If you asked me to name the best representative of rock and roll as a boy’s club, KISS would be high on my list. Despite their commitment to a gender-bending glam style, Frontmen Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley’s chest hair rugs, wagging tongues, and studded codpieces are exaggerated examples of seventies virility—a rock era known for progressive music, but not progressive gender politics.
If you asked me to name a musician who had challenged and defied gender stereotypes in rock and roll, Carol Kaye— bassist and member of L.A.’s top flight session musicians the Wrecking Crew—would be high on my list. Kaye and her crew helped create the sound of Phil Spector records, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, and so many other classic sixties artists.
Kaye never particularly saw herself as a pioneer or pathbreaker, but her smooth, unpretentious professionalism carried her through a career most musicians, male and female, would envy, even if she never stood in the spotlight herself. Her attitude, approach, and playing are pretty much the opposite of the bombastic, mercenary Simmons, who has on more than one occasion weathered charges of sexism in his pursuit of bigger, louder, dumber music and more tawdry reality TV.
In the short clip above, the two legends meet, and Kaye sits Simmons down and shows him how it’s done.
She has taught hundreds of students to imitate, though never duplicate, her chops, and earned the clout to take Simmons to school (though she seems surprised to be doing so); Kaye largely helped invent the sound of rock bass and elevated the instrument from a supporting player to an indispensable lead one as well.
The clip comes from an unfinished documentary that features over an hour of interview footage in which Kaye discusses her start in music and longtime success, and demonstrates more of her phenomenal, understated playing.