Lost n Found - 'Deetour' by Karen Young
The past six months of my life have been immeasurably improved by a dance track from 1982 I’d never heard of, let alone listened to, until stumbling across it on a random blog. Not only has it given me hours of entertainment, it has also transformed my body without resorting to invasive surgery. You can’t say that about every track, but more on that later.
In 2009 “Deetour” by Karen Young has been discovered by a new generation of disco lovers after spending its life being unfairly eclipsed by the Philadelphia singer's one major hit, “Hot Shot”, which reached number one on the Billboard dance chart in ’78 (before being de-throned by Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy”).
27 years of disco-hangover later, however, and it's not the pre-Aids, anything-goes, amyl-rush euphoria of "Hot Shot" that's called for, but some recession-era escapism and good old wartime boogie.
Step forward "Deetour" which earlier this was the highlight of the Undiscovered EP, and now appears on the debut compilation album from London's exploding Horsemeat Disco in its 'Party Mix' form (the original 12" A-side to the superior 'Other' mix on the B-side which is embedded above). Yet, despite this new found attention on "Deetour" there’s a mystifying lack of information about it online.
Other than finding out that “Deetour” was produced by Walter Kahn (whose brother Andy produced “Hot Shot”), written by Alice Cohen, and engineered by Lorenzo Wright at Philadelphia’s Queen Village Recording Studios, Google is annoyingly clueless, which seems criminally unfair to the unsung heroes who played my favourite bass line of 2009, and the hands down greatest jazz flute solo of recent memory.
As recompense for all the entertainment these mystery musicians have given me for the last half a year, for constantly spurring me on to “one more set” of weights in the garage by sheer force of infectious groove (combined with cheap ‘champagne’ and a smoke, obviously), and thereby miraculously transforming my body, I vowed to right this wrong, for the record books.
So, let us go “behind the music” on the “Deetour” by Karen Young, in order that future fans of this incredible song may find this humble page on The Vine and wonder no more, “What is this trippy disco/boogie odyssey actually about? Who played those licks, and those drums, and that flute solo?”
I turned to Facebook and Myspace after finding only four names linked to "Deetour" - writer Alice Cohen, producer Walter Kahn (aka Walter Kandor), and engineers Jose Rodriguez and Lorenzo Wright. I opted for writer and producer.
First I looked for writer Alice Cohen. According to Wikipedia Cohen went on to be lead writer and singer for Philadelphia synth-pop new wave band The Vels before finding her niche in the alternative music scene of America’s East coast. Can this really be the same woman? So I search for her on MySpace, figuring a musician will have an account. Except that the Alice Cohen I find looks far too young to have written a disco hit back in '78. I request her as a friend and message her to find out. Bingo! Not only is she the Alice Cohen but she actually replies, and agrees to answer some questions for The Vine, and hence for the annals of music history...
“Some need a ship, to take a trip. But not his kind, he used his mind…”
“I was pretty young when I wrote the song, back in Philly,” remembers Cohen. “[I’m] not sure if it's clear from the lyrics, but the song is about a man who gets lost while astral traveling.”
“The song title is actually from a film called "Detour", a B-movie/film noir (below). The director is Edward Ulmer – pretty obscure. I’m a film freak, and also an occult book freak, so there you have the influences. [I was] always interested in astral traveling too, [and] thought it was an original concept for a song… I originally performed it with a punk/funk group called ‘Fun City’ – we recorded a demo version of the song, but never released it.”
And there it could have stayed, denying me the workout anthem of 2009, but for a suitably cosmic twist of fate…
“Walter Kahn, a local music producer, heard of the song through his brother, Billy Kahn, who drove our band around in his van, transporting our equipment to gigs. Walt had a recording studio [Queen Village Recording Studios in Philadelphia] where "Hot Shot", and other disco tracks were produced. I remember some local funk session guys playing the tracks, I sang the scratch vocal, and then Karen came in and re-did the vocals.”
Already my head is spinning at the casual twist of fate that brought “Deetour” into my life. This felt like being present when Marvin Berry calls his brother Chuck from the 'Enchanted Under the Sea Dance' in Back to the Future – music history in the making. I read on…
“Walt changed the spelling (added the extra "e") of 'detour' and jazzed up the track with (kind of gimmicky) flourishes. Atlantic put it out, and it was on the Billboard dance charts for many weeks.”
While I am a little shocked, even a touch hurt, to see the word “gimmicky” applied to my hands-down favourite track of '09, I’m not altogether surprised having discovered via her MySpace page that Cohen went on to forge a more indie music career than the decidedly commercial sounding “Deetour” might have suggested. And anyway, she's right. It is a bit gimmicky, with some trippy '82 reverb effects for that astral vibe, which is one reason why I love it so much. The other is that it's just so damn funky. I vow to track down the genius who added this gimmickry I hold so dear, and who also had the supernatural foresight to add an extra 'e', no doubt inspiring the e-generation who would rejuvenate dance music a decade later.
Not long after, I locate Walter Kahn - aka Walter Kandor - on Facebook. No reply. This could be a very short look “behind the music”. So I Facebook his brother Andy, producer of Young’s “Hot Shot”, and he generously replies with his brother’s email address. This is how Bernstein and Woodward must have felt investigating Watergate I think to myself.
An hour or so later my inbox is graced with a message from the man who programmed such sublime breakdowns on "Deetour", Walter Kahn himself, and he's ready to talk. I tell him I’m on a mission to find out who played what – specifically that funky guitar hook, the drumming, and that flute solo. These people deserve recognition, and I was sent here to do it.
“When I got ahold of Alice's demo, I instantly saw the possibilities for Karen, who previously had all the makings of a one-hit wonder with “Hot Shot”, says the man responsible for turning Alice Cohen’s funk track into seven minutes and thirty-three seconds of unadulterated joy [the 'Other' mix]. "Deetour" was cut using real musicians. I had labored long to put together a great rhythm section, all from Philadelphia. Some were the same we used on Karen's previous hit, "Hot Shot”. Daryl Burgee was on drums. Lorenzo Wright handled guitar. Steve Green played bass. The backing vocals were done by Karen and a few of the Queen Village girls, studio singers that I'd developed over the years. That great flute solo was played by my wife, Julie Carter… I met Julie on a week's vacation in Maui, Hawaii and she was fronting a hot jazz band at the Bluebird Cafe. After a lengthy conversation during one of her breaks, we became friends and eventually married. Julie had gone to Julliard College and really could play those flute licks.” [Amen to that.]
Finally, I can thank the "Deetour" dream-team I'd spent six months imagining in my head...
Julie Carter on flute. Daryl Burgee on drums. Lorenzo Wright on guitar. Steve Green on bass. Queen Village Girls on backup.
God, what I wouldn’t give for a photo of Queen Village Girls on backup. I hope they wore matching gold baseball jackets with their own logo. Sadly, Kahn breaks my heart a little by telling me, “Pictures of Queen [Village] or Karen don't seem to be around anymore."
I look them all up on Myspace and Facebook, to no avail. Though it looks like Daryl Burgee also joined the fantastically named funk band Cashmere in '82. And the fact that that flute solo was played by Walter Kahn’s own wife is the icing on the cake. No wonder it sounds like the recording of “Deetour” was as much fun as listening to it, though Kahn reveals that they weren’t messing around in there. “We cut the rhythm tracks in 1/2 a day,” he remembers. “Karen put on her vocals on another day. Julie's flute solo was recorded on a third day. I added an extra "E" to the title, just to be as different as the song itself.” To this day, to my knowledge, there hasn’t been another famous “Detour” spelled with an extra ‘e’. Result.
Kahn somehow also found time to create the 12” versions the world has been enjoying this year. “Because Karen had previously made her impact as a dance artist, I would cut a longer than usual track, allowing for breakdowns, etc., then making a shorter, radio edit from the long 24-track master recording.” I love that Kahn just glosses over the “breakdowns” as if they’re like any other breakdown. They’re not. The sublime seven and a half minute “Other” mix, above, contains several classic examples of the art-form – the bass or drums dropping back at the exact moments your body expects, nay, needs them to. Amazing.
He then drops a clue to how “Deetour” became so gloriously “gimmicky”. “I produced and engineered all Karen Young recording sessions, including "Deetour" which was the first on our new Neve 8088 recording/mixing console with Necam automation, having just bought that console for Queen Village Studios,” reveals Kahn. I’ve no idea what Necam automation can or can’t do but what producer wouldn’t want to exploit their new technology on their latest track? If it wasn’t for that new Neve 8088 the world might have been robbed of those flourishes that have so pleasured my ears during 2009.
I push Kahn for more Neve related detail, figuring that one day fans of “Deetour” who know their pitches from their bends will appreciate hearing it from the man himself, and he kindly obliges, “The Neve 8088 had one of the richest, ballsiest sounds of the consoles I've ever worked with. Their 4-band equalzation (EQ) section of each channel gave us the ability to dial in the perfect sound for each instrument and vocal. Without automation, you had to mix all 24-tracks manually to stereo. Often I had a bunch of other people's hands working a couple of faders, as it was impossible for one person to ride levels of all tracks. Automation eliminated that problem. Neve's patented Necam was the best automation, where the faders actually moved as you touched them, and remembered those moves, allowing for the perfect mix. Over the years, though, I became more of a fan of the importance of the song, the artist's performance, and the production, rather than the engineering or equipment. We had a lot of outboard devices, including reverb, that were externally patched into the console too.”
Ah, the reverb. While I don’t understand a word of what Mr. Kahn just told me, I know that the reverb effects on “Deetour” are one of the reasons I love it so much, and the history books are now more complete, so I appreciate it.
I was curious to find out more about Karen Young herself having read that she tragically died of a bleeding ulcer in 1991, aged only 39. “I don't remember if I did meet Karen Young,” replies Cohen. “If I did, it must have been really brief. Maybe we spoke on the phone. Sorry I don't remember more about this.”
Intriguingly, I find an interview in which “Hot Shot” producer (and manager) Andy Kahn described parting ways with Young due to the people around her causing problems saying, “we pretty much abandoned working with Karen, because she just could not... she couldn't handle it. She just couldn't handle working under that pressure.” So I ask Walter about working with Young, how it came about, and why he continued to work with Young after his brother had stopped.
“Karen Young had been a fixture as the lead singer of many night club bands around the Philadelphia area. We brought her in to Queen Village Studios to record the vocals over a track that had been previously recorded by a band named Calhoon. My brother Andy and Philadelphia’s legendary DJ Kurt Borusiewicz, now deceased, rewrote a song, making it "Hot Shot", and Karen did a classic vocal performance. Daryl Burgee and Lorenzo Wright played on this session as well as "Deetour". This diva could wail, and it was quite surprising to the promoters and fans to find out that Karen was white. Her heroes were all the great R&B singers, as well as Janis Joplin. After all this success, Karen was eager to record follow-ups and was always cooperative in the studio. Most of the tracks she recorded were one or two takes, although her ad-libbed endings took a lot of coaching from me… The problem that my brother referred to was immediately after "Hot Shot" began exploding. By the time I did "Deetour" Karen re-signed to our label and those characters were eliminated.”
The word “eliminated” snaps me out of any rose-tinted imaginings I was having about the recording of “Deetour” and reminds me that this was still business, from the experienced session musicians to the new mixing desk. As a writer starting out at the time, Alice Cohen remembers “Deetour” for teaching her a few cold hard lessons too. “I was young. It was the first tune of mine to be recorded, so I got kind of ripped off actually, with the publishing rights. I was just anxious to get the song out there, and my career going. I kept 100% of my writer's royalties and gave up my publishing rights for $1 – publishing and writer's royalties are the same amount – so publishing/writing was split 50/50. There were lawyers who told me not to do this, some artists keep all their publishing, but I just wanted to get the song out there. [I’m] not bitter… just ‘par for the course’ as far as the music biz goes, in my opinion.”
At this stage I’m wondering whether going behind the music is actually as fun as listening to it, with the cold hard truth threatening to taint my innocent enjoyment. Fortunately Cohen is sanguine about events. “I made a little money, not tons - still kicking around the music business. (Cohen also directs music videos, including the latest clip for Seattle art-punk trio Talbot Tagora) “I have a new record out; vinyl-only, 500 copies limited edition. I don't really make much money at this, and never did, yet people are still writing me with interest about various things I’ve done, so I really can't complain.”
Finally, to those unsung session musicians, past and present, who regularly lay down our favourite beats, solos and hooks, we salute you.
by Alice Cohen
He had big plans, he was the kind of man,
who found his place, it was in outer space.
Dee-tour - this guy took a dee-tour - he took a dee-tour - this guy took a dee-tour...
First he closed his eyes, then he starts to rise,
then he would be gone, gone but not for long, still taken by surprise.
Dee-tour - this guy took a dee-tour - he took a dee-tour - this guy took a dee-tour...
(Party Mix only)
First he passed the moon, then he passed Neptune.
He would talk all night, on an astral flight, but always be back soon to...