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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