Mary Kaye

 Fender Guitars

Mary Kaye ( sometimes called the "First Lady of Rock and Roll", was a guitarist and performer who was active in the 1950s and 1960's. Mary Kaye (born Mary Ka'aihue) descended from Hawaiian royalty in the line of Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last reigning monarch, and was born into a show business family.

She is credited, along with Louis Prima, as being a founder of the Las Vegas "lounge" phenomenon: an all-night party atmosphere where stars and common folk rubbed elbows in a freewheeling environment. Mary was photographed with her combo, the Mary Kaye Trio, in a 1956 Fender promotional advertisement featuring a new Stratocaster electric guitar. This ash blonde guitar with maple neck and gold hardware later became popularly known as "The Mary Kaye Strat".

Mary Kaye died in a Las Vegas hospital of pulmonary disease on February 17, 2007.

Mary was diabetic, she was heavily involved in the Diabetes Association. I met her because we were putting together a Diabetes Fundraiser in 2004

This guitar is currently in my own collection. It is a limited edition Fender Mary Kaye model. The true story of the original Mary Kaye white Stratocaster is very interesting. She was asked to do an Ad for Fender in the mid to late 50's, They gave her a white Strat with gold hardware to pose with. White guitars always photograph well. She never even owned a white Strat until many years later,  People who saw the advertisement  were asking the dealers  for the "Mary Kaye Strat" . Hence the name stuck and they are highly collectable today.  White guitars with gold hardware are  always the epitome of class.

Ed Roman

 

Cliches sometimes ring or twang true it seems, as the apple didn't fall too far from the tree when talking about the leader of the Jay Kaye Band. The son of legendary Hawaiian First Lady of Rock 'n' Roll guitarist Mary Kaye (Kaaihue) and grandson of Johnny Ukulele, Jay Kaye's musical heritage is close to the bone when he roams the stage with his black Strat and a swagger.

Jay told Modern Guitars that he grew up on the road, sleeping in the back of his parents' car as they toured the U.S., surrounded by some of the hottest musicians on the planet. More often than not, he watched his mom wow the crowds with her "White Beauty", a white Stratocaster with gold hardware that would later be known as the "Mary Kaye" Strat by Fender fans around the world. Mom was also named one of the outstanding jazz artists of the year (1957/1962) by Playboy magazine.

Jay Kaye was nearly born backstage when his mom decided she needed to be rushed to a local hospital during the last song of her set in St. Louis, Missouri. A few years later, a delivery truck showed up at the Kaye home with a bunch of guitars and amplifiers. That pretty much set the stage for what was to come.

By the time he was 15-years-old, Kaye had recorded his first album Suddenly One Summer. At 17, he joined his first serious group, The Rush Hour, and played covers of music by Spencer Davis, Blind Faith, Sam and Dave, and Fleetwood Mac. He and his bandmates would later open up shows for such huge acts like Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull.

Today, Jay works with bandmates Brahm Heidl (bass/vocals) and Toby Taylor (drums/vocals) in the Jay Kaye Band, a group that calls Mallorca, Spain, home. Still they get around Europe on tour offering up a great mix of hard edged blues. The Jay Kaye Band has released three CDs: Everything I Touch (Becomes The Blues); Live and Unplugged; and The Big Turnaround with sound clips on the band's website, along with a couple of videos from their recent concert in Las Vegas and a local gig closer to home.

 

You were on the road touring even before you picked up your first guitar. Tell us about those early days.

Jay Kaye: Actually, I remember hearing and feeling my mother's muffled voice as she was singing. The vibration carried down through her diaphragm and into that warm and gurgling place where I was. The night I was born, mom was rushed from the stage to the hospital.

That was my first "on the road with the Mary Kaye Trio" experience!

Mom has told me that I was on the road with her and dad, pretty much all the time. Baby sitters would care for me sometimes right there in the dressing room while mom and dad were doing their show.

In the beginning, my dad was hired as a substitute upright bassist and vocalist for Franky Ross {Biagio Bologna} who was the third part of the group with mom and her brother Norman Kaye. Frank had to go off and fight in the Korean War, so my dad got the job in more ways than one!

Uncle Franky died years back of cancer. Mom told me one time that they were very close back then before he had to leave for the Army, so close that if he hadn't gone off, he probably would have been my father. But Frank came back from the war and was re-installed as the third voice, accordionist and comic relief of the trio. My dad became "road manager".

This era happened before I was around and it's second hand info as to told me by mom, but the times I remember most were my trips to Lake Tahoe when mom played at Harrah's Casino and Bill Harrah himself took us out in his speed boat to watch dad water ski in the very cold water of Lake Tahoe. My first visit to Honolulu and Hawaii was when mom did a concert performance with Louis Armstrong. I met Armstrong when I was back stage. I made acquaintances with a lot of people, some famous, some not so famous, being on the road with my mom. I was privileged to be in that situation but I was only a young boy.

Was guitar the first instrument to attract you?
 

JK: As a kid I wanted to get on the drums. Any time mom had a rehearsal with the band in the living room I'd watch and wait for them to take a break. As soon as the drummer got off his drum throne, I was on em; bangin' away until I drove every body crazy and was told to stop!

It's amazing when I think about it now. I picked up a slight interest in the ukulele when I was eight. It lends itself more to accompaniment chordal rhythms to vocals than to single note stuff, but my grandfather who's known as, ”Johnny Ukulele" was the master! He performed with his Royal Hawaiian Review in "Vaudeville" Vegas, Chicago; he even gave Howard Hughes private ukulele lessons back in the '40s! And he taught mom and uncle Norman to play almost as good as he did.

If you've ever been to Hawaii, everybody's playing ukuleles. It's Hawaii's national instrument! We always had one or two around the house and mom caught me trying to make a noise out of one so she showed me how to play a simple song or two or three chords. All you need is one or two fingers to make the chords.

What were you hearing on radio at the time?

JK: Subliminally, I was starting to hear things on the radio but nothing that I focused on until my 10th birthday. I got a portable record player and my first 45 single. Mom said it was some English band that was all the rage in Europe and that they were coming to America. What's their name? It was the only record I had so I put it on. Eight bars into it I was stunned!

"I Saw Her Standing There" by the Beatles. I looked at the record sleeve and these guys looked so cool with their long hair. But the music was revolutionary! That record played all through the day and that was the day I knew what I was gonna be: a Beatle! A longhaired musician! I knew that growing the hair was the easy bit. Learning to play was going to be the challenge.

I suppose you had a guitar or two around the house.

 

JK: Fender had just delivered a U.P.S. truck full of guitars and amps. There were two Fender Jaguar guitars, one black the other white, two Super Reverb amps, one bone white Telecaster and the new Fender electric 12-string guitar. Ironically, there wasn't a Strat.

They were all endorsement gifts, so access to equipment was a room away! I acquisitioned the 12-string. The neck was a lot more difficult than the Jags for my young fingers to get around, but it sounded big like Roger McGuinn's Rickenbacker 12-string in the Byrds. Big and chordal. You could hardly tell that I didn't know how to play when I turned the amp up full blast! That was my first encounter with that indescribable rush you get when you've got your guitar cranked to max! My first but very brief one because just then mom came running in screaming to turn it down to one, or better still, off until I could play something!

Did you take lessons from the famous Mary Kaye or from a local shop?

JK: I began by applying the simple two finger chords that I learned on the ukulele. It sounded okay but I was only strumming the first three strings. I got mom to give me few lessons, and she had me playing majors E-A-D and G. I came up with a dozen tunes using those four chords and then all the first position minor [open] chords. It took a while before I had enough strength in my left hand to hold down a bar chord, but after a year I was playing in my first garage band with the local neighborhood talent. Can't tell ya’ll what tunes we were jammin' but for sure they were three chord wonders. All of them!

Did you get to use mom's guitars on your first gig?

JK: At 12, I played my first junior high school dance. I played on the white Jag through one of the Supers with, “Jay Kaye and the Loved Ones”. We were a “Mod” pop rock group. That was our first and last school dance. Back to the rehearsal room.

Since you grew up in the '60s, I'd think that you were influenced by guitarists other than your mom.

JK: Yeah, I grew up in the '60s with flower power, hippies, free love and psychedelic bands and the first, to my knowledge, power trios. When I heard those two guitar players Jimi [Hendrix] and and Eric [Clapton], and their styles so powerful and so distinctive and different, my musical direction was affirmed.

A lot of other events happened at that time. I was in Vancouver, Canada, recording my first collection of songs experimenting with different musical styles, analog recording techniques and ethnic instruments such as the sitar and tablas, and tampering with, for the first time, an electric guitar with a distortion unit, blowing through an amp at peak level.

You didn't have CDs or DVDs or the Internet to learn songs. Did you do the old 45 record or album drop-the-needle-and-learn-to-play technique?

JK: Exactly. From then on it was technical practice and research and that meant taking a 33 rpm LP recording of Jimi doing "Purple Haze" put it on the turntable and slow it down to 16 rpm and cueing the lick you wanna cop by gently dropping the needle in the groove about where the lick is in the song over and over again until you got it. We didn’t know what a loop or a CD was at the time, so this method worked for me!

I fell in love with the blues and developed a great admiration and respect for the fathers of the blues, rhythm and blues, and jazz.

Did you meet any well-known guitarists when you were younger? Any interesting anecdotes or experiences?

JK: At 16 I was playin' a Gibson SG Standard, a gift from the president of the now defunct White Whale Records who released the LP I recorded in Vancouver, Suddenly One Summer . It's now been re-released on Sun Dazed Inc. Anyway, I played the SG for almost two years. The second year I joined my first semi-pro band called Rush Hour and I was actually making money covering R&B and rock and soul, Spencer Davis, Blind Faith, Sam and Dave and Fleetwood Mac.

The only negative about the band was humping Chip Bloch's Hammond B3 organ and Leslie speaker everywhere we gigged. It took three of us to get it in and out of the van! But I had to admit, when Chip had it fired up and playing there's just no other sound like it. My most unforgettable memory with Rush Hour was the day we were in our Culver City rehearsal studio in the middle of a song and some thin, long haired rocker looking guy walks right in and stood there off to the side waiting until we finished. We cut it short and Chip asked "Can we help you?”

The stranger said he was walking by an he heard the music and he liked what he heard and that we had potential but all we needed was a little direction.

He introduced himself as Stash Wagner, singer songwriter and front man for a band called Fraternity of Man. They had a hit awhile back called "Don't Bogart that Joint".

He went on to explain that his band had finished their second LP and while the record was in post production they broke up because of personal differences. The immediate problem was they were supposed to play a very important concert in two weeks and he was without a band. He was confident that we could pull it off if we started rehearsing right then and there and the money was gonna be $800 apiece! We looked at each other and nodded "Yes!" and started learning his tunes.

Stash wouldn’t tell us much about the gig except it was going be at Santa Barbara State College and that we would be the opening band. He didn't tell us who we were opening for because he didn't want us to get rattled. Not telling us really made it worse. [Editor - The concert took place August 1, 1969 at the Earl Warren Fairgrounds, Santa Barbara, CA.]

Okay, you've got me hanging.

JK: It was only on the day we played that we found out we would be the opening band for Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull!

Man, that must have been exciting. How'd it go?

JK: We all arrived in separate vehicles with Chip and Mike in the van with all our gear. I remember Stash, the drummer and me behind the stage at the fairgrounds watching a small army of light and sound techs running around like ants. We approached a guy who looked like he was directing things and he asked, "How much ya got?" We pointed to our van.

With kind of a smirky half smile he says, “Just leave it in the van for now, your stuff is going on last.”

We looked up when the ground started vibrating from three giant 16-wheelers as they swung on to the grounds and reversed right up to the stage! The doors swung open, the ramps came down and out rolled the biggest flight cases I'd ever seen. It was Zep's gear. Two semis full of amplifiers and drum gear and a giant Chinese gong all in flight cases.


Jimmy Page's gear went stage right. Three stacks of 1000-watt Hiwatt tops with two 4x12 cabs. All of his toys went around the perimeter front stage right. John Paul Jones had three 1000-watt Ampeg refrigerators and a couple of stomp pedals. I think one was a Dunlop rotovibe, along with a Wurlitzer piano. Bonham brought his beautiful copper and black "Tiger Stripe" Ludwig’s with the 40-inch kick that’s got the front skin on.

John’s very economical cymbal set up included two crashes, left and right and a high hat and hook for the tambourine. Then to the fight, the big Chinese gong. After the gear was positioned then marked with tape on the floor, it was all moved back to make room for Tull's gear. Our back line seemed to disappear before the armory that barricaded the back of the stage. I got a bit spooked by the intensity level those guys were operating at, and by the realization that we were way out gunned on the back line power issue. Plus the fact that Zep and Tull were already legendary "rock gods" back then.

So, you're this local group warming up a crowd for a couple of monsters of rock.

JK: I know I didn't show it, but I was humbled and awestruck. So, I went back to the trailer for a beer and a smoke!

I just peeked in and there was nobody around and the food and drinks hadn't arrived yet. So, back to the stage and they were just about ready for our stuff. Chip backed our van to the stage, the roadies shifted the B3 and Leslie to front stage left, Mike's bass amp went left center back beside the drummer. Right in front of the massive bass towers of Tull stood my awesome 2x15 Vox Super Beatle cab with the 100-watt Vox Super Beatle top placed in front of Martin Barren’s two Goliath Marshall stacks.

I overheard a sound tech complaining that the floor plan was too small for a concert of this magnitude because the microphone stands were already to the edge stage front, so there was no room for the floor monitors to go. And I noticed then that the stage could've been higher too, it was only about five feet high. There were some stressed out sound dudes roaming around the place.

I walked into the dressing rooms. They were just two grey porta trailers stuck together with a fold out step. I peeked in to see Clive Bunker warming up with his sticks on his knee. He was a friendly chap. He said, "Hello," with a smile. I took my guitar out of the case and sat down and began to go through the tunes and riffs on my unplugged guitar. Martin Barre came in with a smile and a nod to everyone.  We had about five minutes left before we all made our way to the back stage ramp.

At that moment, the dressing room door swung open and in flew Ian Anderson, not touching the door to close it and with a hurried step to the back of the room, he swung around looking like Fagan from the Oliver Twist tale with a grumpy scowl and looking through his eye brows at us as if we had crashed his private dressing room. He whispered something to Barre and then left in the hurried fashion in which he came leaving the door open.

We were on our way out anyway. It was almost nine o’clock and the sun was just starting to go down. We were huddled at the bottom of the back stage ramp listening to some local D.J. psyche up five thousand hippies and students screaming into a roar.

Then over the loudspeakers we heard, "Stash Wagner and the Fraternity of Man!"

So, did you crumble or did you rock?

 

JK: I was the first one up and to my side of the stage. I didn't see anything but my amp as I was plugging the cable into my axe. I checked to see if the light was on and then I pivoted around. It was awesome, terrifying, wonderful, and kinda funny. I was laughing to myself as I looked out over a small sea of heads making that incredible noise.

Then I heard the drum sticks clicking in tempo for the first tune and we began. It was a medium tempo funky groove called "Feelin' Good". And it sounded good! Stash was still off stage waiting until the groove was really simmering and the crowd was into the music.

And just then I heard the roar, and I looked up and there he stood at the mic blowing his harp. Mike and I were smiling ear to ear and we had the time of our lives with Stash as our driver. He didn't have a great voice but he had a distinct tonal quality and was a good showman.

The crowd must have heard of you guys or at least recognized Stash.

JK: Fraternity of Man was a legendary anti-establishment underground band. Their song "Don't Bogart That Joint" became one of the anthems of that era! We didn't even get to finish the "Don't Bogart" lyric when the crowd joined in singing and throwing joints and other stuff up on stage. Naturally, Stash lit one up which caused some hysteria. Chicks were taking their tops off while Stash and I threw the offerings back to the crowd. We were having a really groovy concert! We had a short set and when we thanked the crowd before we got off stage, they protested! But, not for long since they knew, like I knew, that the magic had only just begun.

Don't leave us with that. You've got to tell us what the Tull and Zeppelin shows were like.

 

JK: Sure! Walking back to the trailers, I passed Clive and Martin on their way to the stage, no sign of Mr. Anderson or his bass player. I opened the trailer door and there they were, John B. and John Paul in conversation, cordial smiles and hellos to us as we went right for the beers and what was on the table to munch.

All of a sudden Robert Plant storms in, annoyed and distressed, dodging a tall, long-blond-haired, big breasted, good looking Amazon "groupie" dressed in nothing but a black micro mini toga, "G "string, and spiked high heels. She was all over him! Robert was struggling to keep her off. His mates were making wisecracks, laughing, and we were all in there with our girlfriends, except for Stash who was watching the show.

The groupie didn't care who and how many were watching. She was on a mission. Poor Robert pulled her out of the trailer, closed the door and ten seconds later he was back inside without her. Two security gorillas had pulled her off him and threw her out. There was a lot of hushed giggling all around. I think Plant was a little embarrassed, but had a laugh about it too. So, there I was just relaxing with my girlfriend and the gang drinking my beer trying not to be too impressed or stare too long at some of the greatest rockers and fathers of rock history.

Where was Page?

JK: Jimmy Page walked in with a big smile for everyone, a guitar case in hand and a, "Good evening!" in a very Londoner accent. He laid the case across two chairs just opposite of me. He opened the lid and turned toward me with a wink and a smile and spoke to me like I was an old friend.

Smiling he said, "'Ere. come an 'ave a look at this mate." It was a '57 Goldtop Les Paul in mint condition. He said he found it that afternoon in a pawn shop in Santa Barbara. I congratulated him on his find and went back to my place thinking, "Here I am 17-years-old, I just played for five thousand screaming hippies and I'm hanging with the boys from Zep and Tull, talking to Jimmy Page about guitars and now I'm gonna go watch Jethro Tull finish their set from backstage!"

We all watched Led Zeppelin from the back too. The sound quality wasn't as good as out front, but they were awesome from beginning to end. We never saw our $800 that Stash said we'd each get. He told us that his manager took our share of the money and skipped. He paid us a $100 each out of his own pocket.

You also opened for the legendary bluesman Albert Collins?

 

JK: In '72, I was in Baker City, California, fronting a band that was opening for Albert Collins in some old theater that held about 300 people. He and his rhythm section got there about a half hour after we did, arrving in two black Cadillac limos. They parked by the back entrance and stayed in the cars watching television!

I brought my own rig, a Fender Super Reverb, Big Muff Vox wah wah and my Strat. There wasn't much to do but wait for the curtain to go up. Mr. Collins eventually came in with his guitar case and plastic suit bag and headed for his dressing room. After awhile he came back out to have look at the stage and make sure his Fender Quad Reverb was there. That’s when I introduced myself to him. He greeted me with a two-handed handshake and that warm Collins smile. He asked me what guitar I played and what music I was into. It was guitar and blues talk, but I'll never forget that he made me feel like I was in the brotherhood of guitar slingers.

When I finished and was walking to our dressing room, he shook my hand again and as I was passing said, "Boy, you play real good, keep it up, keep it up!" And then his band kicked in to "Ice Pickin'" and someone announced,  “Ladies and gentlemen, the King of the Texas Shuffle, Mr. Albert Collins!"

Albert picked it up backstage behind the curtain and then he strutted and picked his groove all the way to center stage. He didn't really pick the strings, as much as he plucked them with his index finger and his thumb.

To see and hear him workout was a real lesson on what it means to be a blues legend. Heads were bobbing and feet were stompin' when he strutted off the front of the stage and went down the center aisle playing and struttin' all the way out of the front of the building!

That was the longest guitar cable I ever saw being fed to him, and then pulled in as Albert Collins strutted back to the stage. It was an inspirational and insightful night! Thanks, Albert.

What guitarists have you found inspirational and moved you to improve?

JK: There are a number of guitarists that left their indelible mark on my playing that include John Lee Hooker, Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Johnny Guitar Watson, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But the most influential was Jimi Hendrix. I know you’ve heard that from a thousand other pickers, but I've always said proudly that I'm from the Jimi Hendrix school of guitar players. I've been blessed to be where some of the great ones have been and I thank them for their music and for what it's meant to me and my music.

What gear are you using today? Do you own any of your mom's guitars?

 

JK: Presently, I’m still playing a Fender Strat “Black Beauty” and assorted Boss stomp boxes, and Jim Dunlap Rotovibe and wah wah.

As far as owning any of mom’s guitars I don’t have one - yet!

I always use a Zoom 9000 guitar processor, which, unfortunately, isn’t produced anymore. It’s 10 years old and it's a bit of a dilemma because it's far superior to any of its Zoom descendants.

I’m still playing all this through a Marshall MG15 and a Fender Performer with its small but mighty sound!

Your new CD has some great tracks and a cool version of Dave Mason’s “Feeling Alright.” How’d the CD come about and were you involved in the engineering and production of it?

JK: The Dave Mason thing came about from our unplugged performances. It was so well accepted that we decided to record it.

"Sex Without Your Love" and "Get On The Five" were the first compositions we recorded. With the return of Toby the compilation took it’s natural course. We recorded the whole album in Brahm’s house, SOS Studio. He was responsible for the engineering and production and we took it to Germany to be re-mastered by his good friend Andreas “The Wizard” Torkler at Sono Press-Mastering.

How have your perspectives evolved or maybe matured over the years with respect to the whole music industry thing?

JK: I’ve always tried to keep an open mind about music and all its styles, as long as it’s well played and from the heart. But I have nothing but contempt for house music. I believe that the music industry is operating out of fear. Fear of losing control of the power they once had. Pandora’s Box has already been opened and there’s no going back. Thanks to Pro Tools and the Internet anyone who wants to get out there can.

With the Internet’s ability to push an artist’s name around the globe in an instant, has it offered any opportunities to you and your band that you are looking to exploit?

JK: Of course it has and is! The fact that we can be seen half way around the globe in an instant is pretty damn cool. We are putting our albums online, produced and for sale by ourselves. And we have a few other projects in the think tank.

Did your mother ever offer up any advice about a career in music?

 

JK: Well, she insisted that I take piano lessons. At six-years-old I hated it, really hated it. Earlier on in my career mom always tried to convince me to use my name and don’t sign anything without letting her see it first. She didn’t say stop with drums, but I did anyhow.

What musical direction is your band heading in or have you found a niche that you enjoy and want to stick with?

JK: I’m happy where I am. No matter where the band goes creatively, there will always be one foot firmly planted in the blues.

Tell us about your local music scene in Spain and how the music of the country influences your own style.

JK: The music scene on this tiny island of Mallorca is always in a state of flux. Though there aren’t enough venues for the bands that want to play, my band has been very fortunate to be able to survive as musicians because of the acceptance of our music by the locals. I’ve collaborated on a Spanish record but so far stick to the English language.

What else do you play besides guitar?

 

JK: Cards. [Laughs] I also play at the keyboard and the harmonica a bit and I still use a QY20 Processor for simple and not so simple beats.

What are you listening to now and what new projects do you have planned or underway?

JK: I’m listening to all and nothing and we’re already writing for our next CD. We have a DVD planned utilizing masses of footage that we’ve collected over the years.

Favorite guitar? Favorite female guitarist? Better make that your top two favorite female guitarists.

JK: Favorite guitar: the Strat of course. Favorite female guitarists: mom and Bonnie Raitt.
 
 

 

All Celebrity Tribute Pages