a.k.a. “Curly Boy Stubbs,” Paul is a guitar-picker’s guitar-picker. www.paulmills.ca
The Double Life of Paul Mills: a.k.a. “Curly Boy Stubbs”
Ever wonder where the name Curly Boy Stubbs came from? I was curious, so I asked the man himself.
In the comfort of his own home studio on New Year’s day 2006, Paul Mills and I talked about his three-decade career in music, and how his passion for Canadian folk music led to the creation of his debut CD, “The Other Side of the Glass”.
As it turns out, Paul Mills doesn’t come from a musical family of guitar-picking parents or songwriter siblings. No one from his family ever produced a record either. So where did this passion for playing and recording folk music come from? Answer: The folk revival of the late fifties and early sixties.
“Back then, folk music was everywhere”, Paul recalls. He also remembers picking up the ukulele at age ten and credits his music-loving mother for her support and encouragement. He loved groups like the Kingston Trio, but also, by the time high school came, he had a burning desire to learn the guitar and play like Elvis Presley.
His first bands were rock groups called the Statesmen and The Viscounts. It was after that, when Paul describes how he “saw the light” and yearned for a simpler, more acoustic sound. From there, he went on to perform in folk music groups such as The Balladeers, The Windy Sprinkle and The Paisley Giraffe. In the mid-sixties the vibrant folk music scene of hometown London began to make an impression, shaping his musical tastes and sealing his future in music.
When his friend Victor Garber became the first one in his circle to master the finger-style approach to guitar playing, Paul decided to specialize in the style that he would further develop and eventually mark with his own creative stamp.
During his Western University days, it was music that kept him busy at night. He frequented Smales Pace, a local coffeehouse, where he hung out and played with the likes of Stan Rogers, Willie P. Bennett, David Essig, David Bradstreet, Doug MacArthur and Laura Smith, to name a few.
It was at the height of the Smales Pace scene that Paul graduated from university. So he did what anyone with a passion for recording folk music, a talent for finger-style guitar and a master’s degree in chemical engineering would do; he decided to become a music producer.
He figured his technical abilities would help pave the way to a music career, and he was right. In 1972, after graduation, he landed a job at the CBC as a music producer. For the next twenty-four years, he went on to produce shows like Jazz Canadiana, Touch the Earth (a folk show hosted by Sylvia Tyson), and various radio drama-shows including the “Scales of Justice” series. Over the years, Paul cultivated many rewarding friendships in the Canadian folk music community and his activities as a producer led him to numerous recording projects with a wide range of artists from Oscar Peterson and The Canadian Brass, to folk acts such as John Allan Cameron, Sharon, Lois and Bram, Eric Nagler, and Stan Rogers, to name a few.
And it was in 1974, when CBC obtained the broadcast rights for the Winnipeg Folk Festival, that Paul met festival artistic director Mitch Podolak. By this time, Paul’s reputation for knowing how to handle a guitar had preceded him and Mitch tried to book him for a guitar workshop. But Paul was reluctant to mix official CBC business with his own musical aspirations and politely declined the invitation. It was a week later when Podolak called to inform him that he had been booked to perform with slide-blues player John Hammond Jr. under the stage name “Curly Boy Stubbs”. Paul laughs, “ever since then, the name just stuck, and I blame Mitch”.
Eventually, Paul felt it was time to move on from the CBC and create his own recording studio. In 1996, Paul started The Millstream, his music production company, in his Scarborough home, and he’s never looked back. Mainly because he hasn’t had time. At over 100 albums and counting, he’s been a producer in high demand. And notably, out of the 100 albums he’s recorded, Curly Boy Stubbs has played guitar on almost every one of them.
Paul admits that in all his years at the soundboard, he’s become very comfortable. And the alias was a convenient way to avoid the spotlight and separate his sound recording work from his own performing. It was only at the urging of countless friends and family, including his son (and co-producer of the new CD), Trevor Mills, that he was convinced to venture beyond the comfort zone, come out of the sound booth, and finally record his own material.
While Curly Boy Stubbs does make an appearance on “The Other Side of the Glass”, this is a beautiful sixteen-track collection of guitar instrumentals and songs, mostly written by Paul Mills, and featuring many special guest performers. There are also a few classic covers thrown in for good measure and a track called “Lost Forest Medley”, where Paul mixes two traditional folk songs with his own material.
Some of the songs on “The Other Side of the Glass” were written nearly thirty years ago and have stood the test of time. It’s hard to believe that with all those tools at his fingertips, he didn’t make his own record sooner. He jokes about an old saying in the music business: “you have a lifetime to write your first album, but you only have two years to write the next one”.
Paul explains that his London days were a significant part of his musical upbringing. The people, places, values and ideals from that magical time are as much a part of this recording as the music itself. With a deep respect for the past, this debut collection of songs contains a charming combination of innocence and wisdom, nostalgia and wonder. “The Other Side of the Glass” is a thoughtful tribute to a vibrant time in recent Canadian musical history.
Jennifer Claveau – January 2006
“…it’s his gifts as a songwriter and guitarist that really stand out. Co-produced by Mills and son Trevor Mills, the album is a testament to the respect Mills attracts after more than 35 years in Canadian folk music. The respect spans generations with such veterans as Cindy Church, Bill Garrett, Al Cross and Dennis Pendrith joining Dan Whiteley and son Trevor.”
Robert Reid – The Record, Kitchener
“The most striking track is ‘The Ukulele March’ … the dog-gonedest thing I’ve heard since Gerald Hofnung’s tuba quartets.”
Mike Miller, Tune Up – Newsletter of the Philadelphia Folksong Society
“Your CD is FABULOUS! Love your voice and your instrumentation is well, ….what can I say! Masterful.”
Maggie Ferguson – The Old Front Porch Radio Show
WXOU-FM Auburn Hills, Michigan
“When I heard that veteran record producer and guitarist Paul Mills (aka Curly Boy Stubbs) was recording his own album after three decades of helping other people’s music sound good, I expected an excellent set of acoustic guitar instrumentals. Indeed, that’s what Mills has delivered on half this album: inventive Mills compositions like Stubbs Stomp and London Scratch and fine versions of tunes borrowed from the likes of Doc Watson and John Fahey. The big surprise here is Mills’s emergence as an authoritative vocalist on half of the tracks, again combining strong original material with convincing interpretations of songs like Stan Rogers’s ’45 Years’, whose classic original Mills produced 30 years ago, and Albert’s Cove, David Essig’s haunting ballad about a suicide in New Brunswick.”
Mike Regenstreif, Montreal Gazette
“The guitar work is both robust and elegant, a blend of filigreed folk, raunchy jug band, rhythmic ragtime and fluid country blues… The lyrics of Mills’ four original songs, and the resonant, generous voice that carries them, convey a folksy, whimsical sense of humour and a warm and sympathetic soul.”
Greg Quill, Toronto Star
“Whether he’s on stage, in the studio, or jamming with friends into the night, Paul always brings with him a keen sense of musicality and enthusiasm that adds life to the music.”
On any side of the glass, Paul has taste, integrity and an unstoppable love of the music. Let the joy begin!”
“For more than 35 years, Paul Mills has been producing – and performing – music. The legendary Stan Rogers, Raffi and Sharon, Lois and Bram are just a few of the artists Paul has worked with. In all these years of recording others, he has never gone into the studio with his own music – he hasn’t allowed himself some time on “the other side of the glass.” Until now, that is!”