The jazz funk era saw many musicians morph from sidemen to leaders – star acts in their own right. Harvey Mason, Herbie Hancock and Lonnie Liston Smith all achieved a level of fame after moving into the crossover arena from the world of jazz. Those behind Spider’s Webb never got close to that level of success but their solitary album for Fantasy, “I Don’t Know What’s On Your Mind”, provided the world with a classic floor-filler and six other numbers that showed the skill of all those involved. That the line-up on the record contained one of the most distinctive bass players in popular music was somewhat overlooked, especially as she hardly touched the instrument on this record but instead played lead guitar.
Spider’s Webb was founded by the husband and wife team of Carol Kaye and Kenneth Ronald Rice. Rice had acquired the Spider Webb tag when he was dancing the Hully Gully as a teenager, as he explained to John Abbey in Blues & Soul. “People thought I looked like a spider and so the name just kinda stuck. But I liked it; it’s such a visual name” and so he adopted it as his professional name too.
Born in Detroit in 1944, Webb was playing drums from when he was in his teens. He played the local jazz clubs and the odd session in the Motor City before moving to New York in 1967 to take up a job offer from King Curtis to join his backing group the King-Pins. “I had met King [Curtis] a couple of years earlier when the group I was playing in played in New York. He saw the show and said that if I ever came back that way he’d give me a job.” He did two years with Curtis, before he joined Harry Belafonte’s band in Vegas, and then moved to LA a couple of years after that to play in David Clayton Thomas’ post Blood Sweat & Tears outfit The Sanctuary Band, followed by a further period in Vegas before returning to LA where he and Kaye put the group together.
Carol Kaye’s career was as one of the most successful session players of all. Born in Everett, Washington in 1935 she moved to LA when she was six. She saw the guitar as her escape from a life that she felt was dominated by her being not pretty enough for the Californian dream. Her break came when she was spotted by producer Otis Blackwell at Specialty Records who began to use her on dates, including early ones by Sam Cooke. She rapidly became an in-demand player, and by some accounts has played on over 10,000 tracks. In the 60s she was part of the team of LA session players nicknamed the Wrecking Crew, and made her reputation via her picked bass style that adorned many Beach Boys sessions, including those for “Pet Sounds” and the abandoned “Smile” album. If you listen to ‘Sloop John B’ from “Pet Sounds” you are listening to the pinnacle of her playing. She is on hundreds of soul and jazz recordings, including many of Motown’s West Coast sessions and David Axelrod’s classic albums.
Carol Kaye and Spider Webb had the idea for their own group about 18 months before the record was issued. It is likely that they were brought to Fantasy Records’ attention when they met label President Ralph Kaffel while working on the sessions for Hampton Hawes’ “Open Windows” album, produced by Axelrod. Kaffel liked the idea but thought that they could do with a producer to give their music a proper sheen, and he hooked them up with Jeff Lane. Lane had had great success as the producer of BT Express and Brass Construction, whose groove-based funk presaged the birth of disco. Lane was the right sort of producer for them. “The thing we liked most about Jeff was that he left us free to do our own thing our own way. We cut the rhythm at Fantasy’s own studio and then the strings were put on in New York by Randy Muller.” Muller was part of Brass Construction and his careful arrangements do much to create the record’s drive.
The other members of Spider’s Webb were keyboard player Harold Land Jr – the son of the great jazz saxophonist – George “Jazzbo” Spence on bass, Sam Taylor on rhythm guitar and percussionist Renaldo Jackson (replaced by Paul Bennett when they became a working group). The numbers chosen for the LP mixed tunes that came from Lane’s group of writers and those from Kaye and Webb. The album opened with the title track, ‘I Don’t Know What’s On Your Mind’, a slick groove built up on bass and lead guitar and a pounding beat. DJs around the world played it from the album – forcing Fantasy to release it as both a 7” and 12” single several months after the album had hit the streets. It quickly became a disco classic, especially in the UK. ‘I’ve Learned From My Burns’ is next up, a sinister sounding hypnotic funk rhythm, which tells a cautionary tale of the life of a struggling artist in the music industry. Kaye and Webb’s ‘Reggae Bump’ closes Side One. It has a touch of the Caribbean about it, perhaps more 10cc goes disco than Bob Marley. Randy Muller’s string arrangement propels the song.
‘Spider’s Webb’ opens Side Two, a slick tune that, in common with all the best disco, keeps its interest by the complex interlocking rhythms. A rudimentary vocal chant and more strings provide the lead lines. ‘Carry Me Through’ is jazzy, sounding similar to a track on a Bob James or Dave Grusin album. It features some beautiful guitar playing by Carol Kaye, who really gets to show why she was so in-demand as a player. Her solo is followed by some equally adept playing from Harold Land Jr. We’re into a heavy funk groove again with ‘Good Thing’, which opens with Spider’s deep voice telling men everywhere not to ignore the good thing they have at home. The final track is a rather odd choice, a version of a song composed by Steve Kennedy, Ken Marco and Wayne Stone from the Canadian rock group Motherlode. They may have been friends of Kaye’s as she played bass on their debut album from 1969 which spawned the hit ‘When I Die’.
When they were interviewed for Blues & Soul, Webb and Kaye appeared to be looking forward to success with the record and the group. It was not to be. Whatever sales “I Don’t Know What’s On Your Mind” picked up they were just to DJs and clubbers and it never crossed over to a pop audience. The group Spider’s Webb didn’t make another record and Kaye and Webb returned to work as session musicians.