Paul Grace, one-time member of Juno-nominated dance production team and songwriters The Boomtang Boys, passed away in Toronto on Aug. 7. He was 63.
Grace was a local DJ who had a small indie label Fun Wow with brother Tony Grace and another partner when they met Rob DeBoer and created Boomtang Records in 1991 and their working name The Boomtang Boys. They did dozens of remixes for such artists as Corey Hart, Bif Naked, The Philosopher Kings, Ashley MacIsaac, Amanda Marshall and Econoline Crush, and were the go-to remixers in Canada, before writing their own material too and becoming recording artists in their own right.
“When I met Paul, he was the foreign buyer for Starsound Records,” DeBoer tells Billboard. “Thanks to his UK connections, we were able to start pressing 12” vinyl in London, as no one was doing that at the time in Canada. “For much of the 90s, we would travel to England a couple of times a year, visiting other labels, mastering records, going clubbing, meeting DJs. We had some fun times. One of the highlights was having lunch with Trevor Horn and Trevor Rabin at Hookend Studios in Oxfordshire.”
Geoff Kulawick signed The Boomtang Boys to Virgin Music Canada, and put out their debut album, Greatest Hits Volume One, in 1999, which went gold in Canada (then 50,000 units), thanks to original hits “Pictures” and “Squeeze Toy,” both featuring singer Kim Esty, and a cover of Hot Butter’s “Popcorn,” which had come out as a 12-inch on Virgin Germany. The album also included their spin on Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Marc Bolan’s “Bang a Gong,” and Joni Mitchell “Both Sides Now,” a hidden track.
“I signed them because Top 40 radio was making a big comeback and they were in-demand remixers who had a sound radio liked,” Kulawick — who now owns True North Records and Linus Entertainment — tells Billboard. “We had a great run with a No. 1 single in Canada and a gold album, but could not get any international support. I remember Paul as being the most uncomfortable of the three to be in the spotlight, but he was in many ways the one the others turned to for guidance and direction.”
Vince DeGiorgio, songwriter and president of Cymba Music Publishing in Toronto, was living in New York working as vp of A&R at RCA Records at the time of Boomtang’s success in Canada, but the former dance music consultant for BMG Music Canada tells Billboard, “Paul was a real visionary, as a DJ, and producer as part of Boomtang Boys.
“Paul, as part of the Boomtang Boys were all over the map musically, and it all worked. They did everything from remixing Camille’s ‘Deeper Shade of Love’ into a legitimate No. 1 dance record to giving pop princess Kim Esty, who I discovered, the hit she always deserved with ‘Squeeze Toy.’ He was one of the mainstays of a production team making dance music in the early 90s, developing artists at a time where few made the best of their opportunities quite like they did.”
Paul left The Boomtang Boys in 2000, before their second album, Wet, continuing to DJ sporadically “for a while,” says DeBoer, “but didn’t do much after that.” DeBoer and Tony continue to work together as Boomtang and in long-running jazz group Four80East.
On Facebook, DeBoer wrote: “Even though Paul hadn’t been active for a long time, he was an important part of the early days of dance music in Toronto. Paul was passionate about the things he loved – music, politics, social justice. He was a very thoughtful person; he had strong opinions and loved a good debate. He was above all a great DJ!
“Before I met him, I didn’t really view dance music as ‘real music’; it was Paul who taught me, a kid with a classical and pop background, how to appreciate the art (and it is art) of creating music for the dance floor. Paul had his issues over the years, and had largely withdrawn from public life for a long time, but I know that there are many in Toronto who have fond memories of him from back in the day. A memorial is being planned; details to come.”