Paul Thorn on Growing up with a Pimp and a Preacher, Dean Martin, and Boxing

Paul Thorn, a native of Tupelo, Mississippi, learned most of what he needs to know in life from his preacher father and pimp uncle. Thorn's ninth album, Pimps and Preachers, is all about the light and dark parts of life he learned about from these individuals.

After a brief boxing career, Thorn decided to start playing a mix of blues, rock, and gospel music. Fourteen years later, he is still touring.

He is scheduled to perform at The Compound Grill on Saturday, March 26.

We recently caught up with Paul Thorn to talk about growing up with a pimp and a preacher, Dean Martin, and going toe to toe with Roberto Duran.

Up on the Sun: How's the tour going so far?

Paul Thorn: It's going great. We all know it's a tough time in the economy, so I'm thankful that in spite of that our crowds continue to get bigger instead of smaller, so we're very encouraged by that. It's been great.

You've played with some big name acts like Jeff Beck and Bonnie Raitt. Who are some of your favorite people to tour with?

Bonnie Raitt and Jeff Beck, people like them and Mark Knopfler [are] some very respectable artists that I really look up to. I like all of them pretty much, especially the older artists that have been around awhile. I guess it's because of experience. They've learned how to act. A lot of people sadly don't know how to act. Some artists I've been around are just mean, I won't call any names. I see them be mean to people. I've seen them be really nice to people they thought could further their situation but be really mean to someone they thought of as being insignificant.

UOTS: So the older artists have a bit more class?

PT: Yeah, plus they're really talented and you don't have to hype 'em up and build 'em up with advertising. When you see them you instantly recognize their greatness and their talent. Like Bonnie Raitt and Jeff Beck and those kind of people.

UOTS: Do you strive for a certain balance between comedy and seriousness? You have a bit of variety with songs like "Viagra" and "I Hope I'm Doing This Right."

PT: I've got a few songs that are humorous. When I do my shows I don't want to be too serious. I mix it up, I lean toward the style of old school entertainers like Dean Martin, who's this talented singer and very classy guy. He would sing these really serious songs, and then between songs he might tell a joke or pretend to be drunk. He's an entertainer.

To me, there's a difference between being a singer and being an entertainer. An entertainer has the ability to make you feel like he's talking to you and make you feel like everybody's welcome. That's what I'm trying to do. Those are my idols and heroes, the people like that. They have that extra little something that you can't define. People loved him. I'm just using Dean Martin as an example, but people are still talking about him even all these years after he's dead. It's because he was great and he knew how to entertain a crowd.

UOTS: Your dad is a preacher and your uncle was a pimp. How much does your most recent album draw from personal experiences?

PT: The song "Pimps and Preachers" is the title cut of the album. The point of the whole of the song is I pay tribute to my father and my uncle because when I was a kid, they were my mentors. They taught me a lot about how to live life. My father showed me the bright side of life and my pimp uncle showed me about the dark side of life. I went out to the world touring, I have really realized how much the advice they gave me has served me. I've been in a lot of situations where if it weren't for the mentorship they gave me, I could have possibly fell apart or gotten stomped on.

UOTS: How does it feel to have Pimps and Preachers appear on the Billboard charts?

It feels great especially because we're an independent act. WE don't have millions and millions of dollars to pay people to put us on the radio or put us on TV, and that's the game you have to play now to up there where you get presented to the masses. I'm proud of being on the Billboard charts, we did really good and our album, went to #24 on the rock album charts of Billboard. I'm proud of it because we did it on our own and we did it without the benefit of millions of dollars to get us on TV or radio, and that's what I'm proud of most of all pertaining to that Billboard thing.

UOTS: How long ago did you start your own label?

PT: About '99.

Oh wow, so pretty much all along.

My first album was on A&M Records, which is a big major. It's a crapshoot when you do that. It didn't pan out. After I saw how the major label thing works, I decided to start my own label, and now I wouldn't have it any other way.

UOTS: It seems to be working for you.

PT: It is working and I owe it all to the fans. In today's world, you got the Internet, websites, Facebook, all that kind of stuff. I talk to my fans every day on Facebook. I stay in touch with my fans and I care about my fans. Without them, I have no career. I just keep perpetuating the growth every year and it's been exciting.

UOTS: What was your boxing career like?

I had about 50 fights and I was a world-rated fighter at one time. I won most of my fights and lost a few. I was scared every time I went in the ring. I never met a fighter who wasn't afraid. I wasn't the best in the world but I was okay. I have some great memories. I got to fight Roberto Duran, one of the greatest fighters who ever lived, on television. Got to fight on TV a few times, it really toughened me up, I'll tell you that, because it's a hard sport.

UOTS: What made you decide to stop?

PT: At some point I came to the realization that although I was good, I wasn't good enough to be a world champion. If I had kept on staying in it, I could have got seriously hurt.

When did you decide to start taking your music career seriously? Was it something you always wanted to do?

My dad being a preacher, I've always done music in church. At the end of my boxing career, that's when I really re-focused my attention on developing my music career.

I see that you had your first singing gig when you were three. How did that happen?

Singing in church. I would get up and sing while my dad was running the revival. I would travel with him and while my dad preached, he would put me on top of the altar because I was so short. I would sing and play my tambourine. The congregation would fill the tambourine with dollar bills, which gave me enough money to buy a G.I. Joe with kung fu grip.

UOTS: So, you've felt pretty at home on stage all your life?

PT: Yes, I have. I think now in my life I've finally figured out where I'm supposed to be.

UOTS: You did the album art for Pimps and Preachers and Mission Tempe Fireworks Stand. Do you paint anything else?

PT: I'm an artist. I've had five gallery shows. I used to sell my art. I just came out with a coffee table book of my art because my original pieces...I'm so emotionally attached to them, they're hard to let go of. I now just do coffee table books.

UOTS: What have been some of your biggest challenges as a musician?

PT: Making people know I exist. That's every artist's challenge. You can be the greatest artist in the world, but if they don't know about you, you're invisible. In today's world, the best route I believe for independent artists is you gotta go on tour. You gotta go start somewhere. You might have to start playing in a little small coffee house somewhere. If you're good and people like you, word will spread. Your following will slowly but surely develop. A lot of people have guitars under their beds and they take them out and play them and they think oh I can do this I'm great. Maybe you are, but if you're not willing to go go out on the road and connect with your fans, nothing's gonna happen.

What are some of your future plans and goals?

PT: To continue to build my following and get my career up to a high enough level that I can make enough money so that my wife can quit work and relax a little bit. My wife works, when I'm gone, she's basically a single mother and it's hard for her. I don't want it to always be that way. I want her to stop having to sacrifice so much on account of me.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

PT: Just tell people to come to my show. Tell people about my website, and tell 'em to become a Facebook fan. I'll quote my father, the preacher, when I say if they don't become a Facebook fan and if they don't come to the show, they're going to hell.

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Melissa Fossum
Contact: Melissa Fossum