"Tell those people in Boise that if they don't come to my show, they're going to hell."
Though Paul Thorn doesn't have the authority or inclination to send anyone to the netherworld, the threat of spending eternity in hell's fiery pits was a part of the 45-year-old musician's upbringing.
The son of a Pentecostal minister, Thorn was all too familiar with salvation and damnation. The latter, in part, because at about the age of 12, Thorn met his father's brother, an actual pimp.
Though the two brothers couldn't have taken more divergent paths, Thorn didn't look to one or the other for guidance. He looked to both.
"I was greatly influenced by these men," Thorn said, his deep Southern voice reverent. "They were both my mentors."
Growing up in Tupelo, Miss.--the birthplace of the Earth-bound King--under the tutelage of both a man of God and a sinner, Thorn gained an outlook on life that more people might be better served by: He has a deep conviction that while it might be easy to judge someone based on what they do--preacher or pimp--you can't really know a man without spending some time with him.
On his ninth album, the recently released Pimps and Preachers (Thirty Tigers Records), Thorn explores those two sides, not only of other men but also of himself. Paste Magazine described Thorn's dichotomous influences as a "tug of war in his psyche, inadvertently priming him for his future as a musician--and that yin and yang is apparent in both Thorn's lyrics and the way in which he mixes gospel themes with his rootsy rock 'n' roll. The sacred and the profane pair nicely, driven by Thorn's dusky voice and subtle, often self-deprecating wit."
In the album's title song, Thorn sings "One took me through the darkness / one led me to the light. / One taught me how to love / one taught me how to fight." It's intentionally vague, Thorn said, but true. He didn't just learn about love and light from his father, nor did his uncle only teach him the ways of the street. They both offered it all.
"The way I look at life and the way I equate things comes from the influence of people who come from both sides of the tracks," Thorn said. "There's good and bad in every human being you come in contact with ... There's bad in all professions. Anybody who is ungoverned, you got to watch. Any time you're in a position where you have followers, like a pimp or a preacher, you are king and you have power. Just because you see the label 'preacher' or 'pimp' on somebody, you have to spend some time with them to see who you're dealing with."
If you listen to the Bob and Tom Show, a syndicated radio program rebroadcast in Boise on KKGL 96.9 The Eagle, you feel like you know Thorn. During his visits to the show, he regales the hosts and the listeners with tales of his former career as a boxer. In the late '80s with less than a dozen fights under his belt, he fought four-time world champion Roberto Duran. Thorn's laid-back demeanor, baritone voice and Southern charm have made him a popular guest ... well, that and Thorn's oft-requested song, "It's a Great Day For Me To Whoop Somebody's Ass."
It's a ridiculously catchy tune in which, after a day when everything has gone wrong, Thorn opines "It's a great day / for me to whoop somebody's ass / It's a bad day, so you better get off my back / You might get coldcocked / if you cross my path / 'Cause it's a great day / for me to whoop somebody's ass." Even the story behind the song tells like Thorn fodder.
"I got on [Bob and Tom] by accident. I was on tour with a country artist, of all things, even though I'm not a country singer," Thorn said. "I was on tour with Toby Keith and he was supposed to be on the Bob and Tom Show and he couldn't do it. I was sort of like the guy on the bench; I got put in the game."
Thorn wrote "It's a Great Day" the night before he went on the show as lark.
"I wrote it as a joke, 'cause I know they like to laugh. After I left the show, they kept on playing it. It's become kind of like this working man's anthem."
Thorn is a working man himself. He recognizes that it takes a lot to build a fan base--he regularly posts on his Facebook page--and stay relevant in the music industry, especially as an independent artist. He has turned down a number of offers that would make his life at least financially easier, but negotiations always end with Thorn walking away. He's not willing to sing what someone decides he should sing or wear what someone decides he should wear. At that point, he said, he ceases to be an artist and is just another opportunist trying to be famous. Thorn would take fame but not at the cost of his integrity--both the pimp and the preacher ingrained that into him. Ultimately, he just wants to do well enough to take care of his own.
"At the end of the day, I'm the father of two kids, and a [husband]. At the end of my career, I would've liked to have accumulated enough nuts in the tree that we can eat comfortably. Ya know what I mean?"