Carol Kaye is the bassist on thousands of 20th century recordings, from The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds to Nancy Sinatra's These Boots are Made for Walkin', to Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman. Oh, and she also played on the Mothers of Invention's Freak Out! and the Batman theme song. The list goes on and on and on.
Get this woman into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, stat!
PKM: When producers, like Brian Wilson with “Good Vibrations,” would do a single song in parts over many sessions was that frustrating or fun for you?
Carol Kaye: You know Brian was a nice young kid. We worked for a lot of those young guys back then and Brian had something special about him, and he grew with every date. You saw his talent getting better and better and better. He’d only do one song for a three-hour date and that does get boring after a while, but he would come in and he’d give you this handwritten, kind of funny sheet music with stems on the wrong side of the notes and sharps and flats everywhere. He would sit down at the piano and play the song, to kind of give us a feel for it, and then he’d go in the booth and take charge from there. I never knew he played bass until a lot later because he never told me he played bass, I thought he was a piano player. But he wrote the bass parts out because he had certain parts that he wanted to jibe together and he heard these sounds. I think it was because of his fascination with The Four Freshmen. Brian heard music in a different way. He was a nice young man who had a sense of humor and everything he touched was a hit. And the Beach Boys were never there. They’d come in and say hello for five minutes and then walk back out, but Brian was in charge of it all, so he was a sharp young guy.
PKM: So the job as you’re describing it was to make the song happen whether it was inventing your part or cold reading notes or somewhere in between, and bass is interesting because some non-musicians don’t even know the bass does, they can’t even identify it, but it can really affect a song.
Carol Kaye: The bass is the foundation, and with the drummer you create the beat. Whatever you play puts a framework around the rest of the music, and Brian Wilson was bass conscious. Sometimes he’d have a string bass playing along with me, mixed so that you never heard it too much, but you felt it there. Another date with the string bass was “Boots” by Nancy Sinatra. That was kind of a throwaway tune, the last tune of the three-hour date. Lee Hazlewood in the booth said to Chuck Berghofer, the string bass player, to play a line like (Carol hums a slow descending bass line), so that’s what Chuck did. Lee stopped him and said “No, no. Make them closer together.” So that’s what you hear when you hear that bass go (Carole hums the famous bass intro to “These Boots Were Made For Walking”), and then I’m joining in at the bottom. We went to the next date and didn’t think a thing about it, and that darn thing was a big hit.
Here is a short YouTube introduction to Ms. Kaye.
Image: YouTube Screengrab