Over the previous 18 pieces there has been a strong attempt to highlight the unknown, or the unheralded in the realm of bass guitar. Not only is it an essential stance to take when discussing the instrument—it’s the most relegated piece of the standard guitar-bass-drums rock template, but also its performers, even the true masters, are generally players completely fine standing in the background, thumping around a groove. For every one bass player who preens and shucks, any fan of rock music can think of several dozen guitar players or lead singers who do the same, and often to much more obnoxious affect. With this being understood, how then could minorities hope to find notoriety in such a shadow? It might sound outlandish to ask now, but as rock and pop were making their first tentative baby steps, civil rights and the women’s movement were still almost 10 to 15 years away. Plus, to make matters worse, the industry was largely shrouded in anonymity, groups of session musicians known not by given name (when they were even cited at all) but rather terms like ‘the Wrecking Crew’ or, even more generic, the house band of insert label or studio here. Carol Kaye was one such bass player (and she played lead guitar too; most notably on the Crystals wonderful ‘Then He Kissed Me’), she of Spector’s Wall of Sound creating ‘Wrecking Crew’ fame (a term she supposedly didn’t like, and instead preferred the less violent ‘the Clique’), always lending a perfectly sympathetic line or hook to a chart-topping hit.
She might not be know by the average fan, but, ah, listen to her parts. Listen to the stereo mix of ‘Sloop John B’; Brian Wilson separates everything beautifully, and her bass seems to sit in the middle of an actual tangible physical aural space, one you could enter and move about in and its her bass that reverberates just enough to touch everything else in the room. Nothing else achieves this quality in the song, and yet the part is as crisp and clean as the Beach Boys’ seersucker (she also plays the bass on my favorite Beach Boys track, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’, though it’s a slightly more nondescript arrangement so her talent is a tad buried). It’s probably my favorite part of hers that I know, but, alas, over her 55 year career it’s estimated that she played on 10,000 sessions (Oh boy! err, oh girl!), so it’s impossible to settle on just one. For another particular highlight, maybe you do a touch of her solo work, Picking Up on the E-String from 1995;
So fat, so tight, as a comment underneath says. But, you could easily argue that her masterpiece is also Phil Spector’s masterpiece, Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep—Mountain High’* (and Kaye’s inclusion is no small part of its overall brilliance). Whenever the songs aching soul comes to the forefront it’s prompted as much by Kaye’s bubbling cries as it is Turner’s pained shrieks.
(the ‘making of’ track of ‘River Deep—Mountain High’ shows Kaye’s importance to the track and is well worth a listen as well)
*the same could also be said of the Ronette’s ‘Be My Baby’, the most accurate exemplifier of Spector’s Wall of Sound, a track that also features Kaye’s