Carol Kaye is considered by many to be the greatest bassist in the world. You haven’t heard of her?
Neither had I, until my ukulele-playing husband was nosing around YouTube and found Kaye teaching Gene Simmons of Kiss a lesson.
Here’s a news story about her:
You may not have know about her, but you HAVE heard her. She was the bassist on many hit songs in the 1960s and 1970s. Kaye was a session musician, someone who plays in the studio to make the record great.
She’s played an estimated 10,000 recordings in her 50-year career. Wikipedia lists the songs. They include:
- “I’m a Believer” (The Monkees)
- “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” (Nancy Sinatra)
- “La Bamba” (Ritchie Valens)
- “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny & Cher)
- “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (The Righteous Brothers)
Kaye was born in the middle of the Depression. Her parents were musicians, but money was so tight that her father sold her mother’s piano to finance a move from Washington to California. Her father was abusive. Kaye learned “the only thing that stopped the fights was music. I got the picture. If you do music, it makes things all right.”
After her parents’ divorce, her mother saved up $10 and bought her a steel guitar. Kaye took lessons, and her teacher eventually helped her get jazz gigs in Los Angeles nightclubs.
Jazz didn’t pay well. She still needed money. When someone came looking for a studio musician to help out on rock songs, she jumped at the chance. When a bassist didn’t show, Kaye switched instruments. She was so great, that despite being a woman in a man’s environment, she was in demand. Sometimes she booked so many dates that she had to stop and lay down at the studio.
She had two children and had to support them. Her second husband disliked her late hours, so she came home one night and rained her money on him in the bed. But she soon divorced him and found that a live-in nanny was better.
When a man would make a snide comment about a woman playing an instrument so well, she had a quick retort ready. “Well, you play good for a guy.”
Carol Kaye had to rely on herself. And she became the best in the business.