Redicovering a disco classic by Karen Young
Karen Young | photo courtesy of the Mal Mace archives

In 1978, at the height of disco fever, Philly singer Karen Young released Hot Shot, on the New York disco label West End Records. The album featured three singles including the title song that rose to #67 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and spent several weeks at number one on Billboard’s disco charts. It propelled the Northeast, Philly born singer from obscurity to stardom overnight. The song, co-written, produced and arranged by Philly natives Andy Kahn and Kurt Borusiewicz was also their ticket to fame. The album, long out of print, was recently remastered from the original tapes, and has been reissued with bonus tracks by Big Break Records (BBR), the reissue division of Cherry Red Records.

There’s a lot of rich music history, and music business history, behind the story of Hot Shot. Sadly, Karen Young died in 1991 at the young age of 39. “Hot Shot” was written, arranged, produced and recorded at Queen Village studios in Philly, the studio that Andy Kahn and his brother Walter founded. At the time, the studio was the alternative to Sigma Sound, and the Kahns were doing a lot of session and jingle work there. Andy met the song’s co-writer and co-producer Kurt Borusiewicz at the DCA club in Philly, where Kurt was working as a DJ. Unbeknownst to each other, before they met, they actually lived in the same building together, Society Hill Towers, but had never run into each other. It wasn’t until they met at the DCA when Kurt realized he used to hear a pianist in his apartment building, one floor above where he lived. It was Andy.
“I lived on the top floor of the South Tower, and Kurt lived one floor below, in the adjacent apartment next to my tiered unit,” Kahn tells me. “Kurt used to come up the fire escape – with a cocktail, of course – and listen to “for hours,” he told me the night (er, morning) we met. I had my stunning art-case grand piano there. I still have it, in my home, along with my prize instrument, acquired in 1989,” says Kahn.

“Those were the days,” says Andy Kahn, during a lengthy phone conversation we had about the reissue, and the days of disco. “By rights, we shouldn’t be alive,” he says. “I had been new to the club scene but when I started going to the DCA, where I met Kurt, I felt I found my place. That night changed my life socially and musically…what a crazy scene it was.”

“It’s funny,” says Kahn. “I had initially met Karen many years before my brother and I opened our studio. Then she circled back into our lives, and Young was one of our jingle singers, but she had left and moved to Florida, and we had to track her down to have her record ‘Hot Shot.’ We flew her in, and it was a magical moment when she started to sing that song. It was based on a different song I had written earlier called ‘Stop Sign,’ for a band called Calhoon that we were working with,” recalls Kahn. The band was signed to a label deal that Phil Spector had with Warner Brothers, yet the record never came out and it sat in the vaults at Queen Village.

“So we tore “Stop Sign” apart, re-wrote, re-arranged, put a new rhythm track on it, came up with with new lyrics, and the rest was disco history,” Kahn tells me. According to the extensive liner notes in the re-issue written by Christian John Wikane, “Hot Shot,” was written in November, 1977, recorded in December, and out on the streets by the Summer. After turning down offers from the hot disco labels of the moment, Casablanca and T.K., West End Records gave them a deal to put the single out, as well as the album.

“I remember when the song hit number one on Billboard’s dance music charts. It happened on my birthday in 1978 – it was the most incredible experience of my life. I had 29 records at that point and it was a remarkable experience – none of those records were a hit, until “Hot Shot.” You better believe we celebrated, recalls Kahn. The rest of the album, included other hits like “Baby You Ain’t Nothin’ Without Me” and “Bring On The Boys,” standard disco fare for the time, leverage by the success of “Hot Shot.”

Karen Young | photo courtesy of the Mal Mace archives

Karen Young | photo courtesy of the Mal Mace archives

Despite the success of “Hot Shot,” and several other songs from the album, things weren’t “kosher at all,” says Kahn about the business side of things. They had a falling out with West End Records who wouldn’t account for the sales of the record. Relations between Kahns, Borusiewicz, and Young became strained when outside promoters and parties interested in Young’s career divided the team. Their relationship lasted though, somewhat strained, however, until she passed away in 1991.

“Our bomb exploded at the peak of disco and crashed and burned miserably – I mean, Ethel Merman was singing disco. Everybody was putting their music to disco. It became a multi-million dollar industry but soon every one ran for the hills. The whole bottom fell out with the exception of Madonna and Donna Summer,” says Kahn.

Young passed away in 1991, and in July, 1994, Borusiewicz passed away from complications of AIDS at the young age of 42. Walter Kahn, died in 2013 from kidney failure. In the mid-Eighties Kahn was an independent producer. In 1973 he won a Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance for The Dixie Hummingbirds’ recording of “Love Me Like A Rock.”

Kahn walked away from the music business from 1983 to run his family’s business. While he gave up the music business, he didn’t give up on music, and in 2007 he began performing again. An accomplished jazz musician, he also started teaching jazz improvisation to immediate and advanced pianists, something he tells me he’s learned as much from himself, as his students have. His All Star Jazz Trio performs regularly in Philly. Over the last several years he played regularly at The Rittenhouse Hotel, and the lounge at The Prime Rib.

In December, Kahn and the trio (featuring Philly jazz stalwarts Bruce Klauber and Bruce Kaminsky) released an album with jazz singer Peggy King, Songs a La King. The group recently performed their record release party at Square On Square and held a Wednesday nigh residency at Square on Square throughout February.

Kahn, who met Peggy in 2013, urged her to record songs from the great American standards songbook. “I’m so excited to be working with Peggy. She’s going to be 86, but she still sounds like she did when she was 25. It’s wonderful.” Kahn and Klauber co-produced the record, recorded in Kahn’s studio.

“It’s been great getting Hot Shot back out in the ears of older disco fans and new audiences,” says Kahn. Over the last decade the song has been remixed by various producers, and it landed back on the Billbaord charts posthumously in 2008 for Young on the Billboard charts. Additionally, it was sampled by Daft Punk on “Indo Silver Club,” on their 1997 Homework album.

Pick up the remastered version of Hot Shot here, and watch Young perform it during an Action AIDS benefit at the Mandell Theatre below in September, 1990. It was her last known performance, four months before she died. The original video for “Hot Shot” was filmed at the DCA club in Philly. “We found the original video in a television studio in Holland,” Kahn says, “Where the song was number one last year.” Watch the video here.

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