You can take the boy out of the church but, as it turns out, you really can't take the church out of the boy. After 14 albums, Paul Thorn has come back to his roots with a CD titled "Don't Let the Devil Ride" and a tour with the Blind Boys of Alabama and The McCrary Sisters that stops Nov. 17 at the Walton Arts Center.
"I wanted to pay tribute to all that upbringing and to celebrate the music of that time," says Thorn, who grew up in Tupelo, Miss., in the 1960s with a father who was a Pentecostal preacher. "Gospel music has changed; there's nothing wrong with it, but the old-school gospel music is what I feel the best about. I was really fortunate to get everybody who played on my record -- they're the cream of the crop in the gospel world."
Mission Temple Fireworks Revival
WHEN — 8 p.m. Nov. 17
WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville
COST — $29-$49
INFO — 443-5600
Having grown up in the same hometown as Elvis Presley, Thorn says he "sort of followed his road map on how to cut a gospel record. Elvis would always hire the best quartets of the day; that's why his gospel records were so great. The only Grammy he ever won was for gospel."
It took awhile for Thorn's apple to roll back by his father's tree, however. Although he started singing in church at the age of 3, "I left home at 18 and went out into the broader world," he remembers. "I learned some new things. I still believed a lot of things I grew up being told, but I didn't believe some of it or agree with all of it. I couldn't in good conscience believe it all."
There were other, stranger influences in his life that pushed him in interesting and unexpected directions.
"My father's brother was a pimp -- not to glorify it, it's just the truth," Thorn says. "I always saw women bringing my uncle money. He was also a boxer. I was fascinated and wanted to be like him. So he got me interested in boxing."
Thorn went on to become a world-rated fighter, he says, boxing on television more than once and even fighting the legendary Roberto Duran in 1988.
"The doctor stopped the fight because I was bleeding over my eye," he remembers. "But so was he! We rode to the hospital in the same ambulance.
"I had three more fights but in reality, I came to the conclusion I was good, but I wasn't great. I couldn't win at that very top level. I felt satisfied I had taken it as far as I could take it. I never quit; I'm not a quitter. But I had taken it as far as I could. So I focused on music after I finished boxing."
Thorn says he's fortunate he's been successful enough as a musician that he hasn't had "a day job" in 25 years.
"I'm not a household name, but every year my fan base has grown," he says. "Not every artist can say that. That's one thing I do exactly like my preacher father: You've got to win people over. There has to be love that passes between you. I think that's why I've been able to survive in the musical world. I love my fans, and I try to show them. I go out and shake their hands [after a show] and thank them for coming, just like my dad did in church. I try to be sincere and put on a good show. And because of that, when I go back to a city, those people come back. That's something I'm very proud of. And they bring other people.
"I'll use another tactic my father used," Thorn adds, chuckling. "Tell people who read this article if they don't come to the show, they're going to hell. I'm just tryin' to help people!"
NAN What's Up on 11/04/2018
Print Headline: Back To His Roots