Thanks for the research. Nice work.
So who really wrote Detour Ahead? Lou Carter? Herb Ellis? John Frigo? All three? Some say Ellis did all by himself, while some say Frigo did. It has been generally regarded as Ellis' most famous composition. A documentary of his life was named after the title. On a Concord recording and many concerts he publicly claimed it as his most famous composition. On the other hand, Frigo claimed he wrote it. He said it during concerts, interviews and other occasions. This became such a mystery to me so I decided to do some detective work for the sake of clarity. I decided to share the information in case some of you guys may have been asking the same question.
The song was written in 1947 while Carter, Ellis and Frigo were part of a group called the Soft Winds. Before Soft Winds all three were members of Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra. After their Paramount Theatre job in New York, Dorsey told them he’s taking a few months off and he wished them luck and to do whatever they wanted to do. Frigo did not want to stay put and not earning money so he coaxed this whole idea of forming a trio with Carter and Ellis. They got booked to play Stuyvesant Room in Buffalo, NY for a few months after Frigo called the owner, Darwin Martin, whom he knew from years before when he played there with a group called Vic Abbs and The Four Californians. Their legend grew there. Oscar Peterson came down from Canada to hear them. Maynard Ferguson came in with his parents and sat with the band on a few tunes. Lena Horne sang with them. Frigo told me they were all single so they had all the time needed to rehearse. Soon the group became one of the most polished vocal/instrumental trio ever existed (yet one of the most under rated ever.)
They never recorded the tune but they played it anytime they could. Billie Holiday heard it, liked it, and decided to record it for Aladdin Records with Tiny Grimes’ Sextet. On the label it was credited to Frigo-Carter-Ellis which kind of raised my eyebrow for a second until I realized Frigo had to be the leader of the trio so his name came first. These days, however, it’s credited either Carter/Ellis/Frigo or Ellis/Carter/Frigo.
I met Ellis years ago and I asked him the question who wrote the tune. He said, “I wrote it when I was with the Soft Winds.” That’s all he said to me since he was mobbed with fans asking for a picture or an autograph. Then I met Frigo who told me he conceived the idea while he’s on his way to New York with the trio. He wrote everything down and brought it in the very next day to their rehearsal. He said they ran it once and Lou Carter suggested a chord to be changed and the word “gullible clown”. Frigo liked it and adopted the idea. Later he told me, “…then I put all three names in to split the royalty three ways. I wanted to keep the group together as long as possible and money was tight back then. I thought by doing it I’ll be able to keep the group longer.”
After hearing two completely different stories I decided to get another perspective of the stories by locating the third name on the composer credit that happen to be the lesser known name among three: Lou Carter. I called him one morning at his home in New Jersey. I introduced myself and told him how I got his number. He’s very courteous. I told him what I heard from Ellis and Frigo and I wanted to hear his version of the story. He immediately said, “It was John’s idea. Not Herbie, not mine. I did suggest a word or two and a chord but that hardly made it my tune.” He continued, “This whole confusion started when Herbie’s attorney decided to make him the sole composer of the tune. I’m not sure what the full intention was but it sure created a mess.”
So, that’s what I’ve managed to find so far. Soft Winds stayed around for a few years then disbanded. Ellis, of course, joined Oscar Peterson and you know the rest of the story. Frigo returned to Chicago and became first call studio bassist for almost 40 years until disco craze stepped in. He picked up his first love, the violin, and since then has been regarded as one of the giants on the instrument. Lou Carter became a studio regular himself and still lives in New Jersey with his wife.
Please post your comments here if you have more information on the topic.
Thanks for the research. Nice work.
I seem to remember Johnny Frigo discussing how Ellis tried to claim credit for "Detour Ahead." This conversation took place when Frigo appeared on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, though I don't have time to transcribe it right now. Then again, he may have mentioned it when he appeared on the Chicago Jazz Festival.
I dealt with Ellis once, he was one of the worst SOBs that I've ever encountered among jazz musicians (the vast majority of whom are outstanding and congenial folks). My gut instinct is that Frigo wrote it.
thanks, b1rd, for that interesting story about that wonderful tune.
Yes thanks. One of my favourite Songs too.
I remember hearing the program but I don't remember Frigo said anything about Ellis tried to claim credit. It'll be great if that part can be transcribed one day.Originally Posted by jazzcritic
I've done my share dealing with rude musicians. I reached one point where I realized it's really their lost. By being rude they'll possibly loose more opportunity to get more fans or potential future album buyers. Keeping their privacy is the usual excuse for being rude but it can be done by not being rude.
I remember how I first approach Steve Lacy back in early 90s. He was so frank and simply said (nicely), “Sorry, I can’t talk now. I’m about to start the last set and I need to catch the guys to talk about tunes.” I got it and understood the situation right away. Later he approached me and apologized for doing it and stayed talking to me for the rest of the evening. We became good friends since. Too bad he passed away so soon.
Here's a rare picture of The Soft Winds during their glory days, courtesy of Johnny Frigo Archive. His Web site is at www.johnnyfrigo.com.
It was taken at Boston's Darbury Room and Restaurant, circa 1948. Lou Carter on piano, John Frigo on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar. Noticed the violin on top of the piano? It's a clue that no matter what Frigo never stopped playing his violin even while he was a well known and full time bassist.
Thanks for all the info on this wonderful composition!
I met John Frigo one morning by chance...there is this great breakfast place in chicago that i go to if i have a flight to the windy city..great pancakes there...anyway, I was looking at some music , jazz standards, for an upcoming gig, when the waitress asked me if i was a musician....we got into a conversation and she told me that the elderly gentleman at the table across the way was also a musician...i didnt know who he was...i asked her if she thought i could ask him something about music (i was having trouble with some notes in a song and needed some advice)..if she thought he would mind.....she yelled across the restaurant..."hey johnny...this guy is a musician and needs to ask you something!" He motioned for me to come over and after introductions we had a great time talking together...a real super guy..he looked through my music remarking how he knew this guy and that guy..talking about the song writers..i was impressed....it was cool!...and he even became a bit teary eyed at one point when he started reciting the lyrics of one of the songs"When I fall in love...." remarking how some of those lyrics were the best ever written...
"And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun"
i asked him if he had written anything i might know and he told me "Detour Ahead"..which i have subsequently learned and performed....a fantastic song!
I feel lucky to have met Johnny and i believe him that he wrote it! (especially after the research you have done!) thanks!
[QUOTE=B1rd]So who really wrote Detour Ahead? Lou
Thanks for a really great post. Now this is the kind of research that should be
submitted to Wikipedia!
One light note: Don't get this tune confused (as I ONCE did many years ago)with another tune: "Detour," as in "Detour, there's a muddy road ahead...."
Jeri Southern does a great noir-ish version of "Detour Ahead." I don't know if it's in print but it's my favorite version.
Frigo is a great bassist. He plays on some of those early Ken Nordine Word Jazz albums on Dot, along with pianist Dick Marx and percussionist Jerry Slosberg.
Johnny did some great limited-run funk albums in the early 70s that were ostensibly recorded as dance instruction records. The cover art (or lack thereof) belie the phat grooves housed within.
This thread is three years old, but I'm new to the forum, so I thought I'd add this to it.
I met Johnny Frigo about three years ago at a local jazz festival and played "Detour Ahead" with him. He told basically the same story reported here adding that by including Carter and Ellis on the copyright, he made a costly mistake. None of them realized it would become a jazz standard.
He also told me of a prominent female jazz singer (I forget which one) who recorded Detour Ahead and messed up in the bridge. She sang that F in the second measure as F#. He said it ruined the piece. Then he added, "Oh, well. At least they're still recording it."
He was a very nice man.
[Marian and Johnny play "Detour Ahead"]
Marian McPartland: ...You know what you've gotta do now. I know you have another hit tune in you. You gonna have to do that, if not today, tomorrow..gonna get another hit tune
Johnny Frigo: Well, I have part of it written, in fact, you wanna hear the part that I've written right now? It's very short: "Daah..." Does that sound like anything .., does that something else?
Marian McPartland (laughing): No. I think you have to keep that to yourself for a while as somebody else might steal it.
[Listen to it here]
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