Chicago’s Paul Johnson was a highly prolific producer and DJ, and a mentor to countless others throughout the dance music world. His material covered many bases, from hard, jacking house with ribald lyrics to lush, filter-heavy tracks built around reconfigured disco samples, all of which proved to be a particularly significant influence on the French house scene. By the time Daft Punk namechecked Johnson at the beginning of their track “Teachers,” he had already released dozens of records on Chicago imprints like Dance Mania and Relief, as well as overseas labels like Djax-Up-Beats and Peacefrog, which issued two of his full-lengths, 1995′s Bump Talkin and 1996′s Feel the Music. His biggest commercial success was “Get Get Down,” a Bohannon-sampling earworm which became inescapable when it was released in 1999, hitting the Top Five in the U.K. and topping Billboard’s dance chart. Though he was wheelchair-bound for his entire adult life, it did nothing to deter his tireless work ethic or his positive, encouraging spirit, and he continued regularly touring the world and releasing singles up until his death in 2021.
Born in 1971, Paul Johnson began to DJ and produce music as a teenager. He was paralyzed from the waist down after a shooting accident in 1987, and due to further health complications and a motor vehicle accident, eventually both of his legs were amputated. He began releasing records on local labels like Chicago Underground and Nite Life in the early 1990s, with some of his most mischievous, sexually explicit material appearing on Underground Construction and the infamous Dance Mania. Both of these labels released records by Traxmen, a group featuring Johnson as well as fellow Chicago producers Gant-Man, Eric Martin, and Robert Armani. Johnson also worked with Louis Bell as 2 Men on Wax. A few of Johnson’s solo records appeared on Dutch label Djax-Up-Beats, including 1994′s video game-inspired Psycho Kong EP. His debut album Bump Talkin appeared on Peacefrog in 1995, followed by Feel the Music and the EP Hear the Music in 1996. Two additional full-lengths, Second Coming (ACV) and The Other Side of Me (Relief Records), also surfaced during the year. Johnson helped start the Dust Traxx label with Radek Hawryszczuk in 1997, and served as their A&R. During the same year, he released a single on Crydamoure, the French house label co-founded by Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. Johnson had befriended the duo two years earlier, and they paid tribute to him by listing him as the very first name in the song “Teachers,” a roll call of their influences which appeared on their groundbreaking debut album Homework.
Johnson’s album We Can Make the World Spin was issued by Nite Life Collective in 1998. His sixth album, The Groove I Have, appeared on Moody Recordings the following year. Its single “Get Get Down” became his breakout hit, charting in several countries and topping the club charts in the United States and Canada. The track received mainstream radio airplay throughout Europe, and Johnson’s international touring schedule increased as a result. He released a few mix CDs, including 2000′s Paradise @ El Divino Ibiza, but otherwise continued to frequently issue singles and EPs. Some of his most notable releases included the Candi Staton-featuring “Doo Doo Wop” (also reworked with Chynna as “Doo Wap”) and the Billboard Top Ten-charting dance hit “Follow This Beat.” He was featured on Pascal FEOS’ 2010 single “Girlfunk,” and he reappeared on Dance Mania with 2014′s The Doobie Bruthas Project EP (with DJ Lil' Tal). Additional singles appeared on labels like Bosconi Records and Moveltraxx. His 2021 track “Party All Night Long” (from the P.J. Classics EP) made reference to clubs opening up following their closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, Johnson contracted the virus that year, and he died in a hospital in Evergreen Park, Illinois on August 4, 2021 at the age of 50. ~ Paul Simpson