If you don’t watch out, a 10-second search on the Internet can turn into an hour-long trip down the rabbit hole. That’s what happened to me yesterday when I was checking the name of a character on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
One link led to a story that said that Carol Kaye — the obvious basis for “Maisel’s” touring bass player Carole Keen — didn’t like the character’s portrayal. (OK, Kaye was stronger: She called it “kind of like slander.”) But the story also noted that Kaye had been the bassist on a number of Motown hits, including Diana Ross’ version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Whoa, I thought. Carol Kaye played on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”? She played on Motown songs? I thought that work was done by James Jamerson, or maybe Bob Babbitt.
And down the rabbit hole I went.
Turns out that Kaye has taken credit for the bass on many Motown hits, including several number ones. That prompted pushback from Motown chronicler Allan Slutsky, who wrote the Jamerson biography “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” under the pseudonym Dr. Licks.
Others have chimed in, because Kaye can be a controversial figure among session musicians. The incredibly talented guitarist and bassist played on hits by Sam Cooke (“Summertime”) and Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba”) and then became part of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound group, which also included Tommy Tedesco, Don Randi, Barney Kessel, and drummer Hal Blaine. It’s to Blaine we owe the popularization of the group’s name, the Wrecking Crew — though Kaye said they were called the Clique. (No relation to these guys.)
By the time Blaine was giving interviews about the Wrecking Crew, he and Kaye had fallen out. When I talked to Blaine around 2012, he was civil about Kaye but dismissive. Of course, Blaine was close with Joe Osborn, his rhythm section partner on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and many Carpenters hits. Kaye gave as good as she got, and there is no question she was a favorite of Brian Wilson — that’s her all over “Pet Sounds” — Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin.
(Sorry, I’ll do anything to link to “Mission: Impossible.” It’s my favorite TV theme.)
So, what about Motown? Well, leave it to the Internet to offer what may be a definitive answer.
In an article published last year in “Journal of the Society for American Music,” author Brian F. Wilson digs deep into the testimony and — more importantly — the paperwork surrounding the Motown sessions. Turns out Kaye did play on a number of them, the ones recorded in Los Angeles, and did have a couple Number Ones, both by the Supremes: “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” — which, with its sweet use of harpsichord, sounds distinctly different from the Detroit hits — and “Someday We’ll Be Together.”
But others are more problematic. Jamerson and Kaye have different styles — Jamerson was a finger player, while Kaye generally used a pick — and Jamerson’s lines usually sound harder-edged to me. I read somewhere that Kaye includes the Four Tops’ “Bernadette” among her bass lines, but that one — with its tricky, stuttering runs, so influential on Paul McCartney — seems definitely to be Jamerson.
However, Wilson observes that Kaye did play on other versions of Motown hits, just not the radio hits. So she has a point.
I’ll stay away from deciding who did what, besides mentioning that Wilson’s article is a worthy read, especially if you’re heading down an Internet rabbit hole.
I’ll give the last note to Kaye, however, on a song she definitely played on (though the solo is by another member of the Wrecking Crew, Glen Campbell). Enjoy “Wichita Lineman.”