There are many great females in music, but there sure aren’t a lot of great female *musicians* in music. Quick, name a great bass player! Paul McCartney! Geddy Lee! That guy from Primus! The dude who plays bass for my favorite band whose name escapes me at the moment! Easy, right? Now, quickly name me a great female bass player!

It’s not that easy, is it?

Oh sure, you could probably come up with Tina Weymouth of  Talking Heads (just try and tell me that the bass-line isn’t the best part of “Psycho Killer”), Kim Deal of The Pixies, any number of lady punk rockers, or one of the two skinny blondes Billy Corgan employed to play bass (though not in the studio; he allegedly forbade that) for Smashing Pumpkins, but have you ever stopped to consider, oh, I don’t know, THE MOST RECORDED BASSIST OF ALL TIME?

That’s right, we’re going to talk about Carol Kaye:

Carol Kaye was born into near poverty in the 30’s and started her career as a guitar player in the 40’s. She was not only playing in a jazz combo, but teaching her instrument on the side at the age of 14. In the late 50’s, she learned how to play the bass and never looked back, eventually becoming the most recorded bass player, male or female, of all time.

It’s really hard to talk about this woman without going into a huge list of songs that you’ve definitely heard her in, as she has played in a ballpark of 10,000 recordings. Though she had to take a bit of a break in the 70’s due to arthritis, she is still going strong today at the age of 76!

Her most famous work occurred in the 60s; ever heard of a little ditty called “Good Vibrations” or, for that matter, the entire Pet Sounds LP by The Beach Boys (Rolling Stones Magazine‘s 2nd Best Album of all time)? How about “La Bamba,” “Feelin’ Alright,” “These Boots Were Made For Walking,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Wichita Lineman?” Ever heard “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees? Almost anything produced by Phil Spector in the 60s? That’s just the tip of the iceberg of her bass work! Are you as sick as I am of that “Surfin’ USA” song? She played guitar on that!

Perhaps you aren’t into music, maybe TV’s more your thing; if so, then you have undoubtedly heard Carol’s work on the theme from Batman, Wonder Woman, Mission: Impossible, Hogan’s Heroes, The Brady Bunch, The Addams Family, and my personal favorite, The Cosby Show!

Can't talk. Busy recording bass for ground-breaking rock albums.

This begs the question: how is it that most people, who may at least know what a bass looks like, never heard of the most prolific bassist of all time? The best answer might be the simplest: she hasn’t really made an effort to BE known.

The thing I respect most about a talented person, woman or man, is when they do what they do extremely well and don’t go seeking out photo ops or praise and adulation for their work. Most modern “talent” I have observed that rise to fame and fortune, and front page gossip, did so by doing very little and having thousands of cameras on them the whole time.*

Alternatively Carol Kaye has been a consummate professional in the world of music for over half a century and in all the quotes and interviews it’s clear that she’s just happy to do the work.

That, of course, does not stop others from praising her when they can. Quincy Jones, the music producer who holds the world record for the most Grammy’s, once wrote of her, “… women like… Fender bass player Carol Kaye… could do anything and leave men in the dust.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Also, should you decide to look at nearly any list of the top 100 (or other arbitrary numbers) of bassists in music history, you’ll usually see her name somewhat close to the top. You may also notice that she’s almost always the ONLY female on the list.**

As a musician myself, I can say that Carol Kaye is an important story to look at for anyone who wishes to be an actual musician, no matter what their gender (or attempts at androgyny), or even a success in general. It’s not just about wishing on a star or “getting discovered” or being the prettiest face on the block to earn success in a medium that’s become awfully image-conscious despite being entirely concerned with one’s ears; it’s about knowing your craft, loving it, and turning your hard work into something that will last forever… at least until the robots take over, anyway.***

On top of being the most recorded bassist ever, Carol Kaye is one of the best musicians we’ve got, and I can’t think of another career field with more male competition, so great work, Carol!
* Hell, they even made a sickeningly lucrative show about hillbilly teenager girls who get pregnant and THAT’S IT.

** Mind you, about 60 of those entries will simply be bassists from that particular journalist’s iPod, so it IS possible.

*** Having heard the amount of robotic-sounding auto-tune on today’s recordings, that day might be sooner than you think! BEEDY BEEDY FRIDAY BEEP


Chris Taylor is a musician in Austin, Texas. While not a journalist by any means, he has written extensively on the Internet about music because WordPress doesn’t cost any money. He currently plays bass for 5 different acts, including Descendants Of Erdrick, a video game rock tribute band that employees no less than 2 bad ass female musicians.