Interview: Carol Kaye (Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, The Beach Boys)

- Advertisement -

HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: May 2011. We had the great honour to talk with Carol Kaye, one of the greatest bassists of all time. She has played with everyone: Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa (“Freak Out”), Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, the producer Phil Spector, The Beach Boys, even in Ritchie Valens’ hit “La Bamba” and the “Hawaii 5-0” theme!!!!! She had taught and influenced bassists like Sting, Mike Porcaro (Toto), David Hughes and John Paul Jones!! Read below the interesting things she told us:


Firstly, it’s a big honour for me contacting with you! Are you currently doing session work at studio? Who was the last artist/band you recorded for? 

- Advertisement -

An occasional film call only, I mostly teach, do interviews and run an educational business and an occasional guest-artist as a jazz guitarist with orchestras.


How difficult was for a girl playing jazz in 50s and 60s? Did you face any problems because of your sex? 

No problem.  There were many woman musicians playing jazz, working with the men since the 1910s.  All you had to do was really play fine jazz guitar, be a fine non-drug, non-booze professional, and I enjoyed playing fine jazz with the finest around LA during the innovative 1950s.  I never wanted to do studio work, but studio work paid very well (1957 on) and I had kids and a mother to take care of, so I did studio work on guitar, then 1963 on I quickly switched to bass when the bass player didn’t show up at Capitol Records (and recorded movies, record dates and TV shows etc.) – by 1964 was #1 call on bass. Mostly jazz musicians were the 100s of studio musicians back then and we enjoyed a lot of respect and great pay.


- Advertisement -

Have you ever expected when recorded “La Bamba” in ’58 with Ritchie Valens that it will last for more than 50 years after its recording?

As a studio musician, you never think of that at all….you’re not into the “staritis” thing at all, it was a good business, and tho’ jazz musicians had to dumb down to invent good simple lines for rock-pop-funk-etc. -You’re there just to make a living for your kids and not have to go on the road, and jazz was essentially dead during the 1960s. In studio work, the creative efforts of all concerned (all styles of music) was the fun in it for quite a few years, until it really got boring.


You did numerous recordings with Phil Spector. Can you tell us which was the reason he became such a legendary producer? 

- Advertisement -

He was a talented fresh person involved in different ways of recording…He was the first to use earphones, the first to bounce tracks around, and use the echo like he did etc….He was a jazz guitar wannabee so used mainly jazz musicians to invent lines too.…


Are you shocked that he is currently in jail?

I am mostly just very sad about that tragedy which never should have happened. Phil Spector, like other famous people, lived a reclusive life, since so many were after him “to make them into stars” I’m sure he had an abnormal life, and had drugs/booze problems too (as well as probably pills), all not good. He didn’t have anything like a “normal” life, and it’s terrible what happened, a person died. He was good to my kids when I’d bring them to the sessions occasionally, but other than that, I don’t care to talk about him much, it’s all a terrible tragedy …


Was it an easy process the recordings of Frank Zappa’s “Freak Out” ? Was Frank a nightmare for a session musician?

Frank was a very nice person, very respectful of studio musicians and good to work for….Not being a rock musician, to me those dates were just another round of inventing for rock recordings….we all respected Frank since he seemed to have more on the ball than most.


I guess one of the most memorable moments of your career was the recording of “Somethin’ Stupid” with Frank and Nancy Sinatra. Was Frank Sinatra a friendly person?

I did some nice dates with just Frank Sinatra too….He was all-business which I liked, good to work for and demanding for your best, that’s the best a studio musician can hope to work for. Mr. Sinatra was the best, his daughter Nancy was also very down-to-earth and good to be around.


With who musician you most felt as “soul buddies”. Maybe with Al Casey?

I don’t know what you mean by that…. Everyone of us was totally independent of each other and we all liked to work with each other, it was a communal spirit, like families working together on this record date, that record date. There were over 350 steady-employed studio musicians in Hollywood….it was a business, not organized into bands at all – everyone was independent of each other. I have many I liked to work with, mostly the fine drummers like Earl Palmer, Paul Humphrey, John Guerin, all jazz drummers btw, as well as the fine pianists, and other guitar players and string bassists (I had taught many of the string bassists to play elec. bass, and John Clayton is one of my fav former students).


Is there anyone you want or wanted to play with and hasn’t happened yet? Maybe with Tom Waits?

Being a jazz musician, I only listen to jazz and classical music and only play and teach jazz music these days…..The artist I wanted to work with (and was asked to do that) was with the great George Shearing….but I didn’t want to leave my kids again to go on tour, and lose my position in the studio work in 1962.


Which was the last great album you listened to? Are you aware of Radiohead’s music? 

See above, sorry I don’t listen to rock and roll.


Which is your favourite bass? Do you still have it in your possession?

Studio musicians only had one instrument they used and a spare, I’ve used several basses over the years, and currently own 2 SWR 700 Ibanez basses, and a modified custom Ibanez elec. guitar which I still use, all flatwound Thomastik-Infeld strings.


Have you ever been to Greece? Send a message to Greek listeners.

I’m sorry, I wish I could have traveled to Greece for its great history and warm people….I did teach a very talented bassist from Greece, he’s one of the finest musicians I’ve seen and he learned the bebop jazz patterns fast, I was so impressed. I know music is a vital part of your life there and I admire it.  Unfortunately, our music here is not good over all anymore, except what is played in private gigs….be sure to respect and enjoy the great music that is your heritage.. also I love your food!


A huge THANK YOU to Mrs Carol Kaye. A dream came true!!!

Check out

More Interviews