I’m Going to Hell; Paul Thorn Told Me So
by Holley Dey
He held up a tin lunchbox, the kind that Opie of Mayberry would have carried to school, and proudly pointed to a design in the top left hand corner. “That’s me in a kiddie pool with Jesus,” he said, “and I’m surrounded by a group of beautiful ladies in heaven.” “See the blonde? That’s my wife and she’s encouraging me to be with all these other ladies, too. That’s my idea of heaven.”
“Now see this group of people here,” and he pointed to a cartoon at the bottom left hand corner of the box, “they’re in hell.” “They didn’t buy any Paul Thorn products. You don’t want to go to hell, do you?”
Hell no, but I’m afraid that an early exit past an unstaffed merchandise table may have sealed my fate. The flames, they’re licking at my heels.
Last week’s Paul Thorn show in Fairfield was my first introduction to the southern rocker. Paul has a fit, almost chiseled appearance, and his facial expression can run stern, as you might expect from a man who went six rounds in the ring with Roberto Duran. When the former boxer took the stage, he was all business, moving directly into a compact set of rock songs, each prefaced by a brief story that was delivered in a voice tinged with Mississippi mud and with a wry sense of humor.
It’s the stories, both spoken and sung, that I’ll remember. There is surprising insight and delightful irony in Thorn’s songwriting. He writes about his own life, and about situations common to many lives behind closed doors. Ever had Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family? You may appreciate the song “I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love”. Been married awhile? “I Guess I’ll Just Stay Married” is a man’s lament. Comparing his own situation to that of the family bulldog, the husband explains, “…he’s on a short leash just like me; he goes through life with hungry eyes, watching bitches go by.”
The songs are melodic; the lyrics clever, and the delivery deadpan. Thorn has a solid voice, deep and strong within his range, full of grit and character. His backing band – Bill Hinds on guitar, Michael Graham on keys, Ralph Friedrichsen on bass, and drummer Jeffrey Perkins – provides easy, well practiced support. The fact that the band members are individually featured on the bandleader’s official website tells me something important about Paul Thorn.
Thorn’s 2010 album Pimps and Preachers topped the Americana charts for three weeks, breaking into the Billboard top 100. The title track is autobiographical; Paul’s father is a Pentecostal minister. For a time, his uncle was a pimp. Thorn credits both men for teaching him that “You can stand there and do nothing, but if you want to go far, don’t try to please everybody and be proud of who you are.” Can I get an amen?
His 2012 effort, What the Hell is Goin’ On, is an album of reinterpreted cover songs. The title track was written by rock/blues master Elvin Bishop. Thorn and band rock out on a song that decries a crazy world where reports of violence have become commonplace, where airplanes fly into buildings, where people are connected, yet strangely disconnected. Listen to the track below, then grab a FREE download courtesy of Paul Thorn via his website here.
The Fairfield audience laughed and smiled throughout the set. I saw head bobbin’ goin’ on. Thorn had fun, too. When The Beehive Queen, Christine Ohlman, joined him on stage for a performance of “Jukin'”, the joy was clear on both performers’ faces and smiles rained continuously. A solid show enjoyed on both sides of the stage in an intimate venue, it’s hard to ask for more. Well, maybe just one more thing – I mean I did download a song. Hell, shouldn’t that keep the devil at bay?
Paul Thorn and Christine Ohlman
Paul Thorn, Christine Ohlman and Ralph Friedrichsen
Paul Thorn band at work