Inspiring Women, no 5: the bassist Tina Weymouth explains her debt to a great session musician who doubles as an educator...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, special supplement
Tina Weymouth is a bass guitarist and founder member of two influential bands, Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. Carol Kaye (b. 1935), pictured above in a Los Angeles studio in the mid-1960s, is a bass guitarist and former member of the prolific group of Los Angeles-based session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew.
Though I’ve never met her, Carol Kaye has been a continuous presence in my life. I first heard her play bass when I was eight years old, and bought my first LPs: three Beatles and three Beach Boys. Carol played on the “Pet Sounds” sessions, “Surfin’ USA” and “Good Vibrations”, so I got her in full. But without knowing it I was also hearing her all the time on the radio. From the 1960s on, the Wrecking Crew were the number-one call-outs for producers at the time. She played bass, and occasionally rhythm guitar, on more than 10,000 studio sessions, and oh, she was so versatile. She played on pop hits like “La Bamba”, “Little Green Apples”, Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid”, the Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me”. But she was also a favourite of Quincy Jones and Brian Wilson. She played on “The Beat Goes On”; she played for Ike and Tina Turner, and Sonny and Cher; she played for Sam Cooke and the Isley Brothers; she played for Stevie Wonder and Joe Cocker. And she played on movie and television theme tunes: the awesome song from “Shaft”; the themes for “Love Story”, “Mash”, “Mission: Impossible”, “The Godfather”. She’s played on so much, it’s impossible to enumerate.
But she’s also an educator. She has published many books about learning what she dubbed the “electric bass” (before Carol came along, it was known as Fender bass), and gives amazing web-based tutorials where you can watch her fingers just flying over the neck of the bass. She invented a lot of chordal practices, and has taught and influenced some great players—like the late Jaco Pastorius, the phenomenal jazz bassist who was a member of Weather Report in the 1970s. To this day people love him. Carol loved him, and taught him. She was a beautiful young woman, too; she must have been a fascination to have around.
Despite all this, she is extraordinarily modest, with an infectious smile, and she never seems to talk about herself without mentioning all the people that she worked with. I find that so endearing. Perhaps that’s why, extraordinarily, she has not been inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame; though plenty of musicians would hardly exist without her. I wouldn’t. I knew I couldn’t be as good as Carol (I can’t read music, for a start), but it was great to know she was out there. She never gave up, and she taught me not to give up. Just knowing that this woman was so admired by men, despite how difficult making your way in music is, made me realise that it wasn’t an impossibility for me. People call her the First Lady of bass, but to me she’s more than that. She’s the queen.
Read more from the Inspiring Women series: