Skip to content

Learn from the Best Bass Players – Carol Kaye

Study the Best – Learn From the Best – Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye Learn from the Best Bass Players

Learn from the Best Bass Players – Carol Kaye –> Improve your bass playing by learning from the best. Part of learning to play bass should include listening to and watching other great bassists. Try to incorporate their techniques, skills, styles, and sounds in to your own playing. In this Learn from the Best series we highlight Carol Kaye – undeniably one of the greatest bass players of all time.

Carol Kaye – Career Highlights

  • Carol Kaye first worked as a session guitarists for recording studios in and around the Los Angeles, CA area during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
  • She played guitar on the recordings of several hit songs such as Sam Cooke’s “Summertime” (1957), “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens (1958), and “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin'” by The Righteous Brothers (1964).
  • Kaye began playing bass for session recordings during the early 60’s. It was at this time that she developed a preference for playing bass. The instrument allowed her to be more expressive and creative – versus playing simpler guitar parts. With her focus shifted on playing bass, she quickly became one of the most sought after session bassists in southern California. She was hired to play on recordings for studios including Capitol Records, Western Recorders, Radio Recorders, CBS Studios, and RCA Victor Studios.
  • Carol Kaye has played bass on thousands of recordings with hundreds of artists including: The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Sonny & Cher, Frank Sinatra, The Lettermen, The Doors, Joe Cocker, Lou Rawls, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The T-Bones, Dobie Gray, Nancy Sinatra, Simon & Garfunkel, Ike & Tina Turner, The Marketts, Tijuana Brass, Jewel Akens, The Monkees, Howlin’ Wolf, Cannonball Adderley, Gene Ammons, Count Basie, Joe Pass, Eddie Arnold, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Roger Miller, The Coasters, The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bing Crosby, Johnny Ray, Bonnie Guitar, Jerry Butler, Mel Carter, Sam & Dave, Dick Dale, Hondells, Jan & Dean, Ripchords, Jackie DeShannon, Petula Clark, Leslie Gore, Dusty Springfield, The Animals, Chad & Jeremy, Hollies, Liverpool 5, Peter & Gordon, The Association, Beau Brummels, Buffalo Springfield, Electric Prunes, Love, Neil Diamond, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Supremes, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, Johnny Mathis, Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand and many others.
  • Carol Kaye played bass on the recordings of many top smash hit songs such as:
  • Carol Kaye also recorded the theme songs for several television shows including: The Addams Family, Green Acres, Hogan’s Heroes, Mission: Impossible, Mannix and Ironsides, Hawaii 5-0, The Brady Bunch, Love American Style, and The Bill Cosby Show.
  • Kaye also contributed to various movie soundtracks including: The Pawnbroker, In Cold Blood, In The Heat of the Night, Valley of the Dolls, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affair, True Grit, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, MAS*H, Airport, Shaft, Le Mans, Plaza Suite, On Any Sunday, and Across 110th Street.

Learn from Carol Kaye – Skills, Methods, Techniques and Innovations

Learn from the Best Bass Players - Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye is a studio legend that changed the role, sound, and techniques used to play bass guitar across of variety of styles and genres of music. Her unique take on playing bass can be attributed, in part, to her background and experience playing guitar. Kaye was one of the first bassists to use a pick. As a result the tone of her bass was more prominent in recording mixes. She played bass lines that were more creative, busier, and exciting – in contrast to those that were being played using traditional upright bass styles and concepts.

Kaye used a heavy gauge pick and played close to end of the bass neck, while keeping her wrist flat against the strings she wasn’t picking. She played upbeat notes using upstrokes, and downbeat notes using downstrokes. When she played walkups she would play all upstrokes. This upstroke/downstroke technique helped her play with superb accuracy and timing – she always knew where she was in the beat while producing solid grooves.

Carol Kaye had a very chordal approach to playing bass guitar. She would play notes in a chord while adding a lot of passing tones and rhythmic fills that could bring otherwise simple bass lines to life. She was a master at turning simple pentatonic scales and arpeggios into basslines that had intricate and complex feel and sounds.

Carol Kaye is known for producing basslines with even tones and the perfect amount of sustain. She used a Fender Precision bass when playing in studio recording sessions. Kaye also crafted a mute in order to prevent overtone ringing. She placed a 1/2 inch strip of felt, taped on so that it laid gently over the strings at the bridge of her bass. Kaye played at low volume in the studio and preferred the sound of guitar amps. On most of her earlier recordings she played through a Fender Super Reverb guitar amp. On later recordings she also used a Versatone Pan-O-Flex amp.

Carol Kaye Felt Bass Guitar Mute
Carol Kaye’s felt mute, taped over the strings at the bridge of her bass.

Carol Kaye’s Influence and Legacy

Carol Kaye is perhaps the most recorded bassist of all time. With over 10,000 recording sessions to her credit, one would be hard pressed to find a popular album produced during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s that Kaye did not appear on. Her influence on the development and role of the electric bass guitar is immeasurable. She was an originator and inventor that has influenced the way countless numbers of bassists approach and play the instrument. Kaye established the roots of bass guitar from which many branches have grown.

Since her earliest days as session bassists, Kaye garnered the utmost respect from fellow musicians. Take for example Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys who called her “…the greatest damn bass player in the world”. And Paul McCartney who said that Carol Kaye influenced the basslines he created for several Beatles songs. During the 1950’s and 60’s bass guitar was utilized as an instrument that supported the sound and direction of parts played by lead instruments and vocalists. Carol Kaye was one of the first bassists that began to transform bass playing into a role that not only supported other band members, but that also laid the framework that defined the sound upon which songs were built.

As was the case with many studio musicians of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Carol Kaye did not garnish much immediate public recognition or attention as the bassist and backbone of so many top hits and great songs. Music fans knew that Nancy Sinatra sang, “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, and The Monkees were the faces behind the song, “I’m A Believer”. But few could tell you who actually wrote, played, and recorded the basslines for these songs. Fortunately within the last several decades Carol Kaye has been receiving the long overdue accolades and recognition that she deserves. Today Kaye is easily recognized as one of the greatest bass players of all time. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Carol Kaye #5 on their list of the 50 Greatest Bass Players of All Time, while Bass Player Magazine has her ranked 25th on their list of the 100 Best Bass Players of All Time. Bass Player Magazine also awarded her a Lifetime Achievement award, and she received a Certificate of Recognition by the City of Los Angeles for making the city “a better place to live”. For all of her accomplishments, Carol Kaye is often referred to as “The First Lady of Bass”.

Recommended Books and Videos By and/or About Carol Kaye

Learn from the Best Bass Players – Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye – Impactful Quote

“A note doesn’t have sex to it – you either play it good or you don’t play it good. Except some people can’t handle that, especially some men… but when you hear somebody with balls, that’s me.”

Carol Kaye’s Official Website

Lot’s of great content on Kaye’s official site including lessons, tips, and resources from Carol Kaye herself!!

Learn from the Best Bass Players - Carol Kaye

Learn from the Best Bass Players – Carol Kaye