Carol Kaye didn’t make history by being easy.
The outspoken bass player blazed a trail as the only woman in a group of elite male West Coast studio musicians — now known as The Wrecking Crew — playing on what would become the most influential records in pop, rock and soul history. From the late 1950s through the early ’70s, Kaye riffed iconic bass lines for artists ranging from Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner and Sonny & Cher to Elvis Presley, The Monkees and Simon & Garfunkel.
Not because the blue-eyed blonde played nice — but because she was the best.
That’s Kaye “punching the hell” out of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” Her low-end fretwork was the aural honey that sweetened Motown’s Diana Ross into Top 40’s supreme diva. Oh, that “nah-nah-nah-nah” on the big “Batman” radio hit? She laid down that legendary lick with her signature pick.
Long-retired from session work, the 84-year-old “First Lady of Bass” — who started playing guitar at 13 and toured in big bands before gigging at bebop jazz clubs in Los Angeles — shuns the spotlight these days and, for the most part, interview requests.
But she’s speaking out now to The Post to “set the record straight” about “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Season 3 of Amazon Prime’s critically acclaimed series introduces a seasoned bassist character, Carole Keen, who offers the titular comic “someone with tits to talk to” about surviving in a male-dominated industry. Sharp-eyed watchers promptly pegged the beer-sipping sage as an homage to Kaye.
But the real thing is not grooving on that vibe.
“It’s a Hollywood, silly fluff piece [that has] nothing to do with me or my history. They took a few things out of my book and created a character that’s not even me at all,” Kaye tells The Post from her home in Murrieta, Calif.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘That must be you. I love it!’ But I am not a cartoon — and my life is not a joke,” Kaye explains as her dog barks a blue streak at a dishwasher delivery man. “Nobody contacted me. I didn’t know a thing about it. I thought that was pretty bad — kind of like slander.”
If Kaye sounds defensive about defining her own history, it’s because she’s been burned before. She is a fierce critic of “The Wrecking Crew,” the 2008 documentary about LA session musicians she claims she was “duped” into appearing in.
Kaye considers the completed doc one big ego trip with featured drummer Hal Blaine (1929-2019) in the driver’s seat, downplaying the work of his peers.
“We were never known as that pet name of Hal Blaine’s — our name has always been ‘studio musicians,’” she says of The Wrecking Crew, her voice rising. “[Viewers] were lied to and it’s not right. They were given the wrong idea about studio musicians, who are some of the most wonderful people in the world. He slandered jazz guys that were terrific people [just because] they did film work.”
Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Blaine, who died at 90 in March, publicly trashed Kaye to veteran rock DJ Eddie Winters in 2015, claiming the session scene “only helped her out” because “she’s a woman, she’s got kids,” before declaring she was “nuts” and “never should’ve been in the goddamn movie with us.” But her list of hard-won, documented credits — from Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound to Quincy Jones’ film scores to Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention — proves otherwise.
‘A note doesn’t have sex to it; you either play it good or you don’t…but when you hear somebody with balls, that’s me.’
Blaine’s petty parting shot: “Bass players laugh at her.” (Note: Brian Wilson, 77, who hired Blaine to drum on his Beach Boys tracks, declared Kaye the “greatest bass player in the world” who was “way ahead of her time.”)
Kaye rattled off a dirty laundry list of Blaine’s alleged character flaws to The Post — accusing him of “beating his wives” and “using” people — before letting out an exasperated sigh and saying, “The man is dead. Let him rest.”
Besides, Kaye’s in another fight to control her legacy: Even if some critics dub it a “clever tribute,” the cat-eye glasses-wearing “Carole” played by actress Liza Weil in “Mrs. Maisel” doesn’t have her seal of approval.
“You have to understand, it’s not easy when you are older and it has nothing to do with you — but people think it is you,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, I have a sense of humor (pauses) but I am a professional. This is like a putdown to me.”
Reps for Weil, 42, and “Mrs. Maisel” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, 53, didn’t respond to The Post’s requests for comment.
Perhaps the reason Kaye is so outspoken today is because being a “professional” in the golden age of session music meant checking your opinions at the studio door.
“Studio work was the big money and union — so you couldn’t be late and [you] minded your P’s and Q’s,” she says of the reported 10,000-plus records she played on, starting when producer Bumps Blackwell recruited her out of the clubs for straight guitar runs on Sam Cooke’s “Summertime” and Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” in 1957 and ’58, respectively. Soon, a twice-divorced Kaye was supporting herself, her three kids — and her mom (just like her “Mrs. Maisel” counterpart).
“We played our asses off to make sure the music came out good…we had to live with ourselves.”
But it wasn’t until a fateful 1963 Capitol Records session, when an electric bass player didn’t show up, that Kaye started recording nonstop.
“I saw the future in it and realized, ‘Oh, yeah, the power is here in the bass lines.’ You and the drummer are the foundation of the band,” she says. “Then we were working day and night. Go with it, make it as good as you can, say ‘screw it,’ and walk out that door to forget it and get refreshed. The next day could be a different style of music entirely.”
Her major motivation: “I was born poor, so I didn’t want my kids to feel that way — because it sticks with you. When you were born in the 1930s, just having a radio made you rich. You didn’t have much to eat, but music made your life livable.”
Still, Kaye says she didn’t realize she was making history: “There were always women who worked with men in jazz groups and big bands since the 1920s … but as far as studio work, women weren’t there. There were just a couple who played strings: cello, viola or harp.”
This musical pioneer cops to developing a salty edge to clap back at a few foul-mouthed alpha-males in the studio, refusing to fulfill their weak stereotypes about who could pump a juicy bass lick.
“A note doesn’t have sex to it; you either play it good or you don’t. Some people can’t handle that, especially men,” she once said with a chuckle. “They want to think that it was a man who played the bass because of the sexual thing — but when you hear somebody with balls, that’s me.”
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