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Paul Thorn discusses touring and why he prefers to be an independent artist

I recently had a chance to talk with Paul Thorn about his touring history and his latest album, "What the Hell is going On?," released May 8, 2012 on his own indie label, Perpetual Obscurity.

Independent artist Paul Thorn
Paul Thorn

Paul Thorn has had an amazing history; he has been a professional boxer, he once fought Roberto Duran. He has toured with some of the most amazing musicians in the world: Sting, Bonnie Raitt, Mark Knoppfler, John Prine.

This is Tricia from Interviews from the Edge and I'm on the phone right now with Paul Thorn. How are you doing today Paul?

I'm doing good. How are you doing?

I'm doing really great, thanks. You're new album, "What the Hell is Going On," that came out May 8th right?


Are you touring on it right now?

Yeah, I'll be touring on this thing for the next year, you know?

You just put out an album 2010, that was "Pimps and Preachers?"

Yeah. That's right. "Pimps and Preachers" did real well for us. Every record we've put out it seems like sells more than the one before, and every year it seems like the following gets bigger, more people coming to the shows. My careers never blown up overnight, but it's really steadily grown every single year.

You've been around since the '90s. You were on A&M Records originally, right?

Yes, I was. And like most big label deals, nothing came of it. But when I started putting out my own records independently, that's when things started taking off and doing good.

"Pimps and Preachers" was all original, kind of story-telling and this is an album of covers. But it's not your regular kind of cover album.

I didn't want to do an album of songs that everyone was familiar with, that had been recorded a million times. I wanted to do an album of songs that were good songs, but not something that everyone had heard by 15 different artists. These are what you call "deep cuts." These are songs by well known writers, but these are some of their more obscure tunes that the world has never heard unless they're a die-hard music fan.

A lot of the songs are written in a style that's not really like what I write, but I've always liked the way other writers do things. There were a gajillion songs that I wanted to record, but I had to whittle it down to 12 and these are just some of my favorite songs.

And I'm in a world-class band that I tour with. They're just all incredible musicians. I just wanted to see what we could do when we put our spin on these tunes.

You've had those guys with you a long time.

I've had the same band for going on 20 years. That's something I'm proud of because you know, it's hard to keep any relationship together, whether it's a band or a marriage. It's a challenge.

You've been also writing songs with Billy Maddox...

He and I have been working together since I was 17. And he's a huge influence and mentor for me as a songwriter. I couldn't have come as far as I've come without Billy.

Yeah. One thing that I really like about your songwriting--you're fearless when it comes to taking on things that are politically incorrect or... "we just don't talk about that."

I'm not trying to change the world or nothing. But I do think of things to put in songs that make sense and send out a good message. There's usually something negative going on in all my songs, but there's also something in the song that gives you a way out.

You know, in popular music today, you see these guys singing and their hair is all blow-dried and they've got their shirts opened up, showing their chest hairs--and they're whining about how they're sitting by the phone waiting for some girl to call.

You won't ever hear me singing that. To me that's just a waste of air space.

There's a generation of men coming up; I call 'em neutered, prude boys. Women treat 'em like dirt... but in reality women should treat 'em like dirt. Because they're not men. They're just whining grovellers--and whining and grovelling, in my experience, is not attractive in the eyes of a female.

(laughing) This is true. You've toured with some amazing musicians... You've toured with Sting and Bonnie Raitt. People see you on Country Music Television, they think, "This dude was touring with Sting!" You know? It's kind of hard to fathom. Who are some of the coolest folks you've toured with?

Well, obviously Sting was a great artist that I enjoyed touring with. And people like Mark Knoppfler, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, John Prine--mainly those kind of artists.

I've gotten to open for them and it was fun, but the good thing that happened from opening for them is, if I played a certain city opening for like, let's say Mark Knoppfler, I could come back to that same city six months later and do my own show as a headliner and a lot of those people who saw me with Knoppfler would come back and see my solo show. Over the years I've been able to cultivate my own following by doing these opening slots for other artists.

Now I mostly headline everywhere I go, opening for all of those great artists helped me build that.

My goal is to get in front of as many strangers as I can. You know, I'm trying to gain new fans, so every time I get in front of new people--that's a big building block in my career.

You toured with Bonnie Raitt and... Man! Just to sit night after night and listen to Bonnie Raitt play.

Yeah. She's the only woman I know that's got a blind poodle. She's got a blind poodle and she carries that thing around all the time. And he can't even do nothin! He can't even fetch a stick.

You know, in Mississippi when I was growing up, they'd basically put a dog down if it couldn't see, but Bonnie wants to keep this little poodle going so she just carries it around.

And it's just eating... and not seeing anything.

Well... it says a lot about her heart. I wanted to talk to you about the new record. Elvin Bishop played on the title track with you, right? He came in and did some guitar work?

That's right. Not only did he write the song, he played on the record. And it's extremely cool because when I was a kid I saw Elvin Bishop on Wolfman Jack's "Midnight Special." You remember that show?

You know what dude, I was right there with you.

Yeah. He was doing Fooled Around and Fell in Love. So, there I was sittin' around in my living room, eating cereal at midnight... (laughing) Eating Captain Crunch and watching Elvin Bishop--and years later he's playing on my record.

Sometimes I feel like the Forest Gump of song writers, you know?

(laughing) I don't even know what to say to that.

Well, I just keep going and these great things keep falling in my lap like that, you know? I swear they could do a movie about my journey and there's a lot of moments I've had where I've just wound up in the strangest places--in a good way.

You have a family history in music, right? You wanna tell me a little bit about P-Funk?

Well, my first cousin Stan Thorn was the keyboard player in Parliament and Funkadelic and he came to our family Christmas one year and heard me playing my little songs that I had written in my room when I was about 17. That's when he introduced me to Billy Maddox who was a friend of his. And that's when my song writing partnership started with Billy Maddox--because my cousin who was in Funkadelic introduced me to him. I'm 47 years old now and Billy and I have been working together ever since I was 17.

Wow. That is way longer than most marriages isn't it? You've cleared out room in your crawl spaces for each other from time to time?

Well, when we ain't doing music we try to stay away from one another. That's the best way to get along--time together and time apart.

That'll make a marriage last too you know. (laughing) Gotta have a little bit of space.

PAUL THORN Interviews from the Edge - Video

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