Paul Thorn: The Pugilistic Musician: Interview with Former Welterweight Prospect, Singer/songwriter, Painter and story teller
Interview by "Big Dog" Benny Henderson Jr. (February 25, 2005)
Paul Thorn is not your average boxer, not your average singer, not your average painter, heck, Paul Thorn isn’t your average person. This guy has done it all and can tell a story as well as he can sing or fight. From his boxing days back in the late eighties to his music making life now, Paul has transformed himself into an inveterate storyteller touring around the world spreading the good news of good times and great days with his humorous side protruding. As a child growing up as the son of a Pentecostal preacher in Tupelo, Mississippi, the young lad was accustomed to music that took a hold of the small boy at a very young age. Paul’s first musical gig was playing tambourine at a revival when he was just three years old and from there he was set to play, growing up with the musical influences of the black gospel music shaping his mind into what it is today, strong, very open and a southern blues side of thinking.
Paul the pugilist
As a pre-teen Paul found something that took over his time, and then took over his life, the love of the sweet science. At age ten Thorn was introduced to boxing by his Uncle Merle who was a former fighter himself. From backyard boxing into the local tournaments all the way to the professional ranks, Paul honed his skills with hard work and dedication. His first bout was at a local tournament in Mississippi where the fifteen year old won his debut with a first round knock out and from there his passion for the pugilistic sport began. Thorn battled in about thirty amateur bouts winning a few amateur regional titles and the Mississippi State Golden Gloves before turning pro in the spring of ’85 winning his professional debut with a second round knock out. When Paul recalls his old ring days he is quick and honest in saying he was a decent fighter and could win at a certain level but when he got to that top level he feel he didn’t have what it took to compete in that top level. But all and all Paul fought his heart out in every fight, win lose or draw, and that is what it is all about, heart. Out of Paul’s short career slinging it out in the welterweight to the Junior Middleweight division he compiled a 14-4-1 (6) career total and won the Mid South Boxing Middleweight Title, not the world title, but to Paul it was an accomplishment that he fought hard for and he is proud of.
Paul’s most unforgettable moment in the ring came in 1988 at the Tropicana Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey when the then twenty-three year old went toe-to-toe for six rounds in an all out blood bath brawl against the 'Hands of Stone' Roberto Duran. After competing another year as a professional Thorn decided to hang up the gloves and use his hands to make music and not war.
Paul the musician
In all his years making music, he enjoys it and brought others joy while doing it. From boxing to his music Paul always puts his heart into what he does. Working days in a factory building furniture and paying his dues as a music man at night, Paul was paving his path to become what he is today, one entertaining son of a gun! Playing in a Tupelo pizza joint one night, legendary manager Miles Copeland discovered Paul and flew the Mississippi man out to Los Angeles to record his first album in 1997. Paul has recorded six albums to this date. 'Hammer and Nail' in 1997, 'Live at Short Street' in 2000, 'Still No Hits' in 2001, 'Mission Temple Fireworks Stand' in 2002 and his most recent piece of art 'Are you with me?' in 2004.
Paul’s music is a reflection of his life; he simply states his music is from the good times, the bad times, and everything in between. Paul has opened up for such acts as Sting, Mark Knopfler, Jeff Beck, Robert Cray and countless others. He has brought his musical style to the many fans around the United States and has even traveled abroad to Canada and the UK, and the music making man show no signs of letting up. You can catch Paul Thorn in several venues and frequently on the long time running radio show, The Bob and Tom show that runs coast to coast. From his days of boxing, to his musical career that continues today Paul has kept it real and has always looked to entertain the fans from the ring to the stage. As a fan of Paul’s I felt his story was more than worthy of being told, so Paul took the time out for the Doghouse readers and gave his thoughts from his boxing to his music, I hope you enjoy.
Benny Henderson Jr.: Hey Paul how have you been brother?
Paul Thorn: I’ve been doing real well, just out touring right now. (Paul turns and asks where he is on this day) Where we at today? (Voice in background answers back) I’m in Morgantown, West Virginia today doing a show tonight, I’m on about a two week run, and it’s a lot of fun.
BH: First let’s get to the boxing, what inspired you to want to lace up the gloves?
PT: Well what made me want to do it when I was a kid well, my uncle was a boxer. He was actually the sparring partner Danny Lopez and Bobby Chacon. He was a fair fighter but never really reached his full potential., I looked up to my uncle and wanted to be like him so when he moved back to Mississippi he started teaching me how to box. To be completely honest I wanted to be just like my uncle because I thought he was cool so I started to learn how to box from him. Like I said my uncle was a sparring partner for Danny Lopez, Bobby Chacon and Ruben Olivares, those guys were great. So I really got into boxing by hanging around my uncle.
BH: You started your professional career in 1985 and won your debut with a second round knock out over George Reedy. Just walk us through your ring entrance, the stare down and then the fight itself along with the win, what was running through your mind during the entire showdown?
PT: The same thing that was running through my mind every time I ever fought, I was scared. You know I think every fighter is scared, just more can hide it more than others. I think every time somebody gets in the ring they are scared, and you are a little bit insecure of yourself. You want to fight well and remember all the things you learned in training but sometimes when the bell sounds you are afraid you are going to go blank. To have been a fairly successful boxer I never felt that I was cut out to be a boxer. Because boxing is only a small part physical, and the rest of it is all mental. Mentally you have to have confidence in yourself and looking back that was the main obstacle I had, I never truly had confidence in my self. I could win and I could fight and I look pretty good in certain fight but I just never deep down believed that I was really good. So anxiety and fear was mainly the fear I felt when I went into the ring.
BH: You had a very short professional career only fighting three years, but can you tell us your most memorable moment, and what you feel was your greatest performance out of your nineteen bouts?
PT: The best performance I probably I ever had was when I fought Knox Brown for the Mid South Middleweight Championship in Memphis Tennessee. It was scheduled for twelve rounds and it went twelve rounds, I think when I fought Knox Brown even though he wasn’t a name Roberto Duran, I think that night I was able to put it all together and I was able to relax and was able to fight up to my capabilities. It’s probably a fight that nobody has ever heard of but that’s irrelevant to me because from my personal memories that was the one night that I stuck to my game plan and I thought I looked good and I am very proud of it. I won a belt and granted it’s not a world championship belt and it’s not a belt that is very important in the big picture, but it is important to me because it was something that I accomplished and it is something I am very proud of.
BH: You banged out a 14-4-1 (6) record, why did you call it quits after such a short stint when you were only twenty-four years old, when there seemed to be a lot of time left for improvement?
PT: The reason I quit boxing is I realized although I was pretty good; I wasn’t good enough to compete at that top level, so instead of staying in that sport and getting hurt or become an opponent for an up and comer I decided that I would get out. A lot of fighters when they get out they keep coming back because they have nothing else they can do because they have no other skill, but lucky for me I’ve always been a singer. I know a lot of boxers who try to be singers get laughed at but this was an exceptional case because I grew up singing my whole life and it was something I was really good at. So after I thought about my uncle and I set down and decided that I shouldn’t stay in the sport and possibly get hurt and become a punching bag and end up walking around with slurred speech. So we decided to get out, we had some fun made some memories and we got a great scrap book and this is something we can tell our grand kids about so I dove back into my music and I was able to actually turn my music into a career. Which is doing really well, and unlike in boxing where I didn’t have the ability to relax and believe in myself, in my music I do have that ability and it has proven itself and I am really happy with the path I took. Now I’m not a household name in the music business but I have a really good career and things are growing and are getting better every single year and I feel real blessed.
BH: Give us your thoughts on stepping in the ring with the legendary 'Hands of Stone' Roberto Duran?
PT: Well the thing that stuck out of my mind when I fought him I had heard that he was really great and he had all this reputation and everything and everybody said he hit hard. Well true he did hit hard but to be completely honest I fought a lot of guy who hit hard if not harder, what impressed me about Duran was not that, but how impossible he was to hit. He was such a defense wizard that I felt like if I threw twenty punches and landed one I was lucky. His ability to slip punches was unbelievable he had me so frustrated because he was nearly impossible to hit, and that’s the thing that will always stick out in my mind what it was like to fight Duran. Not the punches that he landed on me because I have been hit a whole bunch, but the punches that I threw that did not land on him and his amazing ability to stay out of the ay of punches.
BH: OK, let’s get to the music side, growing up in a Pentecostal family in Tupelo Mississippi you seemed to be destined to play some sort of instrument and make music, who was some of your musical influences back in the day?
PT: My greatest musical influence was probably my mother and my father, my Dad’s a preacher but he also plays guitar and sings and my Mom plays the accordion. My Dad is sort of like a Rockabilly style, he sings gospel but it is sort if like Carl Perkins rockabilly style. So I grew up watching him play and work a crowd, you know being a minister is also being an entertainer because you have to be able to hook a crowds attention. So my ability to perform and sing and do what I do was largely and mostly influenced by my parents.
BH: I read that you were working during the day in a furniture factory and at night you were playing music. You were discovered in a pizza joint of all places and were literally plucked from the factory and flown to Los Angeles for your first record deal in 1997. You stated that when you first got there people were telling you that you will soon be famous and so on, but you said that you quickly learned that everything everyone says isn’t true and there can be darkness behind those big bright lights.
PT: The number of people that go to the top of the charts in this business are a very small group of people, and that group of people is pretty much determined by people in sky scrapers who wear suits and have millions of dollars to pump into publicity. That’s the small group of people that you will see like the Garth Brook’s and Jennifer Lopez’s of the world and that is along shot that you will ever get that. But the way I have been able to sing is that I go out and tour and I play all the cities in the United States and I even go to Canada and England and France and I try to put on a good show and then when I come back to that same town the following year the people that saw me before they come back and they bring somebody. So my crowd continues to get bigger and bigger and there is a way to have a career without being in the main stream, and there are a lot of artists like myself that are doing well and making a really good living but you probably never heard of them. That is just the way the world is that I dwell in, but I’ve been real fortunate. I have opened up from everybody from Sting to Robert Cray and I have been received well and when I open up for them it helps me build my audience and my audience continues to grow.
BH: Who are some of the music acts that you have opened up for in the past, and give us the most intriguing person you have met in the music business.
PT: I have met a lot of intriguing people I’ve toured with a long list of people and some of them are really nice and some of them are complete jerks. They guy from Dire Straight Mark Knopfler was really nice, gosh there are so many I don’t know how to pick them out.
BH: You have been featured on the Bob and Tom Radio Show multiple times and if I am correct they have said your song “It’s a great day to whoop somebody’s ass” is pretty much the most requested song they have had. What inspired you to write that song, and do you feel the reason why it is requested so much is because people can relate to the meaning?
PT: Yeah I wrote the song just as a joke but as it turns out it pretty much sums up the way people feel everyday about somebody, there is always somebody who you want to whoop there ass for some reason.
BH: OK, one more song. Mission Temple Fireworks Stand has currently been covered by Sawyer Brown; can you give us the meaning of that song?
PT: Well my Dad was a preacher and when I was a kid he was an evangelist and he would take me with him doing revivals in these tents, but these tents are also used for selling fire crackers so I wrote a song about a man who combined the two. He was a preacher and he sold fire crackers, so it is basically as simple as the idea that came, that’s pretty much it.
BH: What is your inspiration behind your song writing and to the ones who maybe hasn’t heard of your music how would you describe your style?
PT: Well, it is a mixture of a lot of things, there is some gospel in there as well as some blues and even some country, and it is sort of a mixture of everything. My songs just come form my life, just with what I have experienced in my life. I just have to wait awhile and live enough to have something to write about.
BH: Ok to the paintings, how would you describe your art?
PT: Ah it’s just real simple, cartoonish, drawing of people doing different things and I usually write word above my pictures to explain what is going on. A lot of my drawings are on my website www.paulthorn.com
BH: Do you still watch boxing, and if yes who are some of the guys you follow?
PT: I love boxing; boxing is something that I will always love, there are a lot of fighters I like but to be honest my favorite fighter today is probably James Toney. The reason I say that is because he sort of reminds me of Duran a little bit in this sense, he’s not living up to his potential, and he is over weight. If he would train harder he could probably beat anybody because he is one of the most beautiful boxers out side of Roy Jones in my opinion that has come around. He’s not real flashy and he’s trying to fight as a heavyweight and he’s probably not going to be successful because he is too small, but as far as pure talent he is like to me a fistic genius.
BH: What is the one thing you hope to accomplish out of your career?
PT: To be bale to make enough money to take care of my family, and to enjoy life and so far I have been able to do this. (Laughs)
BH: Is there anything you would like to add to this interview?
PT: Well nah, just thank you for interviewing me I really appreciate it.
BH: My pleasure brother.
I would like to thank Billy Maddox for his help on setting up this interview, and I would like to give a very big shout out to Paul Thorn for his time and his thoughts given to the Doghouse, I’m a big, big fan. For more info on Paul such as his music, boxing career and paintings he would like to invite you to visit www.paulthorn.com For the ones who like non-stop comedy that isn’t boxing related I would like for you to visit one of my favorite web sites and radio programs www.bobandtom.com
The 'Big Dog'
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