Meet Carol Kaye, the Unsung Bassist Behind Your Favorite 60s Hits

Carol Kaye: you may not recognize her name but chances are you’re familiar with her work.

Now 81, the lady has laid down some deeply iconic bass tracks in a career spanning 55 years and something in the neighborhood of 10,000 recording sessions.

Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright”?

The Beach Boys hits “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Sloop John B,” and “California Girls.” 

The theme song to The Brady Bunch?

Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin‘”?!?

Holy cow, talk about something to tell the grandkids.

Her interview for a never completed documentary above left me with none of the melancholy I felt on behalf of the under-recognized back up singers populating the recent film Twenty Feet from Stardom. This may be due to some rock and roll gender inequality. The girls far outnumber the boys in the ranks of backing vocals, where looks play an undeniable part, at least when the band’s out on the road. Kaye’s contributions occurred in the recording studio. She appears plenty content to have numbered among an elite team of hard working, clean living Los Angeles session musicians.

Unsurprisingly, she was one of a very few women in the field, though girls, take note: her website has 115 playing tips for fledgling bass players. Boys are free to take note too…

Now that you’ve “discovered” this legend, may we suggest setting an hour aside to get to know her better in the longer interview below? Also make sure you see our related post: 7 Female Bass Players Who Helped Shape Modern Music: Kim Gordon, Tina Weymouth, Kim Deal & More

Related Content:

7 Female Bass Players Who Helped Shape Modern Music: Kim Gordon, Tina Weymouth, Kim Deal & More

The Neuroscience of Bass: New Study Explains Why Bass Instruments Are Fundamental to Music

The Story of the Bass: New Video Gives Us 500 Years of Music History in 8 Minutes

Paul McCartney Offers a Short Tutorial on How to Play the Bass Guitar

Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, and creator of the award winning East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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Comments (9)
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  • Jeremy says:

    Laura Veirs has a nice song about her, entitled “Carol Kaye,” on her most recent album, “Warp and Weft.”

  • Kate S says:

    Thanks for bringing her to my attention. She’s wonderful and deserves to have her story told.

  • Rich says:

    I can’t see the vids above (work barrier) but she’s heavily featured in The Wrecking Crew, a great music docu about that West Coast era. Good stuff!

  • jahtez says:

    I’m not sure why she isn’t in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

  • Rick Waldron says:

    I had the privilege of taking private bass lessons with Carol Kaye about 15 years ago. She is an excellent instructor, a living music legend, and it is a crime she wasn’t inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame in the first group of Sidemen (even though she’s a Sidewoman) inductees.

  • Jose millares says:

    Please tell me she is still alive and healthy. I just discovered the wrecking crew! I am playing guitar every day and cannot believe that I have been oblivious to these wonderful musicians that made so much history and continue to not be recognized for their wonderful, pioneering work. She and they need to be recognized immediately to the hall of fame if they do not already have that distinction! The hall of fame is hollow until they have been recognized. You have my email, please let me know when she will be anywhere near Poughkeepsie, NY.

  • Andy says:

    She has a very comprehensive website. However, I chatted with her briefly by e-mail and she was not happy at all with The Wrecking Crew documentary. Felt Hal Blaine. who is in the R&R Hall of Fame, was a self-promoter and that the name The Wrecking Crew itself was made up by Hal. She lives outside of L.A. and says she doesn’t take visitors, just occasional major magazine and TV interviewers. I’m not really sure what would make her happy at this point, maybe a full bio of her life. She is in her early 80’s after all. And she would probably be the first to admit that there was nothing glamorous about her work at all. She just kept coming to work everyday.

  • Rich Sackett says:

    Carol Kaye did not play bass on Nsncy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”. Studio legend Chuck Berghofer did. Did she say she did?

  • Rich Sackett says:

    That’s rich AF for Carol Kaye to slander the most recorded drummer as a self-promoter (likely with 10,000 actual recordings himself) when she has routinely overstated her accomplishments to burnish her reputation and line her pockets. I doubt anyone can come up with 200 albums she played on, let alone thousands. She did not play on “These Boots Are Made For Walking” as claimed in the story. She was simply not at the “Good Vibrations” seesions. Ray Pohlman played that session, not Carol as she claims.

    Put plainly, Carol Kaye is a liar and a horrible person. Claiming credit for a famous recording because the guy died is some over-the-top Don Draper action.

    Have you seen the home page of her site? Just a nasty old woman.

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