Crown of Thorn’s

By Robert Mladinich on April 6, 2018
Crown of Thorn’s
Thorn had only 10 fights going into the Duran fight. Duran was a veteran of 89 bouts.

“People sometimes ask me why I gave up boxing. I always have to correct them. Giving up is not in my nature. I simply took it as far as I could…”

According to Southern Rock, Americana, and blues musician Paul Thorn’s website, he “reclaims his past by celebrating the first music he ever experienced” in his new record “Don’t Let the Devil Ride,” which was released on March 23. 

Prior to that, Thorn had released 11 previous roots-rock records with such soulful and hard-hitting titles as “Pimps and Preachers,” “Heart with a Four-Wheel Drive,” “800 Pound Jesus,” “Joanie the Jehovah Witness Stripper,” and “Burn down the Trailer Park.”

Besides the title track, his most recent album contains such songs as “The Half Has Never Been Told,” “He’s a Battle Axe,” and “One More River to Cross.” 

Thorn is a master storyteller who is especially adept at describing his hardscrabble beginnings, as well as the flip-side of the American Dream.

Renowned boxing writer Bernard Fernandez once said he loved the film “Crazy Heart,” where Jeff Bridges won an Academy Award for portraying an aging country singer with a troubled past and present. 

About twenty minutes into the movie, Fernandez said he felt as if he was watching a boxing movie, not a music movie. The same can be said of Thorn’s songwriting, which is raw, instinctual, and visceral. 

Literally!

When Thorn, who is now 53, squared off against the legendary Roberto Duran in Atlantic City in April 1988, press coverage of the bout made it seem like a Technicolor massacre.

“Duran Survives Bloodbath,” thundered the headline in the New York Post, which reported, “When this one was over, referee Randy Neumann’s shirt looked as if it had been worn during a 12-hour shift at a Chicago slaughterhouse.”

The inexperienced Thorn, the son of a Church of God minister who hailed from Tupelo, Mississippi, which is also the birthplace of Elvis Presley, had only 10 fights going into the Duran fight.

Duran was a veteran of 89 bouts and had already beaten some of the best fighters of the generation.

Even though Thorn was fighting a living legend, he was competitive until the very end.

Duran landed a straight right hand in the second that sent the game Thorn to the canvas. When he got up, there was a big gash on his lip.

By the sixth round the cut had spread to beneath Thorn’s nose. His uncle, Eddie, who was also his corner man, later told the press that because the cut “ran like nylon” he wouldn’t let his nephew come out for the seventh round.

Thorn officially lost by sixth round TKO, but Duran was far from unscathed. According to the same newspaper article, Duran came out of the bout with, “Blood spurting from his eye as if he were auditioning for a victim’s part in Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Thorn compiled a 9-3-1 (4 KOs) record during a career that lasted from 1985 to 1988, and saw him win the Mid-South middleweight title with a unanimous 12-round decision over Knox Brown in Memphis in November 1987.

Afterwards, the colorful Thorn went to work for over a decade in a furniture factory. Throughout that time he wrote songs and played out his musical passions at night.

While performing at a Tupelo pizza joint, he was discovered by prominent manager Miles Copeland. He recorded his first album in 1997 and has been on a roll ever since.

“When I got my first record deal, I was literally plucked from a chair factory and flown to Los Angeles,” said Thorn.

“Everyone told me how great I was and how famous I would soon be. You learn pretty quick that everything everyone says isn’t always the whole truth. There can be darkness behind those big, bright lights.”

Thorn, who is currently on a nationwide tour, has since made a lot of noise in the music business. “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” is his twelfth album.

Listeners or viewers can revel in Thorn’s beautifully crafted songs about broken schemers, dreamers, and lovers. His uncanny attention to the idiosyncrasies of life have resulted in scores of songs that are chest-deep in Southern charm—and pain.

It is obvious that Thorn not only loves writing and performing, but he never forgot—nor will he ever forget—his inauspicious beginnings.
“Back when I failed the sixth grade, I never thought I’d amount to anything in life,” he recalled several years ago.

“But look at me now. I’m the most famous guy you never heard of. I have a loyal group of core fans who seem to enjoy what I do and I love them all.”

There are also a slew of established performers who are equally impressed with him.

Kris Kristofferson once said Thorn “may be the best secret in the music business,” and described his songs as “absolutely Southern, absolutely original, full of heart and humor and surprises and streetwise details of trailer parks and turnip greens and love and lust that have the unmistakable ring of truth.”

Mark Knopfler, with whom Thorn has toured, calls his music, “a rare and addictive mixture of soul, wit, humor, and musicality.”

Thorn has also toured with such prominent musicians as Jeff Beck, John Hiatt, Richard Thompson, Robert Cray, Marianne Faithful, and John Prine.

In one of his older song, “Double Wide Paradise,” he laments:

I don’t wanna cry
I don’t wanna walk the floor
This mobile home
Don’t feel like home no more
I bought a swimming pool
From the man at Sears
He put it together
I filled it up with tears
Double wide paradise
Double wide, double wide
Double wide paradise

But it is in “Hammer and Nail,” the title track of his debut album—that he speaks most eloquently of the formative experiences that have made him who he is today.

He describes how he’d rather be a hammer than a nail, whether in personal relationships, the factory from whence he came, or the boxing ring in which he toiled:

I climbed in the ring with Roberto Duran
And the punches began to rain down
He hit me with a dozen hard uppercuts
And my corner threw in the towel
I asked him why he had to knock me out
And he summed it up real well
He said, ‘I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.’

Thorn can rest assured that, from a musical perspective, he is a hammer. 

Although Thorn’s fighting days are long behind him, he is still proud that he was a participant rather than an observer. It is that attitude and enthusiasm that has made him such a popular performer.

“People sometimes ask me why I gave up boxing,” said Thorn. “I always have to correct them. Giving up is not in my nature. I simply took it as far as I could and then moved on to something else.”

Paul Thorn’s web site is: www.paulthorn.com

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  1. peter 06:25pm, 04/10/2018

    Olivares’s woodcut is a 5-by-10 bust of a man—possibly Christ with long hair and a flowing beard. He sold it to me at the Boxing Hall of Fame in NY. He engraved it on back—“Pues”

  2. Bruce Kielty 03:38pm, 04/10/2018

    Getting a woodcut from Ruben Olivares sure beats getting an uppercut from Ruben Olivares…

  3. Lucas McCain 03:02pm, 04/10/2018

    Peter:  A woodcut by Ruben Olivares sounds intriguing!

  4. peter 08:23am, 04/10/2018

    Another winning Mladinich article! Paul Thorn is a triple threat: boxer, musician, and artist. Online, I bought one of his color lithographs which hangs in our living room, right next to a woodcarving by Hall of Fame Bantamweight Champion, Ruben Olivares.

  5. Balaamsass 05:32am, 04/09/2018

    @Robert M-Going! Going! Gone! This one is over the wall in center with room to spare! Yea! That’s right beisbol y’all! @ODB-Sweet!

  6. Bruce Kielty 03:09pm, 04/07/2018

    Fascinating article.  I will check out Paul’s touring schedule.

  7. Pete 09:26am, 04/07/2018

    Like his subject, the author hits all the right notes. Kudos, Bob.

  8. Ollie Downtown Brown 06:41am, 04/07/2018

    Maybe Duran can join his band. Didn’t Duran like to play the bongo drums? Speaking of which, playing the bongo drums would be a good alternative form of training for fighters. Good for the shoulders, arms, wrists, rhythm, and even endurance if you do some sort of 1970’s manic-style marathon drum solo.

    Aah, the poor modern day drummer in a rock and roll band. Back in the day, a drum solo was mandatory, now, not so much. Just some guy sitting in the back, who barely gets more chicks than the roadies.

  9. Gordon Marino 05:52am, 04/07/2018

    fascinating piece—going to check out some of his songs. Thanks.

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