Paul Thorn is no stranger to rolling with the punches. Before he was a singer-songwriter, he spent about a decade as a professional prizefighter, making his living hitting people and, of course, getting hit back. The highlight of that career came in 1988, when he fought on national television against former world champion Roberto Duran. Thorn ended up finding out why his opponent was deemed “Hands of Stone” the hard way, but he has nothing but good things to say about the experience.
“I lost the fight, but I gave a pretty good account of myself,” Thorn said. “I’m proud I got to do it.”
Thorn will bring that same determination and optimism when he performs alongside his band at 8:15 p.m. August 17 in the Amphitheater.
Raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, with a preacher for a father, Thorn’s life in music began at the age of 3, when he would accompany his dad to join both white and black congregations and sing alongside them. It would be several decades until he was discovered performing in local clubs, and although his music is commonly identified as everything from country to Southern rock to the blues and Americana, he’s never lost touch with his roots in gospel music, and particularly with the mission of bringing joy into people’s lives.
His latest album, 2014’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed, was made specifically with that goal in mind. Thorn described the songs as a collection of “positive anthems,” with big sing-along choruses that people would hopefully enjoy as they went about their day-to-day lives. According to him, songs like those are particularly necessary in the world today.
“Everything’s going in the wrong direction,” Thorn said. “Heck, we have TV shows now where the entire show is just people falling and hurting themselves, and that’s what gets people laughing these days. It’s a world gone mad, and I just think there needs to be some goodness in there somewhere.”
Joining him onstage will be the members of his band, who have almost all been playing together for 20 years. Thorn said the benefits of having such a deep history with the group are numerous.
“I take a lot of pride that we’re a really tight band. We travel a lot together and it’s just like any relationship: There are times where you get along great, and there are times where there are little bumps in the road, but that’s just part of life,” Thorn said. “Any relationship you’re in, whether it’s a band or a wife or a boyfriend or a girlfriend, there’s gonna be moments of strife. But if you love those people and you really value them, you’ll find a way to work it out.”
Listening to Thorn provide his own sense of healthy living philosophy, it makes sense that members of his band have called the live show “a ministry of positivity” in the past. Thorn himself is quick to shrug off that suggestion out of fear of his tooting his own horn, but his own spiritual life might have something to do with it as well.
“When I was growing up in church, I learned about Jesus and it was a wonderful thing. But when I grew up and left home, and visited other countries and experienced other cultures, I met people who didn’t pray to Jesus, they prayed to something completely different,” Thorn said. “I don’t think there should be any condemnation for that. What I believe changes every day, because I learn new things every day. If you believe the same thing you did 20 years ago, it’s like you wasted 20 years.”
“By the way, that wasn’t from me,” Thorn added. “Muhammad Ali said that.”