SKF NOTE: In the early 1980s, when I spoke with musician Carol Kaye, I felt incredibly fortunate. I still feel that way. I was working to put together a history of rock drummers that, at times, was tough to piece together. This was pre-internet and a time when drummers were just starting to gain recognition for their pivotal role in music history. Ron Spagnardi’s Modern Drummer magazine helped in that regard in a big way.
Click here for more on the back story to my backgrounder interviews.
This is a transcript from the early 1980s, I’m sure, of Carol Kaye’s half of our interview. I transcribed none of my questions. My interest at the time was in what Ms. Kaye had to say. I would remember what questions I asked. So in the interest of time, I limited my manual typewriter transcribing to Carol Kaye’s comments.
Ours was a phone interview taped to audio cassette. I was in my office at Modern Drummer. Carol was in California in, I believe, her home. I don’t remember specifically how she and I met, or the circumstances leading up to this interview. I might have been given Carol’s name and number by another musician. But I think I found her phone number on my own.
As with some of my other background interviews, Carol has some intriguing stories about Motown recording sessions. And we learn more about session drummer Jesse Sailes. Then Carol speaks about working with Phil Spector and other hit — she calls them “biggies” — records on which she played either guitar or bass.
I was unable to fact check every one of Ms. Kaye’s memories. But I was able to fact check many of them — and found no conflicts. Maybe some other writer or blogger has already solved the various Motown session stories. And maybe Carol Kaye’s remarks here include a missing piece or two of the puzzle.
Carol Kaye: We were recording in a studio above a garage. Armin Steiner‘s garage. We did an awful lot of records there for about two or three years. And the first drummer I worked with was Jesse Sailes. He told Motown about me because I’d worked a few other kind of record dates with Jesse. He’s a Dixieland drummer who plays with Teddy Buckner out at Disneyland now. He had done an awful lot of Motown.
After that came Earl Palmer. And then they used Paul Humphrey on a very few of them. It was mostly Jesse Sailes first and then Earl Palmer later. Earl played on some of the biggies like Bernadette and Love Child.
The Lewis Sisters were two white girls who couldn’t really sing, and we spent a lot of time trying to get tracks for them. And we come to find out it was The Supremes, The Temptations, and all that other stuff.
I met Stevie Wonder there as a kid because I played on I Was Made to Love Her. Now, Jamie Jamerson was in contention with that and we talked about that. So I listened to the record again and I said, “No, that’s me because I can remember the mistakes I was making.” But I think what may have happened is that they tried to cut it back East and they just gave those guys booze, see. Maybe it didn’t turn out just right. But that is definitely me playing on that. That’s Earl Palmer on drums too.
They [Motown] did so many wrong things according to the Union back then. They really kept quiet about what they did. Nobody really knew the inside workings of it. One guy did, [a Hollywood contractor] named Ben Barrett. He’s the master contractor in town. When Motown got into some financial difficulties, he stepped in there and loaned them his license — about 1967 or so — and pulled them out of the difficulty that they were in. They had quite a few hits on the market, but they ran into some mone problems and they could have failed at that point. But Ben Barrett stepped in and shaped them up and helped them.
The last records I did, they were using a big band and it was with the Union’s blessing. And they were using a couple of drummers all the time. Benny Benjamin did the stuff back in Detroit. So, I don’t know anything about the Detroit gang.
They used all the best players. Now, toward the end of the time when I worked with them they used a guy named Ed Greene out in L.A. And he was a very good groove drummer.
So I worked for Motown from about ’62 through ’69. A lot of that stuff I played guitar on — the very first stuff like Come On Do The Jerk and a whole bunch of early hits. Jesse got me in there and I didn’t play bass until about the first of ’64.
So, the very first stuff — I played guitar on. You hear me do riff patterns and that kind of thing. I played on a lot of Martha and the Vandellas. I played the six-string bass guitar on Dancing in the Streets. That was done at Gold Star. It was either Sharkey Hall or Earl Palmer on that. Jesse Sailes plays all the stuff at the Steiner garage things. I think it was Jesse playing on I Was Made to Love Her.
Jamie Jamerson was in Detroit. He didn’t move to Los Angeles until ’69 or ’70, ’71, I think. I’m not trying to take away from him. But I don’t think those guys back there knew about the West coast guys.
I played on all the Phil Spector stuff with Hal Blaine, and all the Beach Boys stuff. All the dates. But it was all guitar except, the last big hit that Phil Spector had, I played bass on. I played on all the Beach Boys stuff with Hal.
I played bass on Wichita Lineman and Joe Cocker’s Feelin’ Alright. Some of the biggies. Good Vibrations, and [Love Theme from] Romeo & Juliet by [Henry] Mancini. My work was kind of varied, but I’m mostly a jazz player. I gave up a jazz career in the late ’50s to do all that.
I never really wanted to do studio work. I never tried to break in. I wanted to play. But then it was a chance to make some money, and I realized the money…. I said, “Okay. I’ve got kids.” And I was working a horrible day job. I was working days and playing nights both.
Hal Blaine was never quite the jazz drummer that he wanted to be. But Earl Palmer was. And Paul Humphrey. And Johnny Guerin was. Those cats were really hot, hot jazz players when they first got in the studios.
Hal’s a beautiful person and he worked his tail off. Because I was right there and I saw them just beat him to death for an hour before they’d even touch us. Just trying to get a balance on the drums. And he’d come up with some beautiful little things on the drums. He’d be sitting there doing his crossword puzzles and he’d be thinking abut some thing and say, “Yeah. I can do this and make it better.” And he did.
But I want to raise the consciousness of music in this country so we can go and get car insurance without feeling like a dog.
I play on the whole album of Pet Sounds. And then I’m on Heroes and Villains, Good Vibrations. There’s a few I’m not playing bass on because the early Beach Boys — I played guitar on. Some of the surfing stuff like, Surf, Surf, Surf. [SKF NOTE: I’m not sure what song Carol Kaye means.]. I played rhythm. Tommy Tedesco played lead.
The Beach Boys never played on their records. But, Carl [Wilson] did occasionally. Like on the opening of Sloop John B. That’s Carl playing on that. I played bass on that. That’s one of my favorite records.
Good Vibrations took 12 record dates. It took us a long time to groove. But everything on that record came out of Brian [Wilson]’s head. There’s a bass like that I created every once in a while, but every note I played came out of Brian’s head. He definitely had it together.
Johnny Guerin played on the Paul Revere [and the Raiders] records. The Buckinghams. I played bass on that stuff. When they hired us for The Buckinghams they hired us for all the dates. And if we couldn’t make it, they’d lose the dates.
It was like that with Motown too. Motown use to move the whole band to get me and the drummer. Me and Earl.
The Turtles started playing their own stuff. We were doing the Beach Boys and we’d sneak into the studio and we’d say, “Look at them! They’re cutting their own music. How dare they?” They were really good.
About ’66 or ’67 they tried to get self-contained groups, but they ran up studio time, and they couldn’t get the right sound, and the playing wasn’t very good. So they went back to using studio players. It was about the first part of the ’70s that the groups came along that could really play and started knocking guys out of studio work.
Jesse Sailes was playing for Motown from about ’62 to ’64 — and then they used Earl after that. They used Paul Humphrey later on on a few of those things, and I forget which ones.
They cut a lot of the biggies back in Detroit too. But certain tunes like Bernadette, and Love Child, and I Second That Emotion, Dancing in the Streets, [I] Can’t Help Myself, Stop in the Name of Love — I’m telling you about the biggies that I know were all West coast. I played bass on the original My Girl. That was cut out here. I Was Made to Love Her was West coast.
Jesse Sailes was from Denver, see. They’ve got a little bit different drum feel. Earl’s from the French Quarter.
Jim Gordon did the Nancy Sinatra stuff and Wichita Lineman. He did a lot of stuff for Glen Campbell. He’s got a good feel. He’s kind of underrated because he’s soft-spoken. He doesn’t talk very much.
Sharkey Hall did some of the Phil Spector things. The early stuff. But, then Hal Blaine did most of it. That guy should have really gotten known. He played on some big hits.
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