An Interview With the Mississippi-Based Musician, PAUL THORN On His Latest Gospel Collection!
Posted On 16 May 2018
Meet the Mississippi singer-songwriter Paul Thorn. On March 23rd, he released his first-ever gospel album called Don’t Let the Devil Ride via Thirty Tigers. After a dozen blues/country rock records, Don’t Let the Devil Ride is a return to roots for Thorn where he reclaims his past and celebrates the style of music he was first exposed to: gospel.
Don’t Let the Devil Ride is Paul Thorn’s relationship with music coming full circle. The son of a preacher man, Thorn spent much of his childhood in church, participating in multiple weekly services with his father as well as at neighboring African American congregations, where he became entranced with gospel music whose infection spirit is captured on the new album.
Don’t Let the Devil Ride is a compilation of soulful songs originally released by black southern gospel groups and recorded in 3 legendary locations; Phillips Recording in Memphis, FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, and Preservation Hall in New Orleans. It includes musical contributions from Blind Boys of Alabama, The McCrary Sisters, the Preservation Hall Jazz Horns andBonnie Bishop. Many of the tracks on this record are lesser-known gospel releases by small Mississippi and Alabama labels in the late 1950s-70s. The one exception is the O’Jays’ classic hit “Love Train;” which perfectly frames the album’s theme of love and inclusion.
Learn more about Paul Thorn in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So where does this interview find you? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
I’m at home today after a few weeks on the road. I’ve de-sheeted the beds and I’m washing the sheets. After that I’m going to wash a load of towels. Once my chores are done I’m going to paint a statue of Jesus that my dad passed along to me for my backyard (I wrote a song about it called “800 Pound Jesus”). So, I’m repainting Jesus. I’m going to make him in my own image, to make him look like me as much as possible.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your career? What is one big goal you have for 2018?
2017 was a lot like a lot of years previous. I’m one of those artists who is real fortunate that my career has grown every year. I define growth as increasing the number of people who come out to my shows. When fans are coming to see you play that’s the sign of success.
The gospel record just came out and there’s a documentary about the “making of” coming out on PBS nationally. I hope that helps to raise awareness of my existence. My dream in life is to get my career up and running so my wife doesn’t have to work any more.
Growing up, did you ever think that this would be the kind of life that you would? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just put one foot in front of the other. I just applied myself to whatever I was pursuing at the time. Music was something I had a talent for so I dove in to it, still don’t know what’s going to happen. I just try to make as many friends as I can along the way.
My most pivotal moment in music happened when I sang “Three Times A Lady” in the 8th grade talent show and won first place. That was the first time I experience that people liked something I did. It changed my life.
How do you think that your hometown in Mississippi has influenced the kind of artist that you are today and the kind of music that you make?
It’s 100% influenced me. I grew up singing in lots of different types of churches, and that’s where I got everything I got.
What did it feel like releasing your debut gospel album, “Don’t Let The Devil Ride” last month? Do you recall the first time you heard this collection all the way through? What did that feel like?
It was a great, time to pay tribute to my roots and honor the whole experience of singing gospel. I always wanted to and it was time. The stars lined up.
What was it like putting this collection together? Did anything surprise you about the overall process?
I just dug in, found the songs, and started. Nothing really surprised me. I just enjoyed it.
What made you decide to make a gospel album after making so many blues/country collections in the past?
It was just time. I wanted to pay homage to my roots.
How did you get the idea to cover The O’Jay’s classic hit “Love Train” on your newest album? How did this song perfectly frame the album’s theme of love and inclusion?
I heard a slowed down version of the song through a friend and really listened to the words. It’s a really heavy song with a great message if you listen. I felt it was an important song to put on the record. The words of the song are the answers to the world’s problems.
Why do you think Thirty Tigers is the right place for you and your music today?
Thirty Tigers does a good job, and everyone I work with is wonderful. There aren’t very many record stores that even exist, or places where you can distribute your music. And Thirty Tigers are there for me.
Do you have any upcoming live shows you would like to tell our readers about?
I’m doing a number of “Mission Temple Revival Shows,” some with The Blind Boys of Alabama and some with The McCrary Sisters. Those are roof raising events!
We are living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that music is going to reflect these challenging times?
Songs like “Love Train” can’t change anything by listening to them, but after people listen it might set them in motion to do good things for others. It might inspire people to be more kind to others.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Where I am at right now I would have to say Elvis Presely. Like myself he sang secular music but also had a deep love of gospel music. When he recorded gospel, it was magic, some of the greatest gospel ever recorded. I don’t claim to be him, but wanted to carry on that tradition.
There’s so many, that’s a hard question. One guy I’ve done a lot of shows with is John Prine, He has a very quality audience and I’ve always enjoyed playing in front of them. I’d be thrilled to do some more shows with him.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I just hope it makes them feel better. Music can be therapeutic, and if you say the right words with the right melodies, music can do something. If someone has a frown on their face it can turn into a smile.