C is for Carol Kaye of the Wrecking Crew

It was good money for gigs that might be Henry Mancini in the morning, the Beach Boys in the afternoon, and Ray Charles at night.

Carol Kaye was the bass player on a lot of songs you’ve heard, even if you don’t know her name. She was part of a group of about 25 or 30 studio musicians from the Los Angeles area who played on records by artists ranging from Andy Williams to Frank Zappa. They were mostly men whose services were constantly in demand in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Only after the fact were they dubbed The Wrecking Crew. Most of them you’ve never heard of, though a few became successful recording artists in their own right.

For Christmas 2017, I received a massive book, which I’ve already finished, called The Sound Explosion by Ken Sharp (2015), from which I’ll introduce you to Carol Kaye. She’d been a professional jazz guitarist from the age of 14, in 1949. She, like several others, could see that the rock and roll revolution was eating into her live gigs, but offered opportunities for studio work.

She first worked with Sam Cooke, who she had never heard of at the time. Initially, she played guitar on a number of sessions from 1957 to 1965, but by 1963, she had “tired of playing fills and rock stuff. When the bass player didn’t show up for a date, someone elected me to lay Fender bass. I liked the bass role better and everybody liked my sounds and creativity and started hiring me. By 1964, I was the number one call on electric bass.

“Most early ’60s dates had no music… Your brought your own pencil to write your own chord charts with the licks and phrases you made up on the spot so you’d remember them for the take. we were fast because we were experienced musicians with great ears we developed from years of experience…”

The most famous story I know is that she took the boring bass line for The Beat Goes On by Sonny and Cher and created the iconic hook that defines the song.

Was it tiring? “Yes, you drank a lot of coffee.” But it was good money for gigs that might be Henry Mancini in the morning, the Beach Boys in the afternoon, and Ray Charles at night. “We were not interested in becoming stars. We were part of the process… to make people into stars.

“If I had time between my 2-5 PM date and my 8-11 PM date, I’d always make it home to North Hollywood. I’d check up on my three kids,help them with their homework, and eat dinner with them and our live-in nanny/housekeeper, and maybe take a quick 15-minute nap. Then I was back to Hollywood for date number three.”

She said there was no racial prejudice among the musicians, although she and others would push reluctant record producers to hire more blacks when they knew they were right for the part.

Here’s the massive list of her credits. She played bass on 3/4s of the classic Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. Just a handful of Some of her guitar credits:
La Bamba – Ritchie Valens
Summertime – Sam Cooke
Johnny Angel – Shelley Fabares
Unchained Melody AND You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling – Righteous Brothers
The In Crowd – Dobie Gray
Surfin’ USA – the Beach Boys (electric rhythm guitar, Billy Strange on solo lead)

Here’s a 70-minute Carol Kaye: Session Legend Interview

For ABC Wednesday

VIDEO REVIEW: The Wrecking Crew

Some of the extra material was clearly done after 2008

I was old enough to remember when it was “shocking” news that the singing Monkees were not really playing their instruments on those first couple albums, and in fact, weren’t even allowed to. The music was provided by a fairly regular crew of session musicians. They may have been known as The Wrecking Crew, though some dispute the label. It was said the mostly men who had played on sessions in earlier times wore suits and ties, and it was feared that these more casually dressed crew was going to wreck the industry.
In fact, in many ways, they enhanced it. Bassist Carol Kaye sees the written bass line from Sonny and Cher’s And The Beat Goes On and changed it to what we heard on the record. They WERE Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. They interpreted Brian Wilson’s thoughts, not just on Pet Sounds but on a few earlier albums.

The movie The Wrecking Crew was a labor of love for director Denny Tedesco, whose dad, Tommy, was one of the great Crew guitarists. The first day of shooting brought drummer Hal Blaine (member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), bassist Carol Kaye, saxophonist Plas Johnson and Tommy Tedesco (all of whom should be) together.

Whatever the movie’s value for 90 minutes, and it is considerable, the EXTRAS on the Wrecking Crew DVD, which run over five hours, was often more useful.

There are stories about the legendary Gold Star Studios, the Franks Sinatra and Zappa, and much more. The repeated “I saw her” at the beginning of a chorus of the Mamas and the Papas’ I Saw Her Again was a mistake. Guitarist Don Peake explains how he was saved by Ray Charles in the Deep South. Cher tells about a drunk Leon Russell at a Phil Spector session, a story Leon acknowledges.

Other interviews, some of which made it into the film, included Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, Barry McGuire, Jackie DeShannon, the three surviving Monkees, Richard Carpenter of Carpenters, Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean, Petula Clark, plus a lot of musicians, engineers, producers and the like.

The reviews were generally favorable. One critic wondered if all the love Danny Tedesco was hearing about his late father was a result of people telling him to want they want to hear. I can’t answer that, but in the scenes with his colleagues, and by himself, Tommy Tedesco (d. 1997) was a very engaging fellow.

Another critic suggested that this was a rush job; it was anything but that, taking over a decade to finish. It was completed in 2008 but had “been screened only at film festivals, where clearance rights were not required. The film finally saw theatrical release in 2015, after musical rights were cleared.” Some of the extra material was clearly done after 2008; Bill Medley just turned 75, but was 71 at the time of his interview.

Any fan of this era – this means you, Dustbury – should watch this, including the extra material.

Here are links to just a few of the songs that featured The Wrecking Crew.

The Lonely Bull – Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. Herb then went out to find guys to emulate them for the road. This is often the case.
He’s a Rebel – The Crystals. Cher was only 16 when she became a background singer for Phil Spector.

Surf City Jan and Dean. Brian Wilson gave this to the duo, which irritated Murry, Brian’s dad, and the soon-to-be-fired Beach Boys manager.
Be My Baby – The Ronettes

I Get Around – The Beach Boys

Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds. Roger McGuinn got to play on the record, but the other band members were furious to be left out. When the band did record, it often took dozens of takes, whereas the Wrecking Crew only needed a handful.
This Diamond Ring – Gary Lewis and the Playboys. The vocals were also doubled by a session singer.
California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & the Papas. This was going to be a Barry McGuire song, but when he heard their background vocals, he changed his mind. Much later, he realized his voice is on the recording.
Eve of Destruction – Barry McGuire
I Got You Babe – Sonny & Cher

No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In) – The T-Bones
Strangers in the Night – Frank Sinatra. Many times, the Crew took only one or two takes to satisfy the Chairman of the Board.
These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ – Nancy Sinatra. The descending line hook was created by a Wrecking Crew member.

Never My Love – The Association. Another song where the band was totally displaced.
Woman, Woman – Gary Puckett and the Union Gap

Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell. He was a member of the Crew before he became a successful solo artist.
Midnight Confessions – The Grass Roots
Valleri – The Monkees
Classical Gas – Mason Williams

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In – The 5th Dimension. Billy Davis Jr. of the 5th Dimension lost his wallet, and that led to the “Hair” medley.
The Boxer – Simon & Garfunkel

(They Long to Be) Close to You – The Carpenters. Though Karen was a fine drummer, the music came together when she came out from behind the kit.
I Think I Love You – The Partridge Family

Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves – Cher
Don’t Pull Your Love – Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds

Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu -Johnny Rivers
Mother and Child Reunion – Paul Simon

All I Know – Art Garfunkel

The Way We Were – Barbra Streisand

Love Will Keep Us Together – the Captain & Tennille

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