Who Played On ‘La Bamba’?

Ritchie Valens

In 1958 Ritchie Valens recorded a rock and roll version of the traditional song “La Bamba” at Hollywood’s Gold Star studios:

Buddy Clark: string bass
Ernie Freeman: piano
Carol Kaye: rhythm guitar
Rene Hall: Danelectro guitar (six-string bass guitar)
Earl Palmer: drums
Ritchie Valens: vocals, guitar

Producer and owner of the “Del-Fi” label Bob Keane (a former clarinet player and big band leader) used some of the finest musicians to back up newcomer Ritchie Valens. They all had a jazz background. René Hall, Earl Palmer and Ernie Freeman worked for the Ernie Fields Orchestra at one time or the other.

Earl Palmer brought the “swamp beat” from New Orleans to Los Angeles. He started his career in New Orleans playing jazz and doing sessions for Fats Domino and Little Richard. In Los Angeles he became one of the best and most recorded studio drummers of the nineteen-sixties.

Jazz guitarist Carol Kaye switched to electric bass in the early sixties and would become a defining innovator of this instrument. With her bass lines she wrote music history. You can hear her playing on hundreds of pop songs, movie- and TV-soundtracks.

Ernie Freeman not only played piano, but was also an arranger and worked with Frank Sinatra, Petula Clark, Dean Martin and Connie Francis.

René Hall worked as studio guitarist on many R&B and pop records and wrote arrangements for Sam Cooke.

All these musicians were essential in creating the great US hits of the nineteen-fifties and -sixties. They used their jazz background to create legendary pop, soul and R&B music.

I’m not sure if bassist Buddy Clark is the same Buddy Clark who worked with Bud Freeman, Tex Beneke and Les Brown and later became a member of the Supersax band. NOTE: (April, 25th, 2008): It’s the same Buddy Clark. See following post: Who Played On ‘La Bamba’ Part 3

Learn about the historic background of “La Bamba”. And also read Who Played On “La Bamba”? Part 2.


– Bob Keane, “The Oracle Of Del-Fi”, Los Angeles: Del-Fi International Books, 2005
– E. Olsen, P. Verna, C. Wollf, ”The Encyclopedia Of Record Producers”, New York: Billboard Books, 1999
– Tony Scherman, “Backbeat – Earl Palmer’s Story”, Da Capo Press, 2000

Note: Studio musicians usually didn’t get credits until the late nineteen-sixties/early nineteenseventies. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to find out who played on records. I try to include as many sources as possible, but I don’t guarantee that my information is correct.

Electric Bass Legend Carol Kaye: L.A. Studio Musicians Were Never Called ‘Wrecking Crew’

Carol Kaye

Picture: ibanez.com

Since studio drummer legend Hal Blaine published his biography “Hal Blaine And The Wrecking Crew” in 1990 (Rebeats Publications, Alma, Michigan) a lot of people – especially journalists – started calling the Los Angeles studio musicians of the nineteen-sixties “The Wrecking Crew”.

Soon a documentary called The Wrecking Crew will be released. It tells the story of the Los Angeles studio musicians.

According to bass player Carol Kaye however – who worked as a studio musician in Los Angeles from the fifties until the seventies – the name “The Wrecking Crew” wasn’t used in the sixties. On her homepage she puts the record straight:

Where did the term “wrecking crew” come from?

That is the name of Hal Blaine’s interesting book about our business. He said the older studio musicians tho’t we 60s studio musicians are going to “wreck the business”, the way we dressed and recorded rock and roll (blue jeans, no shaves sometimes…we worked around the clock, even as many as 4-5 recording dates a day).

To be honest with you, no-one heard that term until he put out his book (about 1990). He got his term (imo) from the backup 80’s NYC group for singer Darlene Love. Our group (50-60 of us) of successful 60s studio musicians were known only as “studio musicians”, or sometimes as the “clique”, never the “wrecking crew” at all (and most don’t like that sort of passe term also).

Phil Spector probably used Earl Palmer on drums more than Hal, so the term didn’t come from Phil either….there were about 350 fine studio musicians making good money steadily (“doctors’ pay”) in recording in LA studios at that time, but most of us are retired and there’s less work for studio musicians these days.

There’s another misconception regarding the studio musicians of the sixties that I think is more disturbing than the fact, that the name “The Wrecking Crew” apparently wasn’t used back in the sixties. Because of the now well known name “The Wrecking Crew”, many journalists and music fans think, that studio musicians like Blaine, Kaye, Don Randi, Plas Johnson, Billy Strange, Tommy Tedesco and others were a kind of band. Which is not true.

In fact, they all were hired individually for recording sessions, usually through a contractor and they all worked independently. In Earl Palmer’s Biography “Backbeat” (Da Capo Press) there’s information about how the contracting business in Los Angeles worked back in the nineteen-sixties.

See also: The Invisible Musicians Who Played On All The Sixties Hits.

The ‘Wrecking Crew’ Movie – Documentary About L.A. Studio Musicians Of The Sixties

Carol Kaye And Tommy Tedesco

Denny Tedesco, son of the late studio guitar master Tommy Tedesco, made a movie called The Wrecking Crew about the great studio musicians of the sixties who worked in the Los Angeles music studios.

It features studio legends Carol Kaye, Plas Johnson, Hal Blaine, Don Randi and many more. Stars like Cher, Nancy Sinatra, and Micky Dolenz (the Monkees) are featured, too.

The documentary will be shown in March at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival and at the SXSW in Austin, Texas. In April it will be shown at the Nashville Film Festival. You can find further information on the Wrecking Crew Movie Homepage.

See also:

Bass Guitar? Electric Bass? Fender Bass? Danelectro Bass Guitar?

Electric Bass

There’s some confusion about how to call the electric bass. Many people call it “bass guitar”. Let’s look at the basics: the electric bass is shaped like a guitar, has four strings and is tuned like a string bass. Nowadays there are also electric basses with five and six strings.

Until the late nineteen-sixties the electric bass was called by many “Fender bass”, because Fender was the first company to market electric basses on a large scale. During the late sixties the term “electric bass” became also common. The term “bass guitar” is a little bit confusing, because there’s also an instrument called “Danelectro bass guitar”, which is a six string guitar tuned one octave down.

In the fifties and sixties the Danelectro bass guitar was often used in combination with a string bass and was responsible for the “click” sound that you can hear on many country songs. For example on Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”. Usually the Danelectro doubled (playing unison) the string bass or the electric bass. The combination of string bass and electric bass was also popular in the sixties. A good example is “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”. Chuck Berghofer is on string bass, Carol Kaye on electric bass.

There are at least two famous songs that use a Danelectro and on which Carol Kaye also played: on the Richie Valens hit “La Bamba” you can hear Rene Hall on the Danelectro, Carol Kaye played the rhythm guitar. On “Wichita Lineman”, Glen Campbell plays a wonderful solo on a Danelectro he borrowed from Carol Kaye, while Kaye herself played the electric bass. And you can hear Carol Kaye playing the Danelectro on “The Beat Goes On” by Sonny and Cher.

The Birth Of A Beach Boys Song: Brian Wilson And Studio Musicians At Work

This lovely video re-creates the making of the Beach Boys song Salt Lake City. It gives a rare insight into the way Brain Wilson used to produce songs together with the great Los Angeles studio musicians in the sixties. Some of the best play on this song: Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, Plas Johnson, Howard Roberts and many more. Here’s a bit for trivia lovers: guitarist Billy Strange for once plays the tambourine.