Paul Thorn's got a deliciously acerbic song he sings titled “It's a Great Day to Whup Somebody's Ass” – seriously, it's definitely worth a YouTube search. Contained within those three minutes of R.L. Burnside-meets-Hank Williams catharsis of everyday, mini-catastrophes is everything you need to know about the Mississippi-bred artist.
“There's usually something negative going on in all my songs,” Thorn begins, “but there's also something in the song that gives you a way out.”
A triple-threat as guitarist, writer, and Dixie-honey-dripped vocalist, Thorn will bring his brand of witty, Southern-edged storytelling to the River Street Jazz Café this Thursday, March 14, for an 8 p.m. show.
Thorn's currently touring in support of his latest effort, a covers album called “What the Hell Is Goin' On?” Released on his own Perpetual Obscurity label, the album is not your typical bluesman's buffet of Howlin' Wolf or a singer/songwriter's tired umpteenth take on Bob Dylan.
“I wanted to do an album of songs that were good songs, but not something that everyone had heard by 15 different artists,” Thorn explains. “These are deep cuts, songs by well-known writers. These are some of their more obscure tunes, songs that the world has never heard unless they're a diehard music fan.”
Thorn's right. How often have you heard covers of Buckingham/Nicks' “Don't Let Me Down Again” from the pre-Fleetwood Mac duo's 1973 debut, or Free's “Walk In My Shadow”? Thorn is particularly fond of a track by an old-school country maverick named Wild Bill Emerson.
“'Bull Mountain Bridge'” is one of his typical songs,” Thorn proudly explains. “He was the ultimate storyteller. That song is about jealousy, murder, the KKK, marijuana, adultery, and God. I'm extra excited because Delbert McClinton sang a duet with me on this song.”
Also notable on this new album is the guest slot by slide blues guitar master Elvin Bishop, an artist who shares Thorn's knack for tongue-in-cheek Americana.
“That's really cool, because when I was a kid, I watched Elvin Bishop on 'The Midnight Special,'” Thorn recalls. “I was sitting in my living room, eating cereal at midnight, watching Elvin Bishop play “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” Now he's playing on my album.”
This Southern son had an upbringing ripe for a great song. Thorn's dad was a Pentecostal minister; his uncle was a pimp.
“These two men helped form the way I look at life,” he says. “What I got from my dad is how important all people are. The time I spent with my uncle prepared me for dealing with people of questionable nature.”
Thorn's 2010 album, “Pimps and Preachers,” deals with those shades of light and dark he saw growing up. “It's all good, it's all come back around,” Thorn says of his experiences with the two men.
Thorn remains characteristically unapologetic and rough around the edges when it comes to setting his sights on his craft. He speaks of an incident when a performance was on the verge of going off the rails.
“I have a song about a stripper who was a Jehovah's Witness called 'Joanie the Jehovah Witness Stripper,'” he begins with an impish grin. “A guy in the audience was offended because he was a Jehovah's Witness. He came up on stage with his chest all puffed out, shoving me, and I cold-cocked him.” The concertgoer apparently hadn't known Thorn, in a past life, was also a professional boxer, having once sparred with Roberto Durán.
“I just keep going and these things keep falling in my lap like that, you know,” says Thorn. “They could do a movie about my journey, and there are a lot of moments I've had where I've just wound up in the strangest places – in a good way.”
Learn more about Thorn online at paulthorn.com.