Carol Kaye has recorded more than 10,000 tracks. She began her career as a jazz guitarist playing in clubs. As if by fate, she stood-in for an absent bass guitarist and fell in love with the bassline. In order to make a living she became a studio musician. Some of the best known songs featuring Carol Kaye’s her work are Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” (on guitar), Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair,” Lalo Shifrin’s themes to Mission: Impossible and Mannix, The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer,” Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” The Lettermen’s “Going Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons,” Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On,” and The Beach Boys’ “California Girls,” “Sloop John B,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Heroes and Villains.”

In addition to her stellar career as a performer, she is also an educator. Beginning in 1969, she wrote her first of many bass tutoring books, “How To Play The Electric Bass” effectively changing the name of Fender Bass to Electric Bass and began teaching 100s of Electric Bass students, many of them now famous themselves. Since 1949, she has given over 1,000 seminars, taught thousands of musicians and sold over one-half million books. She spent 8 years at the UCLA Henry Mancini Institute and has been in-residence at many universities.

HVUM: Carol it is truly an honor for those of us at HorizonVU Music to have you with us sharing some of your experiences, thoughts and advice. Your career in the music business is long and illustrious. Going back before you started to play in public, what started you on your music career? How did you get started?

CK: Thank you. I grew up poor and was scrubbing floors to add money for my Mom and I and she had saved $10.00 by time I was 13, and bought a steel guitar and some lessons from traveling salesman (we lived in projects in Wilmington, California, close to shipyards)….my girlfriend at school was taking guitar lessons so I tagged along with her, taking my steel. Her teacher liked the way I played, knowing I was poor, he asked me to work for him and taught me on guitar too…within 4-5 months I was working semi-jazz gigs, playing standards at age 15….everyone learned fast back then (pre-rock) as teachers taught chordally so everyone learned their chords and chordal notes to play the more-difficult standards chords and soloing (and eventually Jazz, which comes from the Standards)….to earn monies to help put food on the table was over-powering….no-one grew up in the 1930s and 1940s with “entitlements” at all, it was a struggling time.

HVUM: Are there any particular individuals that motivated you to become a musician?

CK: Not really, music was important to everyone just after WWII…..music was the way everyone expressed their feelings back then. Being a poor kid, with disabilities, music was something I could do well, that’s all.

HVUM: As you think about your career, what do you consider being the most difficult barrier to your success and how did you overcome it?

CK: I never thought like that, I could play music, they hired me, paid me money to buy food with, no thought involved. Like I said prior, no-one thought like people post-rock and roll thought at all…we were not rich, no-one was, you don’t “plan” your life at all…you work for money to buy food and to put a roof over your head is all. I studied hard, practiced hard, didn’t make the doper-mistakes I saw others make, I didn’t even smoke cigarettes….didn’t drink booze, all that stuff that was detrimental.

HVUM: There’s no doubt in our mind that you’ve had many great moments in music. We’d love to know what stands out in your mind as your greatest moment in the music business.

CK: There never is any “one great moment”…but yes, many a great time of success with some of my favorite recordings I recorded, one of which was after 32 live takes of playing a dum-de-dum plain written bass line as the conductor insisted on of the single of “The Way We Were”, on the 33rd take,
I disregarded his instruction and went for it, adding notes all over the place. The weight of the huge orchestra dictated more notes on the bass in the slow song…and I chose right, the drummer Paul Humphrey smiled and added more too…and that is the hit you hear!….Everyone loved that last take ….the arrangement needed a better bass part.

Another time was Hikky Burr, theme of the first Bill Cosby TV show 1970s which also was a hit recording: Quincy Jones had parts for everyone but me, and he said “play what you feel”…this was a time when producers were starting to constrain me in my creative notes for bass lines (“play less notes Carol”), so I let out the energy on Q’s fine theme and it became a nice hit for Cosby and a standard along with another recording I did for Music School bass tests around the world (that line is in my Electric Bass Lines No. 2 book).

The other one was Mel Torme’s “Games People Play” where the drummer was tired from the road I think and we had a hot arrangement with the band but the line I made up for the tune and Mel’s la-de-dah way of sort of humming the tune didn’t fly, the drummer kept slowing it down….so when a trumpet player pleaded “do something Carol!”…after a few bad takes….I did something: played some exciting 16th-note lines totally out of character for the tune and the singing style…..balls out, and begged them to do the “real hit now that the drummer is going good”…they laughed and refused…I went home thinking I failed the fine Mel Torme, musical genius and wonderful Jazz musician/composer/singer. Well, that turned out to be his biggest money-making hit record.

The day I quit in 1969 for some months…I stopped all recording, and it was fun to finally say NO to all contractors, movies, record dates, and TV-show films…was so burned out…and when I went back later on, I refused ALL rock dates and ALL work for Motown too…and took ONLY the DATES I wanted to work: the great music of the Movie scores, the TV-film shows and hand-selected record dates with Mancini, Glen Campbell, and Ray Charles etc…that was fun. Everyone was shocked since I was the NO. 1 Call since 1964 for everyone in Hollywood and to quit at the very top is everyone’s dream, but I’m the ONLY one who did it! My publishing company Gwyn Publishing Company, Inc. had taken off with shipping 10s of 1,000s each month worldwide of my bass books in 1969 offered me the living for my 3 kids I needed and so I quit but finally went back to doing film recording mostly (had been doing films since1963) and kept up playing with Joe Pass Jazz live …and that was a thrill to like music again.

HVUM: As you know, many of our followers are young, female musicians looking to find their way in the business of music. Music education is a broad topic, but if we focus on music education for aspiring professional musicians, what do you consider to be most important in terms of background and education to move an artist along a successful career path?

CK: Ignore the mania of “note-scales”, that’s mistakenly taught as the way to do Jazz…it’s not, chordal notes and chordal movements is the right way everyone was doing it in the 1950s when I played with the finest in Jazz – no one “analyzed” like they try to do today……..they need to know the HISTORY of the fine women in Jazz who have always worked with the men since the 1910s….that’s not being taught at all today…plus they need to forget the “woman” name, I never thought of myself as a “woman” this or that, do men think of themselves as “men this or that”? No…they’re guitar

Carol Kaye with Leo Fender, George Fullerton and Forrest White

Carol Kaye with Leo Fender, George Fullerton and Forrest White

players, bass players etc…professionalism speaks mountains…and don’t be late, but of course all women know that….it’s much worse the prejudice is today because music has dumbed down tremendously, so have the ears of players so how would they know if a woman could play or not? Men back in my time knew women could play in Jazz etc…no problem, even if a few didn’t like to work with a woman, so what (don’t ever cry!)….if you had your act together they quickly respected you…don’t blame the men if you can’t play…I always blasted them with my music, and held myself in good professionalism, that always works..

HVUM: Some authors suggest that success in music has a lot to do with personality. Do you agree with that? If, so what helps make a person “right” for the music business?

CK: If you had 2 musicians, one had a bad personality to hire, which would you hire? Simple as that. Don’t be late to work, be reliable, don’t do bad habits, or have ego, don’t diss people all the time, there’s a lot of good things to do to get work but first one? BE a FINE MUSICIAN and GREAT PROFESSIONAL. Music speaks for itself, you still have to be the best you can be, talking is NOT music. No-one smooched their way into being No. 1 Call for Recording, the tape don’t lie but with more competition, yes you watch your turf, that means be the best at not being late, taking good direction, getting along with others (doesn’t have to be “pals” no, I’ve recorded many a record date with a couple I couldn’t stand!)…as well as being the best musician.

HVUM: In one of your recorded interviews, you brilliantly point out that musical notes are not male or female. Never-the-less, taking the music business overall, we see that there is a gender gap. Is there any specific advice that you pass along to young women looking for a career in the music business that might not seem as relevant to men?

CK: It is worse now than in my time, simply because there are many “men” who can’t hear real music due to the dumbing down of music these days…and erroneously think that women can’t play as good as the men. Read the Quincy Jones book “Q” he dumps that myth with “some women could play better than the men and leave them in their dust”…it’s important NOT to complain about the “men” but be more like men…grown up and self-assured about your music, and that comes when your musicianship is together and you get some playing experiences under your belt.

HVUM: Again, referring to one of your recorded interviews, you point out that so many people in the business are all about “me” and forget about “we”. As you think about your career and involvement is there a period of time that the business lost a spirit of team play? What happened?

CK: IMO, the “ego” became more important in the 1970s…and gradually, our experienced group of musicians left in the 1970s and 1980s like I did earlier (actually the fine Barney Kessel was the first one of us to leave, in the late 1960s, before I did – he couldn’t take the rock-grind anymore and left the business to resume his fine Jazz concert touring of Europe etc. But he did come back like I did to only do what he wanted to do in 1970 on – some film calls etc.)

The whole society, probably because of the “self-esteem” popularity of the 1970s, grew to think of themselves first, the me-me-me was in and the old ways of creating records was out…usually from too many machines doing musicians’ jobs (synthesizer 1-man movie scores and records etc.) and then the stage-stuff which was more stage shows then too…not knocking it, but that’s what happened imo…..

But then economy dictated something else….working so hard just to put a roof over your head, and spoiling the kids to make up for the loss of time with our kids etc….our whole society changed….not to mention also, the education system started to focus on note-scales as a way to educate musicians …NOT good….completely different than the earlier (pre-rock) musicians were educated to play the more-complex Standards and Jazz…Chords, chordal notes, substitute chord patterns etc…no one today was alive back then to know how people taught and learned, only a few of us oldies.

Several things contributed to the me-me-me generation….phony singers (auto-tune), stage stuff more than real music, lack of good training and that’s just the music biz…and of course recording changed, music edged downward because of all these factors and engineers with millions of channels and toys, having fun but not knowing how to really get the natural sounds of big-bands, etc…too, all the ins that former engineers paid attention to, even coming in the Studio to make sure they were getting *our* exact musical sounds, those of us from big-bands, jazz who knew what to put on records. Music became “one-on-one” rather than larger groups and bands playing together too…a number of anti-real music things like that led a downward spiral to what we have today: rap and drone “music”…

HVUM: Thanks for that – plenty of food for thought. So, what is Carol Kaye up to today? Are there any specific projects you are working on or that you plan to start?

CK: Since so much needs to be done teaching-wise, I love teaching and now on Skype Jazz lessons for 3 years now, it’s been fun and a great way to learn to really play for musicians world-wide! When I got on Facebook 3 years ago, things opened up for direct access to people who wanted to know the truth behind our Studio Musicians and what we did also, so that’s been exciting to tell them too as well as spread the word about instruction in music to help them get away from ear-killing talent-destroying note-scales.

Parts of my book, writings I’ve done over the years (literally stack a foot high) are being compiled and my autobiography book out…I have some difficulty sometimes with a bad back but mostly am good for 79 years old. It paid never to be a drinker, and am not a drug-user, not on pills either – I never believed in destroying myself with bad habits……some herbs and good diet and exercise yes…I have fun now, but still working too hard. I don’t like the music today and stopped recording, but thinking of going live again playing Jazz Guitar, a career I had to stop to do Studio Work, but it all worked out OK. Also, there are new educational projects being planned for my company.

HVUM: Carol thanks so very much for taking time with us. If we get our way, you’ll be back on our site sooner than later! We remind our followers that you can learn more about Carol, her work, and check out her online educational resources at https://www.carolkaye.com/