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Friday, November 17, 2017

Paul Thorn Band: Rock and Soul Still Live

by GreatMinds (writer), Huntsville, Alabama, May 29, 2007

If soulful rock were a crayon, its color would be called the Paul Thorn Band. Thorn, a native of Tupelo, Mississippi, former professional boxer and the son of a preacher, writes hard driving blues songs that tell raw stories which, to hear Thorn introduce them, are usually loosely based on true stories. With his very personal, tragic/comedy lyrics comes a band whose sound is proof positive that real rock and roll is actually still alive.

Thorn and his band played the Princess Theater in Decatur, Alabama on Saturday May 26. They will return to northwest Alabama for the Helen Keller Music Festival in June and to Riverfest in (again) Decatur in September.

Thorn is not as widely known as some of his songs. Sawyer Brown recorded his "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand", about a Pentecostal preacher who turns to selling fireworks for a living in a roadside tent. Thorn's original arrangement sounds like the old-time Pentecostal revival services that still find some expression in primarily black churches today. Billy Ray Cyrus recorded his vengeful "Burn Down The Trailer Park", where the main character prepares to exact justice as he sees it from the entire trailer park where he lives since he cannot determine in which one his cheating woman is now betraying him; the song makes clear that she has been unfaithful in most of them during their relationship.

His background and his music elude neat categorization. Thorn's father was a pentecostal pastor, and Christian themes are salient in his work (consider these titles: "800 Pound Jesus"; "Resurrection Day"; and his live performances. Yet, he makes no claim nor plea relative to that experience nor does he criticize the faithful believers; he simply describes his own experience with it in cheeky ways that ring true, such as in "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand" where the character states, "I left my job in the big church where the milk and money flowed/To sell cherry bombs for Jesus in a tent beside the road...". Anyone who grew up in a home rooted in the Church of God tradition, as Thorn did, can chuckle at that line in a way few others can as they can relate to the political posturing that pastors in that family of denominations often engage in order to be appointed to local churches with better pay (as in the Methodist, hierarchical model as opposed to a congregational model where pastors are hired by the local churches). Thorn alludes occasionally to his upbringing, and at the end of his live shows he has everyone in the audience walk up to the stage -- and on it -- to dance in a manner reminiscent of holiness church altar calls. He manages all of this without directly offending or belittling religious faith, even when he sings tunes such as "Joanie The Jehovah's Witness Stripper".

Thorn was also the 29th ranked middleweight in the world when he fought Roberto Duran in 1988 in a bout aired live on USA Network. Thorn lost the fight after six rounds due to severe cuts over both eyes, but as the fight video shows and he proudly points out during his live shows, he got his punches in on the sunsetting Duran and cut the former champion's eye, too. The post-fight conversation with Duran is summarized in one song, "I asked him why he had to knock me out and he summed it up so well/ He said, 'Son, I'd rather be a hammer than a nail'." He quit fighting after the Duran loss to pursue a music career full time.

He is also a profligate painter. All of his album covers, liner notes and his website contain folk art paintings (originals also available at his concert venues) by Thorn himself. All of them are rife with religious themes that focus on the paradox of faithfulness and earthly gain, and each one uniquely points to the need for love above all. That thought --- love one another --- is repeated in benedictory style by Thorn during his concerts. And, that thought is not diminished in the least by what Thorn styles as his "workin' man's anthem", "It's A Great Day To Whup Somebody's Ass", for which Thorn debuted a concert T-shirt with his original artwork in the Princess on Memorial Day weekend, complete with a mullet-wearing fist-thrower wailing on another fellow.

These days, Thorn is also venturing into territory that Garrison Keillor has held captive, to the delight of millions, for years: short story author and storyteller. He podcasts weekly short stories he has written and reads aloud in a series called "Pimps and Preachers".

Beyond Thorn himself is his band. Thorn plays rhythm electric guitar and is a talent in his own right, but his band is worthy of comparison with some of the best that southern rock has ever offered. His guitarist, Bill Hinds, was complimented as an extraordinary talent by none other than Mark Knopfler of the Dire Straits (the Paul Thorn Band once toured with Knopfler), and his skills make the song "That's A Lie" (about a man's back-handed admission of an affair with his best friend's woman) unforgettably cool. His drummer, Jeffrey Perkins, was a drummer for Hank Williams, Jr.'s Bama Band; he looks like a Marine, and is so tall that his large drums look like a child's toy in front of him --- and he plays them well with such ease that one gets the impression that Perkins began playing them by the time he learned to walk. Perkins' drums are complemented perfectly by bassist Doug Kahan; together, there are moments of Atlanta Rhythm Section style perfection in their music. Keyboardist and fellow Tupelo native Michael Graham looks like an engineer for Microsoft and plays the instrument better than Mickey Gilley; anyone who has ever heard the expression "he plays between the keys" has an idea of just how talented Graham is. Another guitarist and backup singer, Billy Maddox, is always with the band but does not play in every show.


Paul Thorn and his band will play at The Loft in Columbus, Georgia on June 2, 2007, The Lodge at Smithgall Woods in Helen, Georgia on June 23, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee on September 7 in the Nightfall Concert Series in Miller Plaza (admission free to the Chattanooga show). His music and much more information is available at www.paulthorn.com and at www.myspace.com/paulthorn.



About the Writer

GreatMinds is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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