It’s a long story, but just over a week ago I found myself tartin’ around backstage with the Magic Numbers and fell into conversation with their super-cool bass player, Michele Stodart. A total muso, we hit it off straight away. For Michele, music’s Year Zero was 1964 and her favourite bands tend to be the originals, or those (like her own band) inspired by the originals. Our talk turned from James Jamerson’s one fingered bass lines to the thrill of seeing all three of Teenage Fanclub take the mike at the same time and why I should give Joni Mitchell another listen (I’ve never been a fan. Michele is a super-fan).
Michele. Ma belle.
(Photo (C) Paul Camlin)
Michele is a really terrific musician in her own right. Like all the best bass players, her basslines are wee tunes within tunes. Isolate them from the rest of the music and you’d find yourself frugging like a frugging maniac. But it’s not just what she plays. It’s how she plays it. Michele plays her instrument as if it’s an attachment of herself. When she’s lost in the music (and on the evidence of the Magic Numbers set, this is often) she’s headbanging, legs akimbo and hair a go-go like a foxy, female Ramone. That she caresses her guitar like a young wife might her soldier sweetheart when he returns unscathed from a tour of duty in Afghanistan only added to the weak-at-the-knees, heart-a-flutter heightened state of arousal I foun...SPLASH!….
That was the sound of a bucket of ice cold water being tipped over my head. Phew! I went all misty eyed there at the flashback of it all. But now, back to the story.
We got chatting because I mentioned to her that she is hands-down no contest the best female bass player since Carol Kaye. The table tennis ball she was skelping back and forward across the ping pong table was straightaway ignored as she dropped what she was doing to skelp me instead with a hi-five. Table tennis forgotten about, we got down to the business of talking music. And Carol Kaye featured much in our conversation.
Carol Kaye is one of the most prolific, widely heard bass players ever. You might not know what she looks like, or even have heard her name, but you’ll know the stuff she’s played on. I could quite confidently predict that your record collection will feature her Fender bass lines somewhere amongst the grooves.
She is most famous for her work with The Wrecking Crew. I’ve already written quite a big piece about their significance in popular music. I’d urge you to clear 10/15 minutes of your time and go and read it here. While there, you’ll also be able to listen to audio tracks of some of Carol’s best-known work.
A lone woman in a man’s, man’s world, Carol had to work that wee bit harder than the boys in order to gain acceptance. Coming from a jazz background she was schooled in reading charts and in 1963 fell into popular music quite by accident, being in the right place at the right time when the appointed bass player failed to show up on time for a Capitol Records session. Carol stepped in and from that moment on found herself much in demand.
Throughout the 60s, Carol played on hundreds, possibly thousands of hit records. No-one, least of all her, is actually certain how many. A one-time in-house Motown staffer, she’s somewhat contentiously laid claim to playing some of the label’s finest lines that had always been attributed to the afore-mentioned James Jamerson – Bernadette and Reach Out for the Four Tops and I Was Made To Love Her for Stevie Wonder amongst others. What’s undeniable though is that her high-pitched staccato motifs helped make God Only Knows one of the Beach Boys’ finest. Her 5 note written off-the-cuff intro makes Wichita Lineman instantly recognisable. The opening of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin, the Mission Impossible theme, the breakdown in River Deep, Mountain High. All the work of Carol. I bet you’re humming them right now.
She often played anonymously. The boys in the bands with their Beatles cuts and pointy boots may have looked the part, but often were hopeless musicians. As well as her more well-known stuff with Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, Kaye played some of the trickier bass parts on Love‘s Forever Changes album, Neil Young‘s first LP and the first couple of Frank Zappa albums. What pedigree!
Her indelible stamp runs through the very core of music like the word ‘Blackpool’ in a stick of rock. Responsible for creating the very DNA of popular music, Carol Kaye is an actual living legend. Just ask Michele Stodart.
Here’s just a teeny tiny fraction of some of the music she’s played on;
Andmoreagain from Love‘s Forever Changes LP
Glen Campbell‘s Jimmy Webb-penned Wichita Lineman
I’m Waiting For The Day from Pet Sounds
Porpoise Song by The Monkees
Ike and Tina‘s River Deep Mountain High
*Carol fact #1!
Carol played bass on Frank Wilson’s northern soul standard Do I Love You (Indeed I Do). (Indeed, she did).
*Carol fact #2!
Carol is Paul McCartney’s favourite bass player.
I’ve often played Pet Sounds and cried. I played it to John so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence … it was the record of the time. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines … and also, putting melodies in the bass line. That I think was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper, it set me off on a period I had then for a couple of years of nearly always writing quite melodic bass lines.