VENTURA, CA - The Beach Boys, The Monkees, Sonny and Cher, just to name a few, were some of the big music stars in the 1960s. But, little does anyone know most of the music on their records, wasn't played by them. It was created by a group of little known studio musicians, one of whom is about to call Kern County home.
If you haven't heard of Carol Kaye, you are likely in the majority. She was a studio guitarist and bassist. While fans were screaming for their favorite bands, record producers kept Kaye and the other studio musicians hidden, cranking out the hits with none of the fame.
Every song has its creators.
"Now for the real story," laughs Carol Kaye.
At 78 years old, Kaye might not look the part, but she played a part in hit after hit.
"If you'd of heard songs and singers when we did, before we created our lines, you'd never think that most of those would be hits," said Kaye.
Like a song, let's start from the beginning, the 1950s. Kaye started playing gigs when she was 14 and jazz was hot.
"There were bands playing everywhere, in the parks, in the strip tease places, bowling alleys had jazz. You know, everywhere. I played in a high class strip tease place called the Guilded Cage. And, I'm playing the music and everything and I'm looking, and I'm looking at the naked gals and they are throwing their things around. I'm going ahhh! I'd never saw a naked lady in my entire life and here I am playing in a strip tease place and I can hardly play the music," said Kaye laughing.
In 1957, rock and roll started taking over. That's the same year well known music producer, Bumps Blackwell discovered Kaye playing in a club.
"He asked me to do a record date. I said ok. But, I knew when I did a record date that if I started studio work, because I saw it happen, we all saw it happen, you would lose your place in jazz. You had that factor, that if you wanted to make money for your family, you better do studio work. So, that's what I did," said Kaye.
Kaye joined other studio musicians recording albums. Among the first songs, "Summertime" with Sam Cooke.
"Then, pretty soon people started to call me for other things. Then it was Richie Valens," Kaye said while playing "La Bamba."
The faces on the album were the stars, met with screaming fans and personal praise, keeping the spotlight on themselves. Nowhere on the record was credit given to Kaye and the other studio artists.
"The records would have not have sold. And, we don't have long hair and all of that kind of stuff. We looked like we just got off of a battleship or something. I mean, record companies did it right. They kept us hidden," said Kaye.
After five years of playing guitar in the studio, the bass player didn't show up for a session and Kaye discovered the bass line.
"So, when I got on bass it was a lot more fun. When I played on bass, I could create what I heard should have been on the bottom. Because you have people doing this," said Kaye playing a simple bass line, originally written for Sonny and Cher's "And the Beat Goes On."
"So, about the third line I came up with was, And the beat goes on, and the beat goes on," said Kaye singing along with a more complex bass line to the song that made it a hit.
"Not that we loved the music. There were some tunes that were like, yuck. But, you did your best to turn them into a hit record anyway," said Kaye. "When you felt the hit take, the hair on my arm would stand. You know, when we did "Memories," said Kaye singing. "So, I went," said Kaye playing the bass. "I started putting little lines in and the drummer looked at me and smiled and he started putting, adding a little bit of lines. And, that was the take that was the hit."
Kaye went on to work with Phil Spector, Quincy Jones, and Brian Wilson, just to name a few.
"It's a jazz feel," said Kaye while playing the bass line to "Good Vibrations."
Yes, a woman played on the Beach Boys album.
"The note doesn't say it's male or female. The note is either good or bad. You know, you don't think that way," said Kaye.
Kaye and the studio musicians could crank out ten tunes in six hours, tweaking bare bones sheet music, creating the songs the kids danced to, that sold records, and lives on today.
"Today, people are fighting for credits. They are fighting for me, me, me. We didn't think me, me, me. We thought us, us, us as a group trying to create a product. We had to go home and look ourselves in the mirror. If we didn't play good we hated ourselves because the music was all to us. And, then you have auto tune. People in the 60s sung in tune. Music is a business and if more musicians thought that way we would have a damn good business," said Kaye.
Kaye produced over 10,000 tracks, including many T.V. themes like M.A.S.H., Hawaii Five-O, and Mission Impossible. Today, she teaches guitar and bass lessons on the internet using Skype.
Kaye currently lives in Ventura County, but her plan is to move to Kern County soon. You can learn more about her at www.carolkaye.com.