There is a creation story surrounding Paul Thorn, that’s colorful but not entirely true. It goes something like this: Paul Thorn grew up in the Deep South (true) as the son of a strict fire-and-brimstone preacher (true) who forbid his son from playing rock ‘n roll records (sort of true). So the young Thorn would hide in his bedroom closet and listen to the devil’s music on a small record player (actually, he hid his albums in the closet, but was not prone to spinning platters in the dark, cramped space).
“I owned two ‘satanic’ albums,” Thorn says in a slow Southern murmur, during a phone call from Tupelo, Mississippi, his hometown. “One was “Elton John: Greatest Hits” and the other was Huey Lewis and the News’ first album.
“You know,” Thorn adds, “two of the main demonic message carriers.”
Thorn’s new album, “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” (Perpetual Obscurity), bristles with his trademark blend of gospel, soul and swampy blues. He digs deeply into such country blues standards as “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed.” and delivers a rollicking rendition of the old black spiritual “Soon I Will Be Done,” custom-made for a rock ’n roll revival meeting.
It’s the perfect mix of the sacred and the profane.
“In the faith that I grew up in, there were two alternatives. You either got saved and went to heaven or you didn’t get saved and you went to hell,” Thorn explains. “Like a lot of religions, they used fear and intimidation, which unfortunately are two things that don’t usually bring success in the long-term.
“The best way to recruit people,” he adds, “is to love ’em.”
His father was a Pentecostal preacher, which did, in a roundabout way, contributd to Thorn becoming an acclaimed blued-eyed soul man steeped in gospel and blues. As a kid, Thorn sang in the church choir.
“There were two types of churches in Tupelo,” he says. The black churches and the white churches. Our family would attend both churches. That’s where I learned to play music. The black churches had a rhythm-and-blues kind of gospel and the white churches had old-school country spirituals. Those two things made me everything I’ve become - whatever that is.”
Ask the 54-year-old Thorn to trace his professional career and he offers, “That’s a very long story.”
After high school, he worked in a furniture factory and served in the National Guard. He also fought as a professional boxer, the ninth-ranked middleweight in the country. Thorn once fought WBC middleweight champ Roberto Duran. The fight ended after Thorn received a cut above one of his eyes. The two boxers rode to the hospital in the same ambulance.
“I know that sounds crazy, but it’s the truth,” he says. “Duran had more than I’d ever dealt with before. He was a defensive wizard. He took me to school, man. But I gave a good account of myself. The harsh reality was that at my best, I could never beat him. But I gave it my all. I left nothing on the table.”
Thorn’s big break as a musician came when Miles Copeland III - the founder of I.R.S Records, manager of the Police and brother of that band’s drummer, Stewart Copeland - heard a demo cassette tape that Thorn had mailed to him.
PLAN TO GO?
What: Paul Thorn, with Alice Drinks the Kool-Aid
When: Fri., Jan. 18, at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Mystic Theatre, 21 N. Petaluma Blvd.
Tickets: Call (707) 775-6048 or visit MysticTheatre.com.