Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye (born March 24, 1935) is an American musician, known as one of the most prolific and widely heard bass guitarists, playing on an estimated 10,000 recordings in a career spanning over 50 years.

As a session musician, Kaye was the bassist on many Phil Spector and Brian Wilson productions in the 1960s and 1970s. She recorded guitar on Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” and is credited with the bass tracks on several Simon & Garfunkel hits and many film scores by Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin. One of the most popular albums Carol contributed to was the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

Life and career

Kaye was born in Everett, Washington, to professional musicians Clyde and Dot Smith. She grew up in poverty near Port Angeles and in 1949, at the age of fourteen began teaching guitar professionally. Throughout the 1950s, Kaye played bebop jazz guitar in dozens of nightclubs around Los Angeles with many noted bands including Bob Neal’s jazz group, Jack Sheldon backing Lenny Bruce, Teddy Edwards and Billy Higgins. By her own account, Kaye got into lucrative studio work “accidentally” in late 1957 with Sam Cooke. A few years later, when a bass player failed to show for a session at Capitol Records in Hollywood, she was asked to fill in on what was then often called the Fender bass. She was a member of The Wrecking Crew, which she insists was actually called “The Clique”, a group of studio musicians who played on a large number of hit records from Los Angeles in the 1960s.

Throughout the 1960s, while at the time unknown to the public, Kaye played bass on a substantial number of records that appeared on the Billboard Hot 100. By some estimates, she played on 10,000 recording sessions. Kaye played bass on many of the Beach Boys hit recordings, including “Help Me, Rhonda”, “Sloop John B”, and “California Girls”. She worked on Brian Wilson’s ill-fated but legendary Smile project and was present at the “Fire” session in late November 1966 when Wilson reportedly asked the studio musicians to wear toy fire hats. Kaye’s work also appears extensively on well-known television and film soundtracks from the 1960s and early 1970s.

She worked with most of the leading producers and musical directors in Los Angeles during that era, including Terry Melcher, Brian Wilson, Michel Legrand, Phil Spector, Elmer Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin, David Rose, Dave Grusin, Ernie Freeman, Hugo Montenegro, Leonard Rosenman, John Williams, Alfred Newman, David Axelrod and Lionel Newman. Her intense solo bass line, reverberating in quiet moments in Spector’s production of “River Deep, Mountain High”, lent drama to the song’s “Wall of Sound” and helped lift the record into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Kaye played the bass tracks on several of the Monkees hits, and did soundtrack work (including sound effects on bass guitar) for a young Steven Spielberg. She also came up with the famous intro on Glen Campbell’s greatest hit “Wichita Lineman”. Her tracks for Quincy Jones so impressed him, that he said in his 2001 autobiography Q that “… women like… Fender bass player Carol Kaye… could do anything and leave men in the dust.”

Kaye performed on several American television themes including the Quinn Martin produced Cannon, The Streets of San Francisco, Mission: Impossible, M*A*S*H, Kojak, Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes, The Love Boat, McCloud, Mannix, It Takes a Thief, Peyton Place and the Cosby Show. She is credited with performing on the soundtracks of Hawaii Five-O, The Addams Family and The Brady Bunch along with Ironside, Room 222, Bonanza, Wonder Woman, Alias Smith & Jones, Run for Your Life and Barnaby Jones.

In 1969, she wrote How To Play The Electric Bass, the first of many bass tutoring books and instructional video courses. She gave lessons to thousands of students, including John Clayton, Mike Porcaro, Alf Clausen, David Hughes, Tony Sales, Karl E. H. Seigfried, Roy Vogt and David Hungate. Kaye retired from studio work during the 1970s because of arthritis. She later became active again as a session musician, live jazz performer, and teacher of bass and guitar, giving seminars and interviews.

Kaye played 12-string guitar on Frank Zappa’s album Freak Out!. She also played on a few songs for his next album but declined to continue, saying she found some of the lyrics offensive. Kaye later said Zappa was good-natured and understanding about her qualms and they remained on friendly terms.


Unlike most bassists, Kaye primarily uses a pick, or plectrum, rather than plucking the strings with her fingers

Selected discography

Kaye played on hundreds of commercially released recordings and soundtracks. These lists represent only a small fraction of her recorded performances.

Electric bass credits

Credits for recorded singles on bass

  • “Soul Reggae” (Charles Kynard)
  • “The Daily Planet” (Love)
  • “Andmoreagain” (Love)
  • “Homeward Bound” (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • “California Girls”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Sloop John B”, “Help Me, Rhonda”, “Heroes and Villains” (The Beach Boys)
  • “Natural Man” (Lou Rawls)
  • “Come Together” (Count Basie)
  • “Feelin’ Alright” (Joe Cocker)
  • “I Think He’s Hiding” (Randy Newman)
  • “Games People Play” (Mel Tormé)
  • “Cantaro” (Gene Ammons)
  • “Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home” (Darlene Love)
  • “Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (The Lettermen)
  • “Little Honda” (The Hondells)
  • “Hikky Burr” (Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby & TV theme)
  • “I’m a Believer” (The Monkees)
  • “Indian Reservation” (Paul Revere & the Raiders)
  • “In the Heat of the Night”, “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, “America The Beautiful”, “Understanding” (Ray Charles)
  • “It Must Be Him” (Vikki Carr)
  • “Little Green Apples” (O.C. Smith)
  • “Midnight Confessions” (The Grass Roots)
  • “Mission: Impossible Theme” (Lalo Schifrin)
  • “Mannix Theme” (Lalo Schifrin)
  • “Out of This World” (Nancy Wilson)
  • “Wichita Lineman”,[9] “Galveston”, “Rhinestone Cowboy” (Glen Campbell)
  • “River Deep – Mountain High” (Ike & Tina Turner)
  • “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • “Sixteen Tons” (Tennessee Ernie Ford)
  • “Somethin’ Stupid” (Frank and Nancy Sinatra)
  • “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” (Nancy Sinatra)
  • “This Diamond Ring” (Gary Lewis & the Playboys)
  • “The Twelfth of Never” (Johnny Mathis)
  • “The Way We Were” (Barbra Streisand)
  • “Soul & Inspiration” bass, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” guitar (The Righteous Brothers)
  • “Carry On” (JJ Cale) – JJ Cale Styles Book

Album credits on bass

Selected highlights include:

  • Pet Sounds (The Beach Boys, 1966)
  • Neil Young (Neil Young)
  • Light My Fire (Gábor Szabó and Bob Thiele)
  • Music from Mission: Impossible (Lalo Schifrin, 1967)[9]
  • Song of Innocence (David Axelrod, 1968)
  • Songs of Experience (David Axelrod, 1969)
  • Release of an Oath (The Electric Prunes, 1968)
  • There’s a Whole Lalo Schifrin Goin’ On (Lalo Schifrin, 1968)
  • More Mission: Impossible (Lalo Schifrin, 1968)
  • Mannix (Lalo Schifrin, 1968)
  • Bullitt (Lalo Schifrin, 1968)
  • The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground (Don Ellis, 1969)
  • Let It Be (Bud Shank, 1970)
  • Dirty Harry (score by Lalo Schifrin, 1971)
  • Northern Windows (Hampton Hawes)
  • Big Man (Cannonball Adderley)
  • Reelin’ with the Feelin’ (Charles Kynard)
  • Charles Kynard (Charles Kynard, Mainstream, 1971)
  • Cameo (Dusty Springfield, 1972)
  • Joe Williams Live (Joe Williams, 1973)
  • Hugo In Wonder-land (Hugo Montenegro)
  • Your Good Thing (Lou Rawls)
  • You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (Lou Rawls)
  • The Funky Organ-ization of Henry Cain (Henry Cain)
  • The Zodiac : Cosmic Sounds
  • Pride (Pride) (1970)
  • Thumbs up (Ray Pizzi, Carol Kaye, Mitch Holder)(1999)
  • Picking Up On The E-String (Carol Kaye) (1995)
  • Freak Out! (Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention)1965
  • Absolutely Free (Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention) 1966
  • Cosmic Brotherhood (Bill Plummer, 1968)
  • Folk Rock Hits (Billy Strange, 1965)

Recorded credits on guitar

  • “Then He Kissed Me” (The Crystals)
  • “Danke Schoen” (Wayne Newton)
  • “Johnny Angel” (Shelley Fabares)
  • “La Bamba” (Ritchie Valens)[3]
  • “Let’s Dance” (Chris Montez)
  • “Needles and Pins” (Jackie DeShannon)
  • “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny & Cher)
  • “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (The Righteous Brothers)
  • “The Birds and the Bees” (Jewel Akens), with a Leslie speaker effect
  • “Mannix Theme” (Lalo Schifrin)
  • “The Daily Planet” (Love)

Disputed credits

Despite the belief that Kaye played on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” single,] a session list compiled by Craig Slowinski for The Smile Sessions box-set liner notes reveals that, although she unquestionably played on several sessions for the song, none of those recordings made the final edit as released on the single.

Teaching materials by Kaye

  • How To Play The Electric Bass
  • Personally yours (1970)
  • Electric Bass lines series Nos 1-6
  • Jazz Improv For Bass
  • Pro’s Jazz Phrases Bass
  • Bass DVD Course
  • Music Reading DVD w/Manual
  • Teaching Playing Hangin’ DVD
  • Jazz Bass CD & Guide
  • Rock-Funk Bass CD & Guide, produced Joe Pass
  • Carol Kaye: Bass CD
  • Bass Performances CD
  • Hit Bass Lines CD
  • Jazz Improv Soloing DVD Course
  • How to play Electric Bass chords

Archival recordings

  • California Creamin – Carol Kaye Guitars 1965 CD
  • Better Days (1971) CD


  • Rockin Suuri Tuntematon aka First Lady of Bass: Carol Kaye documentary, Pekka Rautiomaa, YLE Dokumenttiohjelmat 2004
  • The Wrecking Crew, 2008
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