As with Waylon Jennings‘ deeply-felt “Abilene” or Ruby Wright’s surprisingly bass-centric “Adios Aloha,” one cannot but feel alarmed by the depth of bottom in the opening synth notes of this charmingly analog production – recorded at Cincinnati’s Counterpart Studios, with Shad O‘Shea and Wes Boatman at the helm (get it?):
“Capricorn Flight” The Saturn Symphony Orchestra 1981
Lo and behold, “Capricorn Flight” would be from the pen of Manzel Bush – however, using the alias The Saturn Symphony Orchestra. Last September, Zero to 180 celebrated the groovy ‘space funk’ sound of Manzel, who would record two 1970s dance tracks for Cincinnati’s Fraternity that would be highly sought by DJs and vinyl enthusiasts in the decades since.
Session bassist extraordinaire, Carol Kaye, is certainly no stranger to the philosophical notion of “bass as bottom end.” And yet, it was an uncharacteristically flamboyant performance that led (ironically, perhaps) to unexpected commercial success. Songfacts has a great interview that reveals the comical back story behind Carol’s unusually baroque bass lines for Mel Torme’s 1969 version of “Games People Play”:
Songfacts: Did you ever come out of a session and you didn’t think much of it, and then one of the songs from that session became a big hit?
Carol: Oh yeah. A few times. Most of the time I could predict which take was going to be the hit. You just felt it. It just kind of came together. But there was one time when I overplayed on bass to try to wake up a drummer. The drummer was in on tour and he was sleeping. You could tell that. And it was a big band. He was slowing down in the parts and the part that I was playing was slow according to the tune. The tune required just a few notes on my part. So somebody in the band said, “Do something, Carol.” And so I played a lot of notes and it woke up the drummer. And I walked in the booth after the take, and I said, “Now we can do a take.” And they looked at me and laughed and said, “That was the take.” I said, “Oh, no, that’s a bass solo. All the way through that’ll never be a hit.” But it was the biggest hit that Mel Tormé ever had. It was a #1 hit. The bass part that I invented is a test now at schools around the world. It’s funny, the name of the record was “Games People Play.” And he’s just going, “La di da” and here’s all this bass and stuff coming in. I thought, That’ll never be a hit. And it was a big smash hit for him. So yeah, a lot of times you’re wrong:
“Games People Play” by Mel Torme featuring Carol Kaye on lead bass
Carol Kaye touched on the hilarious Mel Torme episode in her interview with Horizon VU Music Blog: “I went home thinking I failed the fine Mel Torme, musical genius and wonderful Jazz musician/composer/singer. Well, that turned out to be his biggest money-making record.”
Carol Kaye’s Lone 45?
A search of the 45Cat database with the keywords “Carol Kaye” only turned up 2 false hits. But wait – a comment by 45Cat contributor, Davie Gordon, tips us to a fascinating piece of trivia: 1976 UK single by Spiders Webb includes a B-side called “Reggae Bump” that I can only presume – based on the title and date of release – is an instrumental disco reggae take on the popular 70s dance step. According to Davie Gordon: “[Carol] ‘Kaye,’ the co-writer of “Reggae Bump,” is session bassist, CarolKaye, who was married to drummer, Spider Webb.”
For discos only
A previous blog piece featured Carol Kaye & the Hitmen’s Latin-flavored instrumental – “Baia” – that could easily have been a Top 40 hit if released at the time of its recording.
One weekend in late March 2009 I was listening to Bob Edwards‘ radio show while on my way to an event and had to pull over to finish listening to the rest of his interview with legendary session bassist, Carol Kaye – who is estimated to have played on more than 10,000 [!] recording dates. Bob was a total fanboy as he interviewed this pivotal musician who, quite literally, played on all the hits, and his enthusiasm was infectious.
I have since come across a great instrumental – “Baia” – by Carol Kaye (& the Hitmen) in a rather rare turn as bandleader, and I’m stunned to discover that this 1965 recording seems not to have been released on vinyl back in the day:
“Baia” Carol Kaye & the Hitmen 1965
This 1996 German release appears to be the only commercial access to Carol Kaye in her one-time role as Recording Artist – who, by the way, wrote 4 of the 16 songs assembled here. Check out the lineup of musicians:
Bass Guitar – Carol Kaye & Rene Hall
Double Bass – Al McKibbon
Drums – Earl Palmer
Flute – Bill Green
French Horn – Dwight Carver
Keyboards – Ray Johnson
Lead & Rhythm Guitar – Carol Kaye
Percussion – Gary Coleman
Saxophone – Jim Horn & Bill Green
Trombone – Lew McCreary & Dick Leith
Vibraphone – Gary Coleman
Producer – Carol Kaye
Arranger – Carol Kaye & H.B. Barnum
Engineer – Bob Ross
Reissue Producer – Bert Gerecht
“Abilene” was originally an album track on Bob Gibson’s 1957 album, I Come For To Sing:
The song became a #1 country single for George Hamilton IV in 1963.
The following year Waylon Jennings would also record “Abilene” but release it solely as an album track on his one and only LP for the Bat label, At J.D.’s – check out the unusually deep bottom on this recording:
Abilene – Waylon Jennings
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Abilene” by Waylon Jennings.]
The “Key City” in Song
In “The Women There Don’t Treat You Mean: Abilene in Song” – published April 2007 in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly – author Gary Hartman notes “although Gibson’s is the most well-known tune to refer to the Key City, Abilene appears in dozens of other songs performed by a surprisingly diverse group of musicians. Legendary Texas bluesman Sam ‘Lightnin” Hopkins recorded at least three tunes between 1948 and 1974 in which he sang the praises of Abilene. Texas honky-tonk pioneer Ernest Tubb recorded ‘Girl from Abilene,’ and Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash co-authored the song ‘Wanted Man,’ in which the lead character spends time in Abilene. The list of artists who pay tribute to Abilene is remarkably long and includes Ian Moore, Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Eliza Gilkyson, Larry Joe Taylor, and even two British rock bands, Yes and Humble Pie.”
Waylon: 4 Wheels Good, 2 Legs Bad
Kinky Friedman, in his essay on ‘Outlaws’ in The Country Music Pop-Up Book, writes that “Waylon Jennings, at the same time [early 1970s], was sometimes quite literally slugging it out in Nashville. Like all of us, he struggled against the musical establishment. One of my first memories of Waylon was on a sunny afternoon as I was walking up an alley behind Music Row, and he drove up in a big Cadillac and a cloud of dust. He pulled up beside me and lowered the window, and I swear he looked part devil and part smilin’ Jesus. On that day he gave some words to live by that I have never forgotten. ‘Get in, Kink,’ he said. ‘Walkin’s bad for your image.'”
In 1972 Starday-King released a country compilation LP (on their Nashville imprint) entitled, Almost Persuaded, that was strictly a ladies-only affair: Rose Maddox, Dolly Parton, Jan Howard, Dottie West, Lois Williams, Betty Amos – and Ruby Wright. Ruby’s playful little rocker, “Adios Aloha” — written by June Carter & Don Davis — is the standout track for me: a sly lyric that is supported by unusually (for a Starday release) deep and warm bass tones, as well as exuberant drumming and punchy mariachi horns.
Adios Aloha – Ruby Wright
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play ”Adios Aloha” by Ruby Wright.]
As it turns out, “Adios Aloha” is not a Starday recording but rather a song originally released in 1965 on the RIC (Recording Industries Corporation) label as the A-side of a single. Starday-King must have simply leased the song – along with its flip side, “A Smile on My Lips” – for this 1972 collection of country coquettes.
Curiously, though, Ruby does have a bona fide King Records connection: Between the years 1949 and 1959 Wright was a King recording artist.
Billboard‘s November 14, 1970 edition would reveal Ruby Wright’s Cincinnati connection in its regular report from one of the “music capitals of the world’:
Ruby Wright, widow of Barney Rapp, veteran band leader and talent booker who died of a heart attack here October 14, will continue operation of the Barney Rapp Entertainment Agency, with offices in the Sheraton-Gibson Hotel. She will be assisted in the venture by her four daughters. Miss Wright, for many years a featured singer on [local NBC TV] WLW-T here until her retirement a year ago, said last week that she will also continue with the office’s expanding tour business and the producing of the local annual Shrine Circus.