Everyone was masked in the winter of 2020, content with nudging or punching and washing their hands a few times back then, especially when going to the grocery store or any of the dreaded places in the big surfaces.
Late in the afternoon, I was queuing at Wally-World about to pay for some bric-a-brac.
“Hey Jim,” a heavy southern voice sounded behind me.
Paul Thorn, wearing a baseball cap, pulled his mask down a bit in case I didn’t recognize the voice.
We bumped fists.
“What’s going on my brother? I asked.
“I’m going to get that big family bag of Peanut M&Ms,” he said. “and I do not share. I eat them all myself.
I knew he was working on a new CD, so I asked about it, told him I’d like to review it when it came out. He told me what I had assumed there was no point in having a “release party” if you couldn’t tour, due to Covid, to promote the songs.
The wait has been long, but this album, Never Too Late To Call, will be released tomorrow, August 6, 2021.
It was the summer of 1997 when I met Paul. He had released his first Hammer and Nail and had gone through the Mail in hopes of getting a promotion. I gave it to LaReeca Rucker, a recruit chosen by my wife Linda, who turned out to be one of our best.
She stays in touch with us, even after a decade as a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger, part of the USA Today Network and Mississippi’s largest daily newspaper. LaReeca now teaches journalism at Ole Miss.
Anyway, Paul and I stayed in touch – although I usually reach out to his writing partner Billy Maddox for CDs and such. Billy keeps Paul on track, which is very hard work.
I had the opportunity to speak with the native of Nettleton, Plantersville on Tuesday August 3rd. He was in New York for a show later that night. I joked, “You’ve definitely come a long way in dodging the humidity.”
This new CD is undoubtedly his best. Paul, who recently turned 57, has mellowed a little and many of the songs are intimate portraits of an artist who learned by working through personal and professional pain.
I know a lot of singers, songwriters, like Paul, and Covid-19 really took them down, cut their paychecks, took them off the road, and even put some out of business.
This uncertainty and staying home has made us all take a step back and focus on family and close friends.
Paul was no different. The family shines through this project. He is joined by his wife Heather on “Breaking Up for Good Again”, written by him and Scotty Emerick.
“When I was writing this song in the living room and singing it, polishing it, I heard it harmonizing through the wall and it sounded really good, so I asked her to sing on the record” , said Paul. “We went to Memphis to record the record and she was very nervous because she had never sung in the studio. The producer, he put my wife at ease – he put a petition on four walls around her and me with a microphone, so it was almost like we were singing alone in our living room.
“On September 21, she and I are going to sing this song on the Grand Ole Opry. She will kill him.
His daughter Kit accompanies him on “Sapphire Dream”, a song he wrote together.
“Yes, it was written by me and my eldest daughter. I think she was around 13 when we wrote it. She’s 28 now,” Paul said. “It just seemed to match this new record. I’m very happy with it.
Then there is the title of the album itself Never Too Late To Call and the song of the same title which pays homage to his sister Deborah, who left us too soon due to cancer.
“Yeah, as you know, my sister passed away from cancer a little over a year ago. She was a night owl, so when I was on the road after shows I could call her and she was always awake,” Paul said. “We would talk. Sometimes we laughed on the phone, there were times we cried on the phone. We both had our issues to deal with just to live our lives. Having him call late at night meant a lot to me.
“She literally said ‘it’s never too late to call’ and she said it more than once.”
The album is also nostalgic. From the sepia-toned photos, the song’s structure and its use of an old-school gut-string guitar. An old friend Birney Imes took the photos. Birney and I met in the early 1990s through the Mississippi Press Association. Birney is an American photographer. He is best known for his photographs of the southern United States, particularly his home state of Mississippi. He was finishing a book on Juke Joint photos when we met.
“I am very proud of this record. I wanted this record to be built around what I do on an acoustic guitar. My guitar strings were literally three years old. They had a thump, but there was just something I liked about it,” Paul said. “The difference is that it’s stripped down and built around, kind of like I’m playing when I’m alone.”
Don’t let me lead you on and suggest that everything on the album is a deep, introspective rambling – my friend still has his trademark madness on tracks like “Sapalo”, “Holy Hottie Toddy” and “You Mess Around & Get A buzz”. ”
The first is a nod to Sao Paulo, Brazil and the Godfather of Soul.
Here is the chorus.
We look good, we feel good
We live well, everything is fine
Jam, jam, sapalo Ooooooooooo
It’s also a nod to his group and the happiness of getting back on the road.
“I got the idea for this song while watching a utube video of James Brown being interviewed while on PCP. He had just been released from prison for assaulting his wife and he was about to leave for Brazil” Paul said with a laugh. “The lady asked her, she said ‘how do you feel now that you’re out of prison?’ and he said ‘I feel good. I look good. I feel good.’ He was refining his mind, but said he was going to be a new man. So Sapalo became a song about starting over. It’s about redemption.
“Holy Hottie Toddy” – there is no concrete answer that explains what “Hotty Toddy” really means.
“I found this saying ‘Hotty Toddy.’ I watched it and there were two definitions, all Oxford and just a greeting, so I liked that second, so I wrote it with a really good singalong chorus,” Paul said. “Some of the bigwigs from Ole Miss said they wanted to use it for some sort of campaign. Honestly, I don’t have anything concrete on that. Thus, the dream could break or come true. We will see.”
The last verse of “You Mess Around & Get A Buzz” goes like this.
I woke up this morning in Lee County Jail
My mom came and she paid my deposit
She’s so empowering I love her so much
I kissed her on the cheek and told her let’s keep in touch
Paul, like Jimmy Buffett and other songwriters, sticks to the “part fact, part fiction” philosophy.
In fact, I met Paul’s father and mother before I met him. The couple ran a small Christian gift shop in Fulton, while I worked at Itawamba County Times. I knew his mother wouldn’t post bail and I was pretty sure he hadn’t been to jail.
“She would leave me there in a heartbeat. No, I’ve never been in Lee County Jail, but I’ve been around a lot of people who were on this downward spiral with drugs and alcohol. You know moderation is a tricky word. You can get in trouble,” Paul said. “Even me, during the pandemic, my drinking, like a lot of people, accelerated. People started drinking more.
“The good news is that I haven’t had a drink in six months. I don’t plan to go back there. Man, I can’t tell you how good I feel.
It’s a great musical journey and I hope you’ll buy a copy. Just go to www.paulthorn.com It’s better for musicians if you buy products from their personal sites instead of going to Amazon etc. where they take a share.
“The venues we play in – man, the attendance is bigger than it’s ever been. There are more people at my shows now than there ever were,” said Paul .
I asked him about fans and Covid because Paul is truly one of the best artists to reach out to his fan base, pose for pictures, whatever they want.
“You know, I hugged them, I shook their hands, but it’s funny that you said that, I have my doubts because now they say there is another disease that does not It’s not Covid, some other kind of strain so it’s in the air now,” Paul said. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I just know we have some momentum right now. All I can do is play until they tell me I can’t play anymore.
“And let me tell you, those people who get all this free money and stuff…you know…there’s no such thing as free money.
“I appreciate you saying this new one is my best, and I mean it too. This is the first album of original material I’ve released in six years. Some artists say God gave me this song. I don’t think that’s fair. God gave me life, and life gave me the songs. Brother, thank you so much for talking to me and have a great day.
I wished my friend Godspeed to keep Covid in mind and be safe on the road.