EVERY PRODUCER, DJ, dancer or fanatic will tell you that House music is in their blood. DJs drag their crates from gig to gig, from city to city, passing mix tapes on anyone that will listen.
Producers work the labels, waiting for their big break and a chance to immortalize the groove in their soul on vinyl. Househeads seek out the secret VIP rooms or upstairs lounges miles from home where they'll dance for hours at a party that never ends and then stagger off to work after a couple of hours of sleep.
But no matter how deep the love goes, there's still the moment of inspiration. For some, it was being dragged, half-willingly, to a place like the Music Box, the Loft, Sauers or the Warehouse and being initiated into this music, this scene - an underground community they never knew existed.
For thousands of Househeads worldwide, that moment of inspiration is named Paul Johnson.
To most of his fans and even some of his peers, Paul Johnson was an "overnight success" - a guy they first heard on 1999's worldwide hit "Get Get Down" or the tracks he released on Dance Mania, Relief and Dust Traxx that set the protocol for the House sound of an entire era. But like the saying goes, there was a hell of lot of work put into being an "overnight success" - more than most people realize.
"The man released more than a hundred underground EPs," Paul's friend, DJ and producer Gant Garrard (aka Gantman), says. "Everybody had them and were playing them but not everyone knew that the beats they were playing were coming from Paul."
Infighting and jealousy can be a sad reality in the House scene, just like any other. It's human nature. But in a world where everyone has a beef, it's amazing that you'll never hear a bad word uttered about Paul Johnson. Walk up to any producer and they'll go out of their way to show their respect. As we worked on this story, every person we contacted had a story to tell, and wanted to make clear the impact that Paul Johnson - both the artist and the man - has had on their lives.
The Early Years
If there was a single DJ that motivated Paul to get behind the turntables, "it'd have to be Farley," he says. "I was breakdancing at the time - that was my thing. Then I went to my first party and saw the DJ mixing and wanted to do that. I was listening to everything: freestyle, hip-hop, House... I threw my first party for my 8th grade graduation.
"Listening to WBMX on the radio, basically all of the Hot Mix 5, Steve Hurley - those guys were an inspiration to me."
Perfecting his skills in the early days of House, no party was too big or too small - including his own parties after school. "Before the rave parties, it was 'hood parties, ghetto parties, black parties," Gant says. "A lot of people don't know this but Paul basically created the ghetto House sound. I remember the night I met him, it was at a high school party sponsored by WKKC. He had one turntable, a four track and about twenty cassette tapes he was mixing. Paul was one of the first to sample R&B songs that were out there over his own beats."
Gant - who was all of 12 years old at the time as a turntable prodigy on WKKC - was amazed when he saw that Paul, who he had never met before, was in a wheelchair. "I never knew about that. I was amazed even more when I saw how he was. He wants to do everything himself and he's accomplished more than just about any walking person out there."
Paul was injured in a shooting accident in 1987. "One day I was mixing in my basement, and one of my boys who just joined a gang came in with his gun in his pocket. He started dancing so I told him to take it out. He started emptying the gun to the bullets out of it and it went off and hit me in the shoulder." In the aftermath of the accident, he was in shellshock for a long time. He would jump whenever he'd hear a loud noise. Paul had initially wanted to join the army, but after the accident he realized that music was going to be his career.
"I don't regret it at all," he says. "I'm just thankful to be alive."
Many of Paul's fans who have never seen him perform are unaware that the man whose music gets so down and dirty on the dancefloor is in a wheelchair, like Gant was back in 1992. "It's courage and a lot of heart. People don't even know the real story of all he's gone through because he's such a private person, but his friends know. That's enough."