Some viewers might have assumed that Carol Kaye, the legendary studio bassist who was part of the so-called Wrecking Crew in the 1960s, would be flattered by having a character loosely modeled on her, “Carole Keen,” introduced in the latest season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Noting that the real-life Kaye is now 84, Esquire praised the homage and wrote, “Hopefully she’s binging ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Season Three proudly, along with the rest of us.”
Well, no. Anyone who knows Kaye’s history of taking issue with documentaries that involve her knew that she probably wouldn’t suffer a fictional portrayal any more lightly. And indeed that has turned out to be the case, as Kaye has vented about “Mrs. Maisel” in an interview with the New York Post.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘That must be you. I love it!’ But I am not a cartoon — and my life is not a joke,” Kaye told the newspaper. “Nobody contacted me. I didn’t know a thing about it. I thought that was pretty bad — kind of like slander.”
On “Mrs. Maisel,” Carole Keen is portrayed by Liza Weil, whose history with Amy Sherman-Palladino shows goes back to “Gilmore Girls.” Like Kaye, “Keen” is blond, wears cat-eye glasses, is a single mother, and deals with the travails of being the lone female musician in a world of suspicious or predatory men, although the TV character is out on tour and the real-life Kaye stayed glued to the studio.
It’s not clear from the interview how much Kaye has watched the show and is taking issue with the specifics of how “Keen” is portrayed, and how much she’s objecting just on the principle of having her legend co-opted for fictional purposes.
“It’s a Hollywood, silly fluff piece [that has] nothing to do with me or my history. They took a few things out of my book and created a character that’s not even me at all,” Kaye told the Post.
“You have to understand, it’s not easy when you are older and it has nothing to do with you — but people think it is you… Don’t get me wrong, I have a sense of humor … but I am a professional. This is like a putdown to me.”
Kaye is well remembered for slamming “The Wrecking Crew,” the much-liked 2008 documentary about the large ensemble of musicians that individually and collectively played on thousands upon thousands of studio sessions in the ’60s. Kaye participated in the doc but came out against it upon its release, in part because she found it biased toward the point of view of her long-time enemy, drummer Hal Blaine. But Kaye’s objections go so far as holding disdain for the “Wrecking Crew” moniker itself, which she says came later and is a disservice to the musicians who participated in the scene.
Kaye is one of the most recognized studio musicians of all time, partly by virtue of having been a pioneering woman in an exclusively boys’ club, but mostly because she played unforgettable parts on an inordinate amount of the greatest records of all time.
She played on the increasingly symphonic records of the Beach Boys, from “California Girls” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains,” and she was part of the studio teams assembled by Motown, Phil Spector and Quincy Jones. She contributed to classic cuts by Frank Sinatra, Sonny & Cher (“The Beat Goes On”), Simon & Garfunkel, the Monkees, Glen Campbell (“Wichita Lineman”), Barbra Streisand (“The Way We Were”), Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker (“Feelin’ Alright”) and Ray Charles. A jazz musician in the 1950s, Kaye started out playing guitar on sessions before fatefully switching to bass in 1963 for her most famous run of record dates. She appeared on TV themes including “Mission Impossible,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “The Brady Bunch.”
Long retired from playing, Kaye switched her emphasis to music education in later years. Her website offers Skype lessons, albeit only to already experienced bassists. (“No Punk or Heavy Metal players, and no Gift Lessons,” the site warns.) She wrote an autobiography and was the subject of her own documentary, “First Lady of Bass,” Fans continue to lobby for her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In forums, fans have had a mixed reaction to Kaye’s complaints about the show. On Reddit, one young woman said she’d never heard of the bass great before “Mrs. Maisel” and was inspired to research her history by reading about the real-life parallel — and didn’t understand Kaye’s objections to an affectionate homage that could only grow her legend.
But others agreed Kaye had a right to take umbrage. “She switches sides actually,” wrote one viewer, saying the Keen character is seen playing both left-handed and right-handed. “If I was Carol, this alone would annoy me.”