PAUL THORN: Ready to Testify

The truth can set a man free, but it can cause trouble, too.
Musician Paul Thorn of Nettleton knows what it’s like to catch heat for telling it like it is. His brand of Americana storytelling pulls from the world around him.
“Sometimes, you can say something positive about somebody, and they’ll still get mad at you,” he said. “I have been cussed out before. Not for naming somebody in a song, but for singing something about them.”
His latest album, “Pimps and Preachers,” which will be released June 22, includes plenty of musical stories about fictional people. For instance, there’s a song called “Tequila is Good for the Heart.”
“Tequila is not good for the heart,” Thorn said during an interview at Fairpark, where he will headline the 2010 Elvis Presley Festival. “It’s not good for your body. It’s not good in excess. That song is sung from the perspective of the person in it.”
But the title song, “Pimps and Preachers,” is about three very real people: Thorn, his dad and his uncle. At least two of those men have expressed concerns.
“I explained it to my father, the whole ‘Pimps and Preachers’ thing,” Thorn said. “As a preacher, he didn’t like that the two words were close together.”
On the other side, his uncle left the criminal life behind many years ago. He’s a family man with a stable job, and would rather leave the past alone.
Thorn said he had no intention of making his dad or uncle uncomfortable. The album is meant as a celebration of the vital roles both played in shaping the singer/songwriter into the man he has become.
“This project, it means a lot to me. It’s a tribute to my mentors in life,” he said. “Some people may think that’s crazy.”
Thorn said his father taught him to get up on stage with his guitar and sing, while his uncle taught him how to “recognize a wolf.”
“I feel like it’s really important to know what’s happening on both sides of the tracks to cope with the world,” he said. “If you only know about one side, you’re going to get blind-sided.”
‘Gritty and positive’
Thorn and his musical collaborator, Billy Maddox, often write songs that dwell in an in-between world, where the end of a 27-year marriage is the best thing that can happen for a character in “Ray Ann’s Shoes.”
“Everything on the album is encouraging. That’s where I’m at now,” Thorn said. “It’s gritty and it’s positive at the same time.”
About 15 years ago, Thorn and Maddox wrote “Better Days Ahead.” It starts like this:
“Down in New Orleans, the pouring rain,
“Is flooding the streets and Lake Pontchartrain.
“Maybe we should just pack up and leave this town.
“Out there somewhere the sun still shines.”
The chorus takes a lighter tone:
“There’s better days ahead, better days ahead.
“With our last dime I’d be willing to bet,
“There’s better days head.”
The song seemed a natural fit for the new album. According to Thorn, it “sounds like it’s talking about the hurricane. It accidentally became prophetic. There’s better days ahead – even if it doesn’t happen, it sounds good to hear, doesn’t it?”
At home in Tupelo
You’re sure to get a sampling of new songs on Saturday during the festival, but Thorn also will pull from his earlier CDs.
“We’ll play our core songs that people want to hear,” he said. “We try to intersperse the new songs and try to gauge the reaction.”
Through years of touring, Thorn’s developed pockets of fans from coast to coast, but he said it all began for him in Tupelo.
After a boxing career that included a brutal bout with Roberto Duran, Thorn put down the gloves and picked up a guitar.
“I used to play at the Village Tavern and Vanelli’s. The GumTree Songwriting Competition, I won that a few times, and that helped my confidence,” he said. “I played the Elvis Festival over the years, but this is my first time to headline. To me, that’s a big deal to close the night. It’s a great event that continues to grow.
“Looking back on the whole thing, Tupelo has always been great for me. Even when I was boxing, they covered me in the newspaper. They covered me on TV. They really, really got behind me.”
And like Thorn’s family and friends, Tupelo has found its way into his songs. His eighth album, “A Long Way from Tupelo,” has been his best seller yet.
Now, he’s focused on getting the word out about “Pimps and Preachers.”
“I’m really proud of my new record, probably more than anything I’ve ever done,” he said. “Sonically, some of the earlier ones were more slick and more polished. I’ve been getting away from that over the years. This is a more gravelly record.”
On it, you’ll find a cast of real and fictional characters, who tell their versions of the truth backed by a mixture of country, rock, blues and gospel.
For the last song, “That’s Life,” Thorn compiled a list of phrases his mom has used over the years:
“Wipe that tear out of your eye.
“Behind the clouds the sun still shines.
“You’re in my prayers every night.
“Enjoy the journey. That’s life.”
Where’s the harm in that?
“Some of our influences are good, others are bad,” Thorn said, “In the end, you get good from all of it because it gave you the experience you needed to go through life. I mean, that’s the way I see it.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.

- Multimedia
For the curious, you’ll find all manner of merchandise at www.paulthorn.com.
You can pre-order Thorn’s new CD, “Pimps and Preachers,” which will come out June 22.
You also can get acoustic demos of songs from the CD and a copy of the “Pimps and Preachers” hard-bound coffee table book, which features stories and paintings by Thorn.
Mike Judge, the creator of “King of the Hill” and “Beavis and Butt-Head,” wrote the foreword.
For iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch owners, the site features a link to a free “app” that provides music, artwork, photos, tour dates, Twitter updates and more.
“You can get everything pertaining to Paul Thorn on the Internet right there on your phone,” Thorn said.

- For music fans
- What: Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival at Fairpark
- When: Starting at noon Saturday
- Where: Fairpark stage, Tupelo.
- Tickets: $17 day passes available at
the gate
- Info: (662) 841-6598, www.tupeloelvisfestival.com

Saturday schedule
- Noon – Kevin Waide Project
- 12:40 p.m. – Just Playin’
- 1:20 p.m. – Cadillac Funk
- 2 p.m. – Stone Lizard
- 2:40 p.m. – Full Tilt
- 3:20 p.m. – Crashing Broadway
- 4 p.m. – Frankie and the Boys
- 5 p.m. – Cooter Brown
- 5:40 p.m. – Velvet Jones
- 6:20 p.m. – John Milstead
- 7:10 p.m. – Busted Screen Door
- 8:15 p.m. – Cowboy Mouth
- 9:30 p.m. – Paul Thorn

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal