In America in the 1960s and early ’70s, bands made up of session musicians were used to record a substantial proportion of the pop music releases of the day and many classic film and TV soundtracks. The names of the players responsible for countless gems from this period have only become public knowledge in the last 15 years or so. This list of the great and good includes the legendary Carol Kaye, one of the world’s most recorded bass players.
Carol Kaye was born in Everett, Washington on 24 March, 1935, although she grew up just outside Los Angeles. She took up guitar and became proficient enough to be teaching the instrument at the tender age of 14. As well as constantly gigging playing bebop, Kaye began to work as a session guitarist in the late ’50s, recording the rhythm part to Richie Valen’s La Bamba, amongst others. In 1963 the bassist booked for a session failed to show and Kaye stepped into the breach. She rapidly became first call and, with a pick in her hand and a Fender Precision on her lap, recorded hundreds of tracks with various luminaries including The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, The Doors, Joe Cocker and Count Basie, amongst many others. Kaye claims to have recorded the bass parts for many of the Motown classics attributed to the late, great James Jamerson but those close to Motown have always denied this.
Kaye is not only a major figure for her recorded legacy. In 1969 she wrote one of the first, if not the first electric bass-specific tutoring book, How To Play Electric Bass and is also credited with changing the way the instrument is referred to: from ‘Fender’ to ‘electric’ bass. How To Play..., along with numerous subsequent publications, helped provide a structure for aspiring bass players and fleshed it out with relevant and graded material. Because this became the template, both in material and method, for teaching and learning the instrument, Kaye’s importance here is massive.
In the mid ’70s she developed arthritis, forcing her to retire from studio and live work. She began treating the condition with Glucosamine supplements and was eventually able to resume playing, albeit with a massively reduced workload, in the late ’80s.
These days you’ll find her packing an Ibanez SRX700HS bass and Gallien-Krueger rig. She’s still one of the foremost names in bass guitar education and has produced close to 30 invaluable instructional packages.