Cream of The Crate: Album # 191 – Carol K and The Hitmen: California Creaming

Carol K FB pic 1
Carol K FB pic 1

One of the most prolific and widely heard bass guitarists, playing on an estimated 10,000 recordings in a career spanning over 50 years(Wikipedia)
The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines.” (Paul McCartney talking of Carol K’s bass playing on Pet Sounds)
In the world of bass guitar, Carol Kaye is a legend.” (Guitar World 2016)

This woman is, putting it bluntly, damn red hot and fabulous on both guitar and bass guitar.
(This review)

This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety One in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

The music world has always been underrepresented by women, and, those that are in the industry have to struggle for recognition. The when you hear the capabilities of great women musicians you are left wondering why is it, that they have to struggle to be heard. This is one of the few albums in my collection that is a recent, very recent addition and moves straight into the “Cream of The Crate” category. This woman is, putting it bluntly, damn red hot and fabulous on both guitar and bass guitar!

Her name is Carol K and her group is the Hitmen, and this is a CD album and is titled – California Creamin’. It was released byHot Wire Records on their own label in 1996 and has the identifying code of HOT 9024C. It only has 17 tracks, 16 of them music tracks, and one demonstration/talk track.

One of the most noteworthy things about Carol K is, the she is highly gifted, she has been playing across 6 decades, she has played with the most amazing muso’s and yet, she is still relatively unknown.

Her birth name is Carol Kaye and she was born on March 24, 1935. Born in Everett, Washington to musician parents, Clyde and Dot Smith, both professionals. She has played and taught guitar professionally since 1949, played bebop jazz guitar in dozens of nightclubs around Los Angeles with top groups, working in Bob Neal’s jazz group with Jack Sheldon backing Lenny Bruce, with Teddy Edwards, Billy Higgins and with so many others. She accidentally got into studio work late 1957 with the Sam Cooke recordings and other big recordings on guitar for the first 5 years of studio work in Hollywood.

A young Carol K

Throughout the 1950s, Kaye played bebop jazz guitar in dozens of nightclubs around Los Angeles with many noted bands including, as previously indicated, Bob Neal’s jazz group and others. By her own account, Kaye got into lucrative studio work “accidentally” in late 1957 with Sam Cooke and a few years later, when a bass player failed to show for a session at Capitol Records in Hollywood, she was asked to fill in on what was then often called the Fender bass. She became a member of The Wrecking Crew.

Carol K(aye) with The Wrecking Crew [The Clique)

The Wrecking Crew was a nickname coined by drummer Hal Blaine as recently as the 1990’s for a group of studio and session musicians that played anonymously on many records in Los Angeles, California during the 1960s. However according to Caroltheir real name was “The Clique”. It seems like the name “Wrecking Crew” was given by someone she associated with, who had a big ego and wouldn’t listen to what the others wanted.

In fact the “clique/crew” backed dozens of popular singers, and were one of the most successful groups of studio musicians in music history. Members included Glen Campbell, Barney Kessel, James Burton,Leon Russell, Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John),Carol Kaye, Jim Keltner, Jack Nitzsche and many many others.

So, in 1963 when a Fender bassist didn’t show up for a record date at Capitol Records, she picked up the Fender bass and augmented her busy schedule playing bass and grew quickly to be the no. 1 call with record companies, movie & TV film people, commercials, and industrial films. She enjoyed working under the direction of Michel LeGrand, Quincy Jones, Elmer Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin, David Rose, David Grusin, Ernie Freeman, Hugo Montenegro, Leonard Rosenman, John Williams, Alfred & Lionel Newman, etc. as well as the numerous hits she recorded for hundreds of recording artists.

Of this period she said, “I was raised by musician-parents and just sort of grew up around music, we were poor, but when music was played, you had a sparkle in your life. And the sparkle is still there years later after all the recording we did, for when you turn on the radio, there are all my fellow musicians. I grew fond of so many, we were all in it together, pulling together for a hit, and loved to groove together. The looks, the feel of the music, the inside quick joke, it was a warm feeling.

In fact Throughout the 1960s, while at the time unknown to the public, Kaye played bass on a substantial number of records that appeared on the Billboard Hot 100. By some estimates, she played on 10,000 recording sessions. Kaye actually played bass on many of the Beach Boys hit recordings, including “Help Me, Rhonda“, “Sloop John B“, and “California Girls“. She worked onBrian Wilson‘s ill-fated but legendary Smile project and was present at the “Fire” session in late November 1966 when Wilsonreportedly asked the studio musicians to wear toy fire hats. Kaye’s work also appears extensively on well-known television and film soundtracks from the 1960s and early 1970s.

Laying down a bass line at a Beach Boys session

She also played 12-string guitar on Frank Zappa‘s album Freak Out!. Following on from that she did contribute to a few songs for his next album but declined to continue, saying she found some of the lyrics offensive. Kaye later said Zappa was good-natured and understanding about her qualms and they remained on friendly terms.

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.

She stepped out to perform live with the
Hampton Hawes Jazz Trio in the mid 70s, has given many seminars all over the USA, and is a leader in Electric Bass education.

Her Gear:
Ibanez SRX700 Bass, Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Flats strings, GK MB150S-iii Amp, Ibanez RG321 with Seymour Duncan Humbucker Jazz Pickup Alnico Pro II, George Benson Elec. Jazz Guitar Flat strings etc., TI Benson Flats Strings for Jazz playing.

Bass used in 1960s studio work: Fender Precision w/Fender Flatwound Strings, always with a pick. Fender Concertone 4-10 amp, then in late 60s, Versatone amp. Danelectro Bass and an Epiphone Emperor.

A selection of her guitar contributions include:
La Bamba – Richie Valens
Zippity Doo Dah – Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans
Let’s Dance – Chris Montez
Birds & Bees – Jewel Atkens
The Beat Goes On – Sonny & Cher
Mexican Shuffle – Herb Alpert
Surfin’ USA – Beach Boys
Needles & Pins – Cher
Little Ol’ Lady From Pasedena – Jan & Dean
Dead Man’s Curve – jan & Dean
Surf City – Jan & Dean
Do You Love me? – Isley Brothers
The First two Frank Zappa LP’s
plus – recordings with Same Cooke, the O’Jay’s, Duane Eddy, Cannonball Adderly, Lou Rawls, Chet baker, Pat Boone, Roger Miller, Neil Diamond, and many more.

So to this album –
California Creaming. It’s hard not too think it’s a play on the big hit of the 60’s – California Dreaming by the Mammas and the Papas,but there is no mention of this connection anywhere that I could find. The Cd comes with a 4 page fold-out, with four sides full of stories from Carol, her personal thanks to various artists and a list of personnel on what is the music she recorded in 1965. In her words, “You’re hearing my fellow studio musicians at the most exciting time of our careers – 1965“.

The quality of the writing is good, and the info other sides of the fold out are taken up with drawn pictures, producers notes, a list of some of her credits on other singles, and track list. It is disappointing that there really is no personal information on her early years and not one photo of her.

So the album has 17 tracks of which tracks 1 to 11 are the originals as she recorded them in 1965. The lead work on tracks 10 and 11 were added by Carol in 1996. Tracks 12 and 13 are the original multi-tracks where she played all instruments except for drums. Tracks 14 through to 16 are the original playback tracks, where the lead guitar has been left off so the listener can play along and add their own lead lines. Track 17 was recorded in 1996 and features Carol talking about her studio sessions on guitar and where, she demonstrates a variety of licks and styles.

Track Listing

1. Baia
2. Soft Winds
3. Delicado
4. New Love *
5. The Searchers
6. Ice Cream Rock *
7. Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps (Quizas Quizas Quizas)
8. Tico Tico
9. Caramba Samba
10. So What *
11. It’s Been A Long Long Time
12. Delicado (Multitrack0
13. Baia (Multitrack)
14. So What (Playalong) *
15. It’s Been A Long Long Time (Playalong)
16. Delicado (Playalong)
17. Guitar Talk With Carol K.

*Composed by Carol K

As is my usual process in reviews, I start with track 1 on the basis as the first track heard, it should be the “calling card” of the artist. Baia is very much a Latin American track, which I have to admit to having never heard before. Written by Ary Evangelista Barroso, who was a Brazilian composer, it’s little wonder that we connect immediately with that style of music while listening as she plays it faithfully to his original piece. This is a very laid back track, nicely played and just hinting that there might be some real talent behind the guitar playing.


Track 3 is Delicado, and it is another South American track, and was recorded by Percy Faith in the 1950’s and reached the number 1 position on the Billboard charts making it the most successful version. Other versions are by Stan Kenton, Diana Shore, and, Dr. John. When you listen, if you are a Baby Boomer, you may just find find yourself saying something like – “Hey that’s a familiar theme” and the chances are it may have been something you heard your parents play on record when you were a child. This is a studio version that Carol lay down with The Hitmen, and we will return to it when we get to track 12.


Track 5The Searchers, is an out and out surf music track. It features most of the “musical themes” the surf groups of the period used and is really a great track to relive that period. Hey check out the use of the “outer limits” theme, nicely worked in with all the other noted “surf music” sounds.

As an old surf music fan, this was a joy to listen to.

The Searchers

Ice Cream RockTrack 6, is a Carol Kaye original, and it reminded me at first of the guitar playing in a track called Percolator (Twist) by Billy Joe and the Checkmates, which was recorded in the early 1960’s. In many ways this might be seen as a “simplistic” piece of music, but it is very much in the “instrumental” style of the period. None-the-less there is some damn fine playing hiding behind the “simplicity”


Playing her Epiphone

It is so a 60’s track and it shows that Carol certainly mastered that Epiphone.
Ice Cream Rock
However if you are yet to be convinced that this girl can play, just check out track 8Tico Tico! This is another Brazilian track, but Carol lays down some very nice jazz lines indeed, absolutely cementing claims made that she was indeed a fine jazz musician as well as so many other stylistic varieties. In this track, she keeps that Latin American beat true.

Tico Tico

Track 10 So What, is another Carol Kaye original, and from the opening moment we know this is different to anything previously played. This is funky, this has jazz overtones to a rock beat, this has just a touch of big band sound. I love the sound of the “vibes” as played by Gary Coleman. It is a shame that the recording was a little overloaded for short periods, probably in the transfer from analogue to digital – where digital recordings are unforgiving if they level reaches 0Db, but enough of the technical talk, for as they say in all the best “hip” movies of the time – go dig it!

Now while the original track was recorded in 1965, the main lead line on this was overdubbed by Carol in 1996.

So What

Tracks 12 and 13 have been discussed previously, and hopefully listened to, but here they are again. This time Carol re-recorded both Delicado and Baia as multitrack recordings with her playing all instruments, with the exception of drums – and this is REALLY where you hear and witness her talent.

I have to say while the original version of Delicado (track 3) was good, listening to her in charge of all the instruments (other than drums) is an utter delight. I just wish I had been aware of her talents when I were a younger man because it took me until the 1970’s to appreciate that there were some fabulous female musicians – and here was Carol almost 10 years earlier than my 70s moment of realisation that women really can be shit hot players.

Delicado (Multitrack version)

Baia (Multitrack version)
The following three tracks are as recorded by Carol and The Hitmen, without her lead line, so that we, who still like to wrap our hands around the neck of a guitar, get a chance to play along. Nice touch!

Finally we have track 17Guitar Talk with Carol K. This needs no description past saying Carol spends some 16 minutes playing and discussing her playing. It kicks off with her playing the first piece she ever learned, but it is the story that goes along with this and the stories she tells of who influenced her, her styles of playing, it is a both a history lesson and a music lesson. I don’t care who you are, and how good a player you are – there is something for everyone, from beginners to the highly skilled in this talk.

Carol playing bass – possibly the best female electric bass player ever!

The only sad thing is I was really enjoying her stories and musical vignettes, and she was just going to play a piece she had been talking about, when the producers of the CD, ended it – dead cold! Damn!!!

What a shame other artists haven’t done this – I guess it takes a woman, eh? I’d love to play you the lot but if i do, you may not go out and buy the CD – so here is an edited version.

Guitar Talk with Carol K (An edited selection)

For a woman who made her name on bass, Carol Kaye (Carol K) is a consummate guitarist – hell she is a consummate artist! Carol is still alive today, still playing and, still teaching. She even offers lessons over Skype!

A recent picture

The CD is a rarity as it is, as far as I can ascertain, California Creamin’ is the only released Carol K recording, everything else is with other people under their names. So this is a must for devotees of guitar, of the 60’s, of female musicians, in fact it is a must for collectors.

Discogs had a couple of copies for around $28Au plus postage, Ebay has none, nor did any other site i visited. So if you find it, don’t hesitate – buy it!

VIDEOS – Sadly there are no clips of Carol as a younger player in the 60’s, but there are some excellent clips from later years on Youtube.

Trailer for a proposed documentary on Carol Kaye

Making of Good Vibrations

A short piece from her Jazz Workshop

Carole on surprise hit sessions


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