Session players are the magicians of the music world. They appear, in abundance, when we need them and then vanish into thin air when we don’t. So, it might come as a shock that these pay-per-session superheroes are responsible for some of the most well-known riffs and baselines in our beautiful industry. In order to show our ultimate respect for these musicians behind the big names, we at Zimrii have thrown together a list of our top 3 famous session musicians, to inspire you to become, employ, or aspire to be.
GIRLS TO THE FRONT. We’ve kicked off this list of session musicians with a great big dose of girl power from the interminable Carol Kaye. She has played bass on over 50,000 records; notably, the Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’, Ritchie Valens’s “La Bamba,” Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.” Her career spans more than a decade, which means, essentially; if you’re a fan of a song from the 60s/70s that’s more than a little funky, then you’ve heard her basslines. She doesn’t record sessions anymore, but you can take bass lessons from her over Skype via her website. She’s also been known to send out memorabilia when people purchase her text-books; such as photocopies of her $70 cheque for the mission impossible theme – so, treat yourself.
The Wrecking Crew
The Wrecking Crew are second on our famous session musicians list, because Carol Kaye was in them. A loose collective of musicians, they were responsible for thousands of records in the 1960s and 1970s, and so many hits we’d need to write a novel to get ‘em all in. Needless to say, again – if it’s from the 60s or 70s and it’s got you dancing, then the wrecking crew are to blame. They were the go-to for Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” production method – and this produced such tunes as ultimate classic The Ronettes “Be My Baby”. If you’re interested in their greatest hits, you can view a run-down here. Half their prolific status came from them being a bunch of highly talented, very skilled musicians – half came from them frequently working fifteen-hour days. The money was high, the songs were hits, and the lifestyle was one of old school rock and roll. Check out the 2015 documentary which features clips of the most infamous songs, and behind the scenes footage.
In terms of the famous session musician’s hall of fame, then praise from none other than Little Richard surely must elevate you to somewhere near the top. The great master called Earl Palmer ‘the greatest session drummer of all time’. The drummer king of rhythm and blues and rock and roll from 1949 all the way through to 1980 – Palmer also dabbled with The Wrecking Crew. However, like Kaye, he quickly went on to establish a name for himself outside of the crew. Palmer was one of the first session musicians to enter the rock and roll hall of fame in 2000; along with his Wrecking Crew brother Hal Blaine. Famed for his steady pace, he quickly earned himself the nickname of “the metronome”. Palmer, however, considered himself a mere accompanist, saying “the drums is an accompanying instrument, really. If you don’t know how to accompany then you’re not a good drummer, you’re just a soloist.” Humble guy!
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Also published on Medium.