The Many Faces of Paul Saunders - Canada’s Entertainment Treasure

Canada’s Entertainment Treasure

By Sandy Graham

When talking to Paul Saunders, he has the class and demeanor of a successful businessman, maybe a financial investor or high end consultant. Underneath that ageless look lies the persona of ‘Pauly’, whose career has spanned several decades in the music industry, from Yorkville bands to theatre (Saunders was in the Las Vegas production of Jesus Christ Superstar at 23 years old) and for many years, ‘Pauly’ has been the driving force behind Canada’s top show band, Pauly and the Greaseballs and the production ‘The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll’.
Paul Saunders 1“I was born in Toronto, and my grandfather owned The Bermuda Tavern on Yonge Street, so at a young age I got to see live artists and shows, and I knew when I was very small, that is what I wanted to do; perform, make people happy, make myself happy. I have been lucky enough to be able to do that and make a living out of it” Saunders reflects, “I started playing in a band when I was 13, I was a drummer then. We called ourselves The Mystics until we found out there was a hit doo wop band of the same name in the U.S. (The Mystics had a #1 song, Hushabye in 1959) so we changed our names to The Scarborough Mystics. It seems The Mystics had more success than we did”, he laughingly quips.

Saunders started out as a drummer, and not a frontman, but by fluke, the band got booked at a major show for 2,000 people, and their lead singer took ill. The bandmates insisted Pauly could sing, and threw him out front. He has never left. “ I was totally inspired by the R&B artists; Wilson Pickett, The Four Tops, Aaron Neville, The Temptations,” he says, “they had the moves, the voices, and that is what inspired me. I also wanted to have the look, the hair, the clothes and of course, the girls!”

Fast forwarding to the days of Yorkville, when the hippies and music collided as one in downtown Toronto, Saunders was in what was then a popular band called Leather. It was when he was with Leather (formerly Eli) that the producers of the theatre production approached him to perform in ‘Hair’, the ‘60’s theatre phenomenon production that would change his life. “ I remember them talking to me about leaving Toronto, and going on tour for an extended period of time, perhaps years. “I was cocky and young then. I told them I couldn’t leave as I was earning $ 12 a week with the band. They offered me 100 times that a week. I was shocked. That was the beginning of my love affair with the theatre. We went to Las Vegas and I never looked back”.

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It is also the 20th anniversary of his “baby”, Pauly and the Greaseballs, a 50’s & 60’s Sha Na Na type show, that far excels other show band acts, combining comedy, choreography and classic harmonies. “I wanted to recreate those great songs and show moves that I grew up with. I am amazed we are celebrating 20 years of performing with such great guys; most of who have either stayed with the act or rotated in and out as availability would allow. We found our age demographic was infants to seniors; everybody loves that music and we love doing it. That is what has made it last so long. We also have moved forward in eras with our music to include more Motown and Disco, off shooting it with a slick costume look for Pauly and the Goodfellas. We have had a good run for 20 years and still continue to do so. It keeps me young and I love the Greaseballs like brothers.”

Thirty years in the business has taken Saunders to both sides of the camera and all aspects of the entertainment business. His success as a writer and producer of many corporate events has had him working with the likes of companies such as Robin Hood Flour, Energizer Batteries, Tim Horton’s, Adams-Cadbury and Itwal to name a few. Saunders Company, Voiceworks, enjoys post-production and voiceover contracts with Sony Pictures, Paramount, Warner Brothers, NBC, CBC, CBS, Castlerock and Fox, for dozens of feature films, movies of the week and various television series

Recently, Saunders co-wrote a song for The Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, with lyrics taken from a poem by Bruce Lloyd’s niece, Diana. Quoted in a heartfelt letter from Quebec chanteuse and legendary singer, Celine Dion, “I lost a dear niece to CF, Karine, who at 16 years old, died of complications related to CF. The words and music, by the very talented writers, Paul Saunders and Reese Brunelle, are beautiful”. ( “ I was honoured to receive the letter from such a huge international star like Celine Dion. It was flattering, but what really mattered is we captured the essence in “I Have A Dream” of how many people this terrible disease has affected,” Saunders says quietly.

The most recent development for this talented actor, writer, producer and director, is his current project – Paul Saunders. “I have always been involved in nurturing other talent, productions, I even taught theatre workshops for many years. I have always wanted to get back to my solo career. I am currently in the process of launching my first solo CD, “Hearts of Soul”, a collection of self-penned tunes that are really about my life, loves and losses. I will be represented at the end of this month in Cannes, France (MIDEM) and have signed a deal with the Canadian label, Breakin’ Records, who will be seeking out a distribution deal for me as well as pursuing more recording projects. It is time to spend a little time on me now. I will be moving to Los Angeles, California in late January, but I have every intention of living in both countries. I will be returning to Toronto to attend Canadian Music Week in March 2010. Canada is my home, it is where my parents are, my children reside here (Sasha , Christopher, Victoria and Stevie Saunders) and I have the Entertainment Music Group and the label looking after my interests as a recording artist as well.”

In Los Angeles, Saunders works with the iconic writer, poet, producer John Brower, who as songwriting and producer partners have been devoting many hours to the pop group, ‘The Love Vendors’, a project that Cashbox Magazine will cover in the months to come. In Toronto, he teams up with the talented John Pickering at his recording studio, The Rhythm Ranch. The extensive professional and personal relationship with Reese Brunelle (longstanding Greaseball) at his Studio B4 continues, with years of production and writing stage, music and other projects still in the works.

Saunders as Eugene Gatowski in Polanski

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What advice would you give new artists about the music business right now? “Follow your dream. Don’t give up and always believe in yourself. Those ethics never change, even if the business does.”

Thirty years in the business, a singing career, an acting career and always out there. This truly amazing talent shows no sign of slowing down, and the launch of his new CD will be yet just another step in the walk of Paul Saunders. Whether he is Paul or ‘Pauly’, this multi-talented man should be someone to watch out for in the months to come. With Paul Saunders, the show really must go on.