Born March 24, 1935, in Everett, WA, to musician parents Clyde and Dot Smith. Addresses: Carol Kaye, P.O. Box 2122, Canyon Country, CA 91386. E-

The title, First Lady On Bass, of Carol Kaye's 1996 release as primary artist hints at her legendary career as an electric bass player. Beginning in 1957 as a guitarist, and spanning over 35 years, Kaye's successful career as a studio musician includes performances on soundtracks recorded for television, film, and advertising, as well as several hit records. As of early 1998, she continued to hold the ecord for the most recorded performances on electric bass in the world--male or female, with over 10,000 studio recording performances to her credit. In addition to all her studio work, she has played live at festivals, tradeshows, clinics, and seminars, and is considered a leader in instruction on the Electric Bass. Beginning in 1969, Kaye wrote and published many tutorial books, audio cassettes, and video tapes instructing others how to play the bass. Kaye has also taught many now well- known bass players and has given workshops throughout the United States.

Carol Kaye was born on March 24, 1935 in Everett, Washington, to professional musician parents, Clyde and Dot Smith. Six years later, in 1941, the family moved to California, and lived in a housing project in Wilmington, California. At age 13, Kaye took guitar lessons for three months with Horace Hatchett and within one year, in 1949, she was teaching others on the guitar. Shortly after that, she began playing semi-jazz jobs and by the age of 20 was playing on the road with big bands.

Kaye was strongly influenced musically by both of her musician parents, Clyde and Dot Smith. Other notable influences include Ray Charles, Charlie Christian, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Hampton Hawes, Ralph Pena, Howard Roberts, Artie Shaw, Horace Silver, and Sonny Stitt.

From 1956-63 Kaye played behop with some of the most popular jazz groups from Los Angeles, mostly in black clubs, which were known to be the hot spots. Her earliest work as a studio performer had serendipitous beginnings; during 1957 she "accidentally" fell into studio work doing recordings with Sam Cooke. Bumps Blackwell heard Kaye play at the Beverly Caverns when she was performing with the Teddy Edwards jazz group, which also included Curtis Counce on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. For the first five years of her studio recording career, from 1957-62, she played guitar on many big recordings including almost all of Phil Spector's 1960's sessions. She, along with others who worked with Spector, were known as "The Wrecking Crew."

Her next lucky break occurred in 1963 when a bassist failed to show up for a recording date at Capitol Records. Kaye stepped in and that initiated her career as a bass player. She created an entirely new sound on the bass by using her guitar pick. After her accidental initiation on the electric bass in 1963, she quickly became the mospopular player on the electric bass, a position she held throughout the 1960s. Kaye was the first person called to play bass at recording studiosbecause of her ability to create good lines. She worked for record, film and television companies, and played in commercial advertising pieces. She worked under the direction of such notables as Quincy Jones, Elmer Bernstein, Ernie Freeman, John Williams, and David Rose.

Just a tiny selection of the hit songs on which she performed include "Help Me Rhonda" (The Beach Boys), "These Boots Are Made For Walking" (Nancy Sinatra), "Wichita Lineman" (Glen Campbell), "I Got You Babe" (Sonny and Cher), and "Feeling Alright" (Joe Cocker). Some of the other recording artists she has worked with include Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Frank Zappa, Ike and Tina Turner, Johnny Mathis, Simon and Garfunkel, The Righteous Brothers, The Marketts, Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass, Andy Williams, The Buckinghams, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Gary Lewis and The Playboys, and The Doors.

Television themes on which she has performed include Mision Impossible, M.A.S.H., Kojak, Get Smart, FBI, Hogan's Heroes, The Love Boat, McCloud, Mannix, It Takes a Thief, The Streets of San Francisco, and Peyton Place. Kaye, who has recorded at the most prestigious studios including Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., and Paramount, recalled how Bill Cosby picked up a tambourine to play with the others during recording for the soundtrack of the first Cosby Show.

Life as a studio recording performer was anything but glamorous. The pace was frantic and many times Kaye remembered eating on the run, getting food from vending machines, and sleeping on the floor when the performers had a five minute break. She said that getting eight hours sleep at night was unknown, four or five hours was more likely. When outsiders would ask how to break into studio recording, Kaye responded in an online interview that one had to "learn how to grab a parking place, don't be late, and carry a pencil, don't be egotistical, oh and yes, know how to create, read music, and play your ass off."

Although there was much comradery between musicians, the competition was fierce. Kaye said that "you NEVER turned down a record date, or a movie/TV film call ... and you rarely announced an 'out-of-town' vacation." She recalled one time when she got away with her family for a vacation on a houseboat in the Bay area, and they made their way to a lake in the Northern California area only to be tracked down by a movie contractor who demanded she return right away to do a movie score. Kaye felt that if she didn't obey such a directive from a contractor that another performer would gladly have stepped into her place.

During the time Kaye worked as a studio recording artist in the 1960s and early 1970s, there were about 17,000 other musicians doing similar work. They were called "studio musicians," and were all independent artists belonging to the Local 47 Musician's Union in the Los Angeles, California, area. Membership in the Union included a listing in the Union book, which is still printed today, and each "independent" would place bookings via an "answering service."

Although the competition between them could be intense, the musicians also created a sort of community among themselves and would encourage new talent whenever possible. Kaye and a core group of some 300 fellow musicians performed together regularly from 1958-81. From her earliest memories, Kaye had always found that music added a certain "sparkle" to her life whenever she heard it. During an online interview at her official website, she discussed the comradery between fellow musicians and the enjoyment she still gets upon hearing fellow performers years later on the radio: "The sparkle is still there years later after all the recording we did.... I grew fond of so many, we were all in it together." When asked if she missed the frantic pace of studio recording, she responded, "You bet I do, nothing like it, and we all miss each other too, they were the best!"

by Debra Reilly

Carol Kaye's Career

Began playing professionally with big bands and top jazz groups, 1949; began studio work playing guitar, 1957; began playing Fender or Electric Bass, 1963; First Call on bass by studios recording music for records, movies, television and commercials, c. 1964-69; performed with many popular recording artists including The Beach Boys, Barbra Streisand, Sonny and Cher, The Monkees, Joe Cocker, Ike and Tina Turner, Johnny Mathis, Nancy Sinatra, Ray Charles, Glen Campbell, Frank Zappa, and Herb Albert; studio credits for performances on television show themes include MASH, Mission Impossible, Hawaii Five-0, The Brady Bunch, Room 222, Cannon, and Wonder Woman; began writing bass tutoring books, 1969; collaborations with other artists include Some People Can Do What They Like, with Robert Palmer (Island Records, 1989); Shades, with J.J. Cale (Mercury Records, 1991); Talkin' Verve: Roots of Acid Jazz, with Jimmy Smith (Verve, 1996); and Out of Limits, with The Marketts (Sundazed Music, Inc., 1996).

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

I took guitar lessons, in Long Beach,CA. from a funny old man in the 1980's for several months, his name being Horace Hatchett . I loved his methods, and demeanor, he told me "not bad for a girl "!He was kidding, I still have his charts.He got me movin up and down the neck immediately and developing an ear for the sophisticated chords .He was an amazing human and teacher .My husband also took lessons from him, and thoroughly enjoyed his experiences . Diana Armstrong-Zook