Petrology 202: Carol Kaye

Carol 7If you’ve listened to any amount of popular music from the 1960s and 70s, you know Carol Kaye; perhaps you just don’t know you know Carol Kaye.

My apologies to the folks who already have a solid grasp of behind-the-scenes studio musicianship from the era, but this statement could also hold true to the following names:

Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel, Barney Kessel, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, and hundreds of other musicians who worked the West Coast studio circuit from 1950-something up until the mid 80s, when technology more or less made the system obsolete.

But that’s not the point here. The point is: Carol Kaye is the bass player on the soundtrack of your life.

Now, you could argue, “Hey, I’m not a big fan of 60s music and I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a Beach Boys song in my life.” Fair enough. Have you ever watched a 70s television show or watched a 60s movie? Often overlooked in these types of discussions is that somebody had to play the theme song to M*A*S*H* and who do you think did it? Studio musicians. West Coast studio musicians, since that’s where all the TV and film companies like 20th Century Fox and Universal are located. There was also a Nashville studio scene happening at the same time, but by and large, they were two completely different entities with very different agendas.

009cTelevision theme songs were often the most memorable part of the entire show. I can still whistle the theme to Courtship of Eddie’s Father (Nilsson’s “Best Friend”); other than Bill Bixby, it was about a boy and a single father? They had a maid?

Welcome Back, Kotter is another example of a great theme song (“Welcome Back” by John Sebastian) but crap show. I was out of there before the first commercial break. I couldn’t stand Vinnie Barbarino, Arnold Horshack, or that stupid mean principal. The only guy I liked on that show was Juan Epstein, because he looked like the conga player in Santana.

Anyway, for the record, Carol Kaye’s bass (and guitar) credits are far too numerous (visit her website for an exhaustive list) but she played bass on the theme songs to:

Mission Impossible, Brady Bunch, Addams Family, Cannon, McCloud, Room 222, (the first) Bill Cosby Show, Ironside, Kojak, Hawaii 5-O, Wonder Woman, Soap, Hogan’s Heroes, Alice, Love Boat, Get Smart, Green Acres, Wild Wild West, Lost in Space, Lucy, Mannix, C.S.I., House, ER, The West Wing, News Radio, King of The Hill, and one of my favorite theme songs ever, The Bob Newhart TV Show.

PetCarol Kaye is probably best known for her work with the Beach Boys, particularly on Pet Sounds, but she’s all over their stuff from “Surfin’ U.S.A.” up until 1969, when she decided to stop doing rock/pop sessions, a decision based on her background as a jazz musician.

Meanwhile, in addition to being the number one bass player on the West Coast studio scene, Carol was also in high demand as a guitar player. That’s her on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers, and that’s her on “La Bamba” by Richie Valens.

The following is a condensed list of the biggest hits featuring Carol on bass, and only the big ones:

Good Vibrations, Help Me Rhonda, Sloop John B, I Get Around, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, California. Girls, God Only Knows, Pet Sounds, Heroes & Villains, Caroline No, Surf’s Up, the whole Smile LP, Cabinessence – Beach Boys
These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra
Feelin’ Alright Joe Cocker
The Way We Were – Barbra Streisand
Love Story, Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You – Andy Williams
Don HoI Don’t Need No Doctor – Ray Charles
Romeo & Juliet Theme (A Time For Love), Godfather Theme – Henry Mancini
Rhythm Of The Rain – Cascades
I Was Made To Love Her – Stevie Wonder
Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley
Candy Man, Mr. Bojangles – Sammy Davis Jr.
Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
Someday We’ll Be Together Again – Diana Ross
Ain’t Nothin’ But The Real Thing – Marvin Gaye & Tami Terrell
Don’t Pull Your Love Out On Me, Baby – Hamilton, Joe Franks & Reynolds
Memories – Johnny Mathis
Tiny Bubbles – Don Ho
Batman Theme – Marketts
I’m A Believer, Last Train To Clarksville & others – The Monkees
Homeward Bound, I Am A Rock, Scarborough Fair – Simon & Garfunkel
River Deep, Mountain High – Tina Turner
It’s A Small World – Mike Curb & Congregation
Light My Fire – The Doors
Carol 2Love Child, Baby Love, Stop In The Name Of Love, Back In My Arms Again, You Can’t Hurry Love, My World Is Empty Without You – The Supremes
I Can’t Help Myself – The Four Tops
Get Ready, I Second That Emotion – The Temptations
Da Doo Ron Ron – The Crystals
Midnight Confessions – Grass Roots
You Made Me So Very Happy – Brenda Holloway
Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford
Alone Again Or, Daily Planet – Love
Winter Wonderland – Darlene Love
The Summer Wind – Wayne Newton

I’d been thinking a lot about Carol for a couple of reasons. My family listens to Pet Sounds at homeand the bass is transcendent.

Pet Sounds TrackI’m a big fan of liner notes. Always have been. When Capitol released the 40th Anniversary Edition, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the CD, as it contained extensive liner notes and a track-by-track analysis of Who Played What?

Brian Wilson’s production techniques rarely used just one of anything. A track like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, in addition to the five Beach Boys’ vocals, features 16 session musicians.

  • Jerry Cole – guitar
  • Bill Pitman – guitar
  • Larry Knechtel – piano
  • Al de Lory – piano
  • Barney Kessel – 12-string mandolin
  • Ray Pohlman – 6-string bass guitar
  • Carl Fortina – accordion
  • Frank Marocco – accordion
  • Roy Caton – trumpet
  • Steve Douglas – saxophone
  • Plas Johnson – saxophone
  • Jay Migliori – saxophone
  • Carol Kaye – bass guitar
  • Lyle Ritz – double bass
  • Hal Blaine – drums
  • Frank Capp – percussion

Carol 1Cycling through the tracks, a pattern emerged:

Carol Kaye – bass guitar

Lyle Ritz – upright bass

In all, I found only four exceptions on the re-issue: “God Only Knows” has three bass players, including Ray Pohlman; Carol doesn’t play at all on “I Know There’s An Answer” and “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”; Lyle Ritz plays ukulele on “Caroline, No”. Did you know there was a ukulele on that song?

No, Caroline. No.

The bass sounds so full and fat because it’s doubled. Question answered, case closed. But then I got to thinking, “Hmm, I wonder how that worked?” Asking Brian Wilson was almost unthinkable. I mean, I thought about it for a second. Dude doesn’t have time to chat with me about 50 year-old bass lines. Or maybe he does? How would someone go about contacting Brian Wilson with an interview request? So I started poking around and learned a cool little trick: IMDB Pro has a free 14-day trial, and this lets you search almost any artist’s agent/manager/rep.

WMThis works for just about any big shot, since IMDB tracks anyone who’s ever had a film credit—just remember to cancel the free 14-day trial or you’re gonna get jacked for $14.95 a month (or worse).

Brian Wilson is rep’d by William Morris Endeavor (WME) and his publicist is a woman named Jane Sievers. Hell, I’ve got her addresses and phone number. Though I could theoretically hit her up anytime, the odds of a reply—at least in my estimation—are lower than low.

Anyway, there were two main talent agencies: WME and Creative Artists Agency (CAA), and just about any big star was rep’d by one of them.

EVHThen I went on a blitz, searching everyone I could think of. Ozzy Osbourne, Wayne Brady, Warren Buffet (he’s got an agent at CAA!), and sure enough, I found the contact info for the people who rep these big shots. Now, I’m painfully self-aware and I understand my place in the world.

It would be vain and foolhardy to waste one minute of Eddie Van Halen’s publicist’s time by requesting an interview. And besides, EVH’s manager is Irving Azoff, one of the biggest of big shots, and his company doesn’t even have a website, just a phone number. But anyway, it showed me that there is a way to contact just about anybody you can think of. It can be done. Whether or not they reply is a different matter.

Ultimately, what I am going to say to Eddie Van Halen? What am I going to ask him that he hasn’t been asked many times over? Nothing.

But I’m digging on the Carol Kaye/Lyle Ritz tag team, and I think, “Well, I’ve got a legitimate starting point for an interview, maybe I can track one of ‘em down?”

Lyle Ritz happens to be a big-time ukulele player in Portland. NPR calls him “The Father of Jazz Ukulele”. However, Ritz has zero presence on the web and I don’t give a shit about ukulele. Actually, I’m rather annoyed by the sound of it. But whatever. Type “Carol Kaye” in the search bar and Bam! Her official website is the first entry.

Wow. If you are at all interested in popular music of the 60s and 70s, Carol Kaye’s website, though somewhat aesthetically primitive, is a treasure trove of fascinating perspective.

Rather than run through the rest of Carol’s biography, it would be much better for everyone to read her version of her story, which she has so eloquently put into words here.


We are all the center of our own universe. No matter what you do as an artist, whether you go to great lengths to avoid self-reference, the end result is always autobiographical, simply because it cannot be any other way. Keep that in mind when you want to approach your heroes, especially heroes like Carol Kaye, who basically invite you to contact her. Carol Kaye, in addition to being a performer, is also an active teacher.

At that moment, I had to stop and think, “OK, what am I going to talk about besides the bass on Pet Sounds?” The last thing I wanted to do was re-enact the infamous Chris Farley-Paul McCartney skit from Saturday Night Live.

It’s almost as if there would be no reason to contact her, other than as an adoring fan with a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates. Had this whole thing taken place 15-20 years ago when I first started hearing Pet Sounds, it would have been more of a challenge to find and contact Carol (or any other of my heroes).

Hal 1Carol is frequently associated with “The Wrecking Crew”—coined by Hal Blaine for the main group of West Coast studio musicians who often worked together on random dates, doing so in many cases anonymously.

Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew: The Story of the World’s Most Recorded Musician, co-written by Blaine with David Goggin, (1990), recounts Blaine’s experiences as a professional drummer, playing with/for such greats as Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, and a host of other well-known artists, beginning in the late 1950s.

Certainly, Hal Blaine is one of the most prolific drummers in recording music history and the mortal enemy of drum machines everywhere—so I love this fucking guy. He has played on 50 number one hits, over 150 top ten hits and has recorded, and is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In his book, Blaine goes OFF on the erosion of organic music via the rise of technology, and while he’s right, fellow Wrecking Crew drummer Jim Keltner once said of digital music, “You could see it coming—it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone.”

***

Carol 5An eponymous documentary premiered at the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival. According to the Wikipedia entry, The Wrecking Crew featured interviews include Al Casey (guitar), Bill Pitman (guitar, bass), Bones Howe, Brian Wilson, Cher, Dick Clark, Don Randi (piano), Earl Palmer (drums), Gary Lewis, Glen Campbell (guitar), Hal Blaine (drums), Herb Alpert, Jimmy Webb, Joe Osborn (bass), Julius Wechter (percussion), Lou Adler, Lew McCreary (trombone), Micky Dolenz, Nancy Sinatra, Plas Johnson (sax), Roger McGuinn, Tommy “Snuff” Garrett, and Tommy Tedesco (guitar).

Now, what name don’t you see there? Carol Kaye. You’re telling me they made a movie about the so-called Wrecking Crew and she’s not it in it? Can’t be true. Because it’s not. Carol Kaye is in the film. In fact, she’s all over the film. So why is she completely scrubbed from the film’s official website?

The answer, which is now common knowledge among Carol Kaye fans, is that since the movie premiered, Carol has essentially denounced her involvement in the film as well as refuting the term The Wrecking Crew. Well, now we have something to talk about.

Interview Request and Question

From: Christian Adams <black.sunshine.media@gmail.com>

To: Carol Kaye <ckaye4@roadrunner.com>

Dear Ms. Kaye,

You are by far my favorite bass player of all-time. Your website is awesome. My name is Christian Adams and I am a writer and musician, as well as owner of Black Sunshine Media, a weblog-slash-publishing company dedicated to music, literature, and visual arts, based in Taipei, Taiwan. I’ve been doing a lot of research about “The Clique” and I would love an opportunity to interview you about so many things. However, I do have one pressing question: Are you still active as a recording artist? I mean, can someone call you up and say, “Would you play on my record next week?” If so, how much does that cost?

I have so much respect and admiration for you, so I will not take up anymore of your time. I would be thrilled to hear from you, but in the meantime, I can watch you for hours on YouTube.

Sincerely,

Christian Adams

From: Carol Kaye <ckaye4@roadrunner.com>
Lately I’m not recording, as am in the middle of recovering from [redacted]….and now am in recovery [redacted]…so am paying attention to that, teaching jazz on Skype worldwide, and producing new educational items for my catalog. I haven’t heard anything that is worthy to even charge my regular $1,000 recording fee to do anything on.
I first stopped recording in 1969 because I felt that I was doing “card-board music”, it was so bad by then, I never wanted to play another note of music again – was so burned out from recording rock and bad pop records….etc….but playing live with Joe Pass got me back to liking music again.  I only listen to jazz and classical (like most of my group,. we were all jazz musicians and/or big-band musicians and do NOT listen to anything rock or pop etc.)….so that’s it in a nutshell.   If you still want to do the interview, yes I’m interested…thanks for our right name of “The Clique” but really we were ALL independent, the 350-400 STUDIO MUSICIANS who recorded the 1960s.

From: Christian Adams <black.sunshine.media@gmail.com>

Ms. Kaye,

I am shocked to hear about your misfortune. I can’t even imagine how it’s possible you are in such a position, and this is something I would definitely like to discuss in the interview if it’s OK with you.

Meanwhile, as I said before, I think your website is awesome. It was certainly the golden era of popular music in terms of musicians and musicianship, and we’ll never see that again.

Please let me know your availability to talk. Do you prefer Skype or email? Thank you so much for your reply.

Sincerely,

Christian Adams

From: Carol Kaye <ckaye4@roadrunner.com>
We can do Skype if you like and I can play a little bit too (for the audio)…..we can try for next week.  How about next Wed. the 13th   afternoon Pacific time anywhere from 1 or 2PM or 3PM?  Maybe not mention the [redacted] I went through, yes it was tough but they don’t want to hear about that but about the music….  Sending you some data attachments you might enjoy to scan a little bit…thx   When we set time, I’ll give you my Skype name, thanks, best, Carol K

From: Christian Adams <black.sunshine.media@gmail.com>

Ms. Kaye,

Confirming next Wednesday 3/13 1:00 PM PST. Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for the attachments. My heart stopped for a second. Could I have your permission to re-post some of those on my weblog? Amazing! P.S. I wouldn’t feel comfortable addressing you as Carol until we’ve met and spoken. I hope that’s OK?

Thank you! My Skype name: [omitted]

From: Carol Kaye <ckaye4@roadrunner.com>
Yes, OK to post some of that online. I send them out to journalists and VIPS so it’s OK for gen’l public.
OK Christian you’re on!  1PM next Wed. my Skype name is: [omitted]  See you then, and will have amp on and play a little guitar and bass lines…decent levels.  Remember, I’m almost 78, be kind…(lol)…thx, Carol K  thx for using our right name of “the Clique”…Studio Musicians we’re all called.

From: Christian Adams <black.sunshine.media@gmail.com>

Well, I’m a big fan of Pet Sounds, of course, who isn’t? Pretty much everything that needs to be said about that record has already been said, so I was looking at other angles, like the culture of studio musicians. So that led me to the Tedesco documentary, which got me to thinking about you, and after I read an interview with Denny, something didn’t smell right. Somehow I would up listening to your interview with Songfacts and it was sort of an “Aha!” moment. But I can ask you about that later. Thank you. This has been an incredible morning. I can’t wait for the interview.

From: Carol Kaye <ckaye4@roadrunner.com>
Forgot to send you the BB credits list and a couple of others too…you were RIGHT! Thanks and you’re not the only who catches that there’s something funny about Denny….most catch that but don’t know what’s wrong….he makes people uncomfortable with his hustling manners…
I’ve had a couple email me with “what is wrong with you musicians being so greedy and ruining the whole music biz”…that kind of talk….turned out he believed we were all “clowns like Tommy Tedesco” and mafia etc…that film just provokes the WRONG ID of us period….the only ones who like it are rock wannabees and a few in rock who hate all other kinds of music….no jazz musician likes that film at all, they see it what it is, ,a phony film…
we can talk about it a little bit, I just don’t want to dwell on negativity but the GOOD TRUTHFUL STORY OF who we are, and what we did and YES, most of us were great people, family people from all walks of life who LOVED the music we recorded…that’s the story how we all (of all colors creeds etc) worked *together* during an upsetting time, the 1960s.   Thanks, for giving me this opportunity to do so, all the best, see attachments herein, CK

From: Christian Adams <black.sunshine.media@gmail.com>

Thanks again! By the way, I learned to play guitar with a lot of help from TT’s columns and bass by playing along to the BBs. So the idea of TT being a “clown” is unpleasant at best. And you’re right, let’s not dwell too much on that. I’ve really enjoyed some of your videos where you’re talking about how you came up with bass lines on certain songs. Plus, I wanted to ask you, even though you’re into jazz, was there ever a “pop” song that you didn’t play on but wished you had? Or maybe even a jazz record that you wish you’d been a part of? I’m more interested in what inspired you to be creative.

From: Carol Kaye <ckaye4@roadrunner.com>
Tommy back then was decent, why it was a surprise what happened later on when he was in on Howard Roberts’ school and the bad stuff that happened when TT bought into that.  The “clown” stuff was Denny’s idea. He had no idea who his Dad was and was taking orders from Hal Blaine who he calls his “father” now in a way.
Tommy did some good things yes, but like you say best not to get into all that….thx.  I don’t think you want to hear what happened to Howard’s school….his son is avoiding that too with his Howard Roberts Tribute…
I had known Howard since I was 16, he was a great guy, great family man, a straight-shooter, a jazz guitar icon who is better-known for his great TV (mission Impossible, Bat Man…Bonanza, etc.) guitar work in the movies etc…one of the jazz guitar greats. He took lessons from “our teacher” and would drop down to Long Beach to visit him, Hatch he was called (Horace Hatchett)….so I’ve known him since 1949 or so…he’s the REAL talent of guitar, tho’ Tommy did some nice gut-string guitar things, he was a utility guitar player, good at “everything”…Howard was *the* jazz guitar player, besides Barney Kessel…
Actually, most studio guitar players in the studios were jazzmen….the most-recorded is Mancini (and Johnny Carson Tonite TV show guitarist), Bob Bain 1947 on….you won’t hear of him no….but he did tens of 1,000s of movie scores, record dates, TV film calls, and even live TV.
If you feel uncomfortable with that…believe me, there’s a LOT MORE you don’t want to know …..images are important to people….the truth sometimes can hurt badly…..it’s all not good, Howard died as the result of royalties for HIS school being withheld…died of cancer.  I saw the lawsuit transcript…
Sounds like you’re into the rock aspect….the truth is….90% of the real studio musicians were either jazz musicians or former big-band (swing only) musicians in the studio work.  I don’t do interviews with people who won’t/don’t understand that.

From: Christian Adams <black.sunshine.media@gmail.com>

Carol 8Actually, I’m much more interested in the jazz aspect than rock these days. Perhaps it’s aging (I’m 45) and probably due to the fact that my first love was drums, which I started at age 7 – playing jazz. Around the age of 10, my school band director hired me to play in his big band, doing “Woodchopper’s Ball” and all that. I was wheeled out as a “child prodigy” and it didn’t last long once the novelty wore off. Plus my parents weren’t cool with me being out until 2:00 AM on a Saturday night. Then I got my hands on a Chet Atkins record and goodbye drums. Did you ever meet or work with Chet Atkins? That would be something I’d love to hear about.

I have to admit that I need to do my homework in:re Howard Roberts. And knowing the truth is always better. Bob Bain is also someone I’m now interested in. I’ve been watching a lot of old school cartoons with my 1-year-old and constantly say to my wife, “Man, the music is awesome! Can you hear that?” Anyway, it makes total sense to me that the real studio cats were jazz musicians, since most rockers can’t read, it’s as simple as that.

From: Carol Kaye <ckaye4@roadrunner.com>
I sent my tape recording of a friend I recorded with in Toronto, the great Lennie Breau who stayed at my house with his debut Dontes Jazz Club appearance in1969…sent Chet Atkins a copy of that, but never met him no…he was in Nashville, not in Hollywood…Chet was a fine guitarist, yes, but not jazz no.
I’ll send you some more info (attached).    From my Biography Page:
<<<<<<

From: Christian Adams <black.sunshine.media@gmail.com>

LennyMy uncle gave me a copy of The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau when I started playing guitar. I remember saying, “There’s no way I can do that! Give me something I can play along to!”

“The Claw” is an all-time favorite. And also, one thing that doesn’t get enough exposure is your guitar work. I want to talk about that. Of course you’re right about Chet Atkins. But I’ve read that the only reason he didn’t play more jazz was that RCA wouldn’t let him. Have you ever heard Jazz From The Hills with the Country All-Stars. It’s pretty cool.

From: Carol Kaye <ckaye4@roadrunner.com>
Christian, sorry I can’t do the interview this Wed….have some important film business to discuss then with producers….we’ll do it another time, just am tied up next week, thanks for understanding, all the best, Carol Kaye

From: Christian Adams <black.sunshine.media@gmail.com>

Ms. Kaye, It has been an honor and a divine privilege to have corresponded with you thus far. Of course I understand and please let me know when you’re available – any time. I sincerely hope all is well and business goes smoothly. Thank you for your time.

_____________________

That’s it. I haven’t heard back from Carol and I don’t expect to. My gut instinct is that (a) she knows I’m a “rock” guy and she doesn’t really cotton to my type, and (b) she probably got a look-see at some of the stuff I have on here and thought, “Nah, I’m not down with this guy.”

It’s kind of funny that she is so anti-rock; actually, she’s a total jazz snob. I don’t go around pushing people off their unicycles.

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3 Comments

  1. The conga player from Santana, the one who Juan Epstein (also the only Sweathog I didn’t want to punch in the face), are we talking about Pete Escovedo, father of Prince protege Lisa E and uncle of immortal Austin Godfather Alejandro Escovedo?
    That conga player?

    1. Raj, yes. Probably. I was 10 years old, so the whole band looked like Epstein to me – except Mike Shrieve. But big props to the Escovedos. Shiela E. is a top 10 drummer in my book. Her work on Prince’s Lovesexy is jaw-dropping (see: “Dance On”).

      1. Damn, brainfart there, Pete and Alejandro are BROTHERS, Alej is Sheila’s uncle, not cousin. There’s a third brother too, his name exscapes me. They all played together in various Latin punk and then Americana/Roots outfits before Alejandro formed the great, great Rank and File in the 80s

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