That intro to Wichita Lineman that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, Good Vibrations and the seminal Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World – all of them graced by the impeccable bass playing of the most recorded bassist of all time – who just happened to be a woman. Why is Carol Kaye not better known? From the 1950s and into the 1970s she was the go-to session bass and guitar player appearing on countless legendary recordings: You’ve lost that Loving Feeling by The Righteous Brothers, America the Beautiful by Ray Charles, The Way we Were by Barbra Streisand, Phil Spector’s River Deep Mountain High, I’m a Believer by The Monkees, Somethin Stupid by Nancy and Frank Sinatra and Nancy’s solo mega hit These Boots are Made for Walking as well as many of Simon’s and Garfunkel’s biggest tunes – the list is literally endless.
Kaye was born in 1935 into extreme poverty and was a professional guitar player by the age of 14. A single mother with two children at 21, she played gig after gig to support herself and her widowed mother. ‘I was a white girl with blonde hair, but I was welcome in the black clubs. If you could play, you were welcome. People knew I wasn’t somebody’s girlfriend or some hanger-on.’
An integral part of the group of LA musicians dubbed ‘The Wrecking Crew’, Kaye played on famous film scores and TV themes such as In The Heat Of The Night, The Thomas Crown Affair, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid , M.A.S.H., Mission Impossible and Hawaii 5-0 to name just a few. After retiring from active studio work, she became an in-demand instructor and best-selling author of guitar instruction books. Somehow however, her name doesn’t trip off the tongue of those citing the guitar greats.
Claiming that the only professional advice she ever received was ‘don’t be late’, Kaye modestly recalls that ‘people were surprised to learn that this little white girl was playing such funky, groovy stuff on a bass, but I was just doing what came naturally.’
Hear her doing her stuff – including the intro she made up on the spot – below on Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman.