Chicago record executive Braxton Holmes had a working relationship with house music DJ Paul Johnson when the latter curated music for Cajual Records.
Over time, he got to know — and later admire — the man who spent decades entertaining house heads far and wide.
Multiple outlets reported that Johnson, a South Side native and house music legend, died Wednesday from COVID-19 complications at the age of 50. Holmes confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times. His death was announced on his Facebook fan page.
Johnson, who is best known for his 1999 track “Get Get Down,” which reached No. 5 on the British music charts, began using a wheelchair following a 1987 shooting incident. He later lost both his legs to amputation.
“I will say, just to get it out, I really admired him,” said Holmes. “The very strong work ethic, and his output was incredible to me. I know how difficult it is to produce records. [Johnson] had his ear to the street, so [Johnson’s music] was very timely. For someone to be so incapacitated, to be that driven, and do all the incredible things that he did, he’s one of the greats.”
Holmes, who says he DJ’d with Johnson at the legendary Chicago nightclub Crobar during the 1990s, describes the local house music legend as “genius level,” and is coming to grips with the fact that COVID-19 complications ended Johnson’s life — not the various setbacks he suffered over time.
“I don’t use the word genius lightly,” said Holmes. “And every time I saw him, he always had a kind word. The last time I saw him physically was a couple of years ago at a record release party. [Johnson] just seemed genuinely happy. It’s unfortunate. I couldn’t sleep last night — that’s how bad it was for me.
“I thought he was out of the woods but apparently; you don’t know until it’s too late, I guess. For him to make it from being shot as a kid, wheelchair-bound, to his legs to being amputated, for [COVID-19] to take him out, it’s very sad.”
Black creatives from niche genres are rarely celebrated while they are still alive, but in Johnson’s case, he was given his flowers while he was able to enjoy them. Legendary electronic music duo Daft Punk immortalized Johnson’s contributions to dance music in their 1997 track “Teachers,” where he was the first name mentioned in the roll call.
In a video posted on his Facebook fan page, Johnson discusses, in part, how his disability would not stop him from being successful in whatever he set his mind to.
“I’ve never let anything hold me back,” said Johnson in the video. “I never had any type of experiences let me down — or put me down. Even this disability couldn’t stop me. … I still have that drive in me right now; It’s a persevering thing. I think I was born with it; I’m sure I was born with.”