chordally.  The rockers-turned-teachers never had that experience, how would they know what to teach?  They never played those kinds of chords in rock.


Some of her educational books 

Carol Kaye at Berklee College, Boston 2000 Seminar. Photo: Debbie Hastings 




Carol teaching Genne Simons (KISS)


You wrote your own biography. How long did that take you? Did you revise all your contracts? And did it bring back things that you had forgotten?

It took me many decades to write my book. You do live through the early years again, yes, and some of the recording years too, but the boring record dates still remain somewhat a blur. Although people love that music, you have to purposely forget it as you walk out the door, on your way to the next record date to create your lines again for *that* producer and *that* style of music for *that* artist, completely different in the same day. Day after day, year after year....much of that is a blur, yes.  But the interesting things you do remember.


 Her autobiography

There are a lot of clips about you on Youtube. One of these seems to be a trailer of a documentary by Pekka Rautionmma. Have you participated in other documentaries? 

I'm in quite a few films about others, and yes, another one or two of my own too, but nothing notable personally.



Short documentary about Carol kaye by Pekka Rautionma



Carol Kaye Session Legend Interview

I remember reading in a newspaper article about you which included a mention of a car crash you suffered in 1976. Would you have continued as a studio musician if you hadn’t had the accident or had the music industry changed a lot in the seventies and the eighties for studio musicians?

At that time I said it was a "car accident", to protect the attacker who hurt me badly. It wasn't a car accident.Women back then had to lie about being attacked and hurt as the "victim was blamed" in those years.  I married a man briefly, who hurt me badly, injuring me. I sued him. He was into drugs and I did nothing to make him want to hurt me, but he was crazy and I didn't know about his drug problem.  I suffered from broken bones for many years. The last surgery in 1994 finally set a bone straight, so I could play again and be out of terrible pain.

Carol Kaye playing again 

 You played in the nineties and 2000’s with The Wilsons (Brian Wilson’s daughters), Matthew Sweet ( In reverse, 1999) and Money Mark (Brand new for tomorrow, 2007). How were these recordings? Did you feel comfortable with new producers? What differences did you find in the way of recording music today?

Brian was always good to work for. It was great seeing him again and working for him. Producers/engineers today love their dials, their sliders and don't know how to get the real sounds of many musicians playing together, to get the back-and-forth playing feelings and sounds together for hit recordings. It's probably not important to them, it's ALL EGO, all FAME, all NOTHING to do with real love of music. 


Nancy Wilson Carol Kaye's back, Plas Johnson listening to Nancy's hit of "Peace of mind" at Capitol Studio "A" in 1969. 

I taught a few engineers how to really record (no added EQ, no added sounds to mess with your great natural recording sounds) and did find an occasional engineer who knew how to mic my amp. But very few. They're all different, not the kinds of fine engineers and producers I worked with, sadly.


David Cohen and Carol Kaye, mid-60's Gold Star Studio 

After years playing in the shadows, finally you published records under your name with some original compositions: “Carol Kaye First Lady on the Bass” and “California Creamin’ – Carol K. and the Hitmen”. What do these records mean for you? What made you decide to record them?

The "California Creamin'" one was a pirated recording, which I copied then, I own the master, but a one-man German company (with a bad drug habit I heard) stole my recording Guitars 1965 and put that out. Anything with that California Creamin' title is a PHONY PIRATE ILLEGAL recording with bad sounds. Mine sound great, direct from my master.  I put out my own albums because I wanted to, as part of my book and course catalog.


Cover of California Creamin'


Cover of "The First Lady on the Bass" 

Interior picture of "The First Lady on the Bass"

Do you have news projects for this year? Could you explain something about them?

I think I've got enough done, live careers, being the most-recorded bassist in Studios. I had a publishing company, the largest single-owned Jazz catalog in the world, I wrote later Jazz studies to help everyone learn the REAL ways of learning/playing real jazz, I just finished my Autobiography which is out and selling well, with some film offers coming in... At 81, I still love to teach Jazz to pro's on Skype, and have recovered from the piracy that took my home away from me five years ago. Most seniors who lose like that, can't "come back" but I did.  I've worked hard since I was nine years old. God gave me good health because I don't use drugs, don't smoke, I don't drink booze. And have faith in God. 

"The Fender Bass player Carol Kaye could do anything and leave men in the dust" 
From "Q - the autobiography of Quincy Jones" (2001) 


Carol Kaye 

This playlist is dedicated to Carol Kaye. It was made by the members of Ampli, the Association of Catalan Librarians Specialized in Music and it's included in a bookmark we have produced in her honour.




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