Everyone was masked up back in the winter of 2020, settling for elbow or fist bumps and washing hands many times back then, especially when going to the grocery store or one of the dreaded big-box places.
Late one afternoon I was standing in line at Wally-World about to pay for some odds and ends.
“Hey Jim,” a heavy Southern voice sounded behind me.
Paul Thorn wearing a baseball cap, lowered his mask a little in case I didn’t recognize the voice.
We bumped fists.
“What’s going on brother?,” I asked.
“I’m getting that big family bag of Peanut M&Ms,” he said. “and I’m not sharing. I’m eating them all myself.”
I knew he was working on a new CD so asked about it, told him I’d like to review when it popped. He told me what I speculated that it didn’t do any good to have a “release party” if you couldn’t tour, due to Covid, to promote the songs.
It’s been a long wait, but that album, Never Too Late To Call, will break tomorrow, Aug. 6, 2021.
It was the summer of 1997, when I met Paul. He’d released his first Hammer and Nail and dropped by the Courier in hopes of getting some promotion. I turned him over to LaReeca Rucker, a hire my wife Linda picked out, who turned out to be one of our best.
She stays in touch with us, even after moving on to work a decade as a reporter at The Clarion-Ledger, part of the USA Today Network and Mississippi’s largest daily newspaper. LaReeca is now teaching journalism at Ole Miss.
Anyway, Paul and I have stayed in touch — although I usually reach out to his songwriting partner Billy Maddox to obtain CDs and such. Billy keeps Paul on course, which is a very tough job.
I had the opportunity to talk with the Nettleton, Plantersville native Tuesday, Aug. 3. He was in New York for a show later that night. I joked, “You sure went a long way to dodge the humidity.”
This new CD is his best, no doubt about it. Paul, who recently turned 57, has mellowed a little and many of the songs are intimate portraits of an artist who has learned as he worked through both personal and professional pain.
I know many singer, songwriters, like Paul, and Covid-19 really laid them low, cut their paychecks, took them off the road and even put some out of business.
That uncertainly and staying at home, made all of us step back and focus on family and close friends.
Paul was no different. Family shines through on 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 that song in the living room and singing it, tweaking it, I heard her harmonizing through the wall and it sounded really good, so I asked her to sing on the record,” Paul said. “We went up to Memphis to cut the record and she was really nervous because she’d never sang in the studio. The producer, he made my wife feel real comfortable - he put a four-wall petition around she and I with one microphone, so it was almost like we were singing by ourselves in our living room.
“September 21, she and I are going to sing that song on the Grand Ole Opry. She is going to kill it.”
His daughter Kit accompanies him on “Sapphire Dream” a song he and she wrote together.
“Yes, it was written by me and my oldest daughter. I think she was about 13 when we wrote it. She’s 28 now,” Paul said. “It just seemed to fit on this new record. I’m very happy with it.”
Then there’s the title of the album itself Never Too Late To Call and the song by the same title which a tribute to his sister Deborah, who left us too soon via 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 out on the road after shows, I could call her and she’d always be awake,” Paul said. “We would talk. Sometimes we’d laugh on the phone, there were times we’d cry on the phone. We both had our issues to deal with just living life. Having her to call late at night just 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 structure and his use of an old school gut string guitars. An old friend Birney Imes shot 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 American South, especially his home state of Mississippi. He was finishing up a book on Juke Joint pictures when we met.
“I’m very proud of this record. I wanted this record to be built around what I do on an acoustic guitar. The strings on my guitar were literally three years old. They had a thudding sound, but there was just something about it I liked,” Paul said. “The difference is it’s stripped down and built around, kind of like I play when I’m by myself.”
Don’t let me lead you on and suggest everything on the album is deep, introspective ramblings - my friend still has his trademark craziness on cuts 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’s the chorus.
We’re looking good, We’re feeling good
We’re living good, it’s all good
Jam, jam, sapalo Oooooooooo
It’s also a nod to his band and the happiness of being back on the road.
“I got the idea for that song when I was watching an utube video of James Brown being interviewed while he was high on PCP. He’d just gotten out of jail for assaulting his wife and he was getting ready to leave for Brazil,” Paul said and laughed. “The lady asked him, she said ‘how do you feel now that you’re out of jail?’ and he said ‘I feel good. I look good. I feel good.’ He was tweaking out of 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’s no concrete answer that explains what “Hotty Toddy” truly means.
“I discovered this saying ‘Hotty Toddy.’ I looked it up and there were two definitions, everything Oxford and just a greeting so I liked that second one, so I wrote it with real good sing-a-long chorus,” Paul said. “Some of the big-wigs at Ole Miss said they’re interested in using it for some kind of campaign. Honestly, I haven’t got anything concrete on that. So the dream could come shattered or come true. We’ll see.”
The last verse of “You Mess Around & Get A Buzz” goes like this.
I woke up this morning in the Lee County Jail
My mama showed up and she paid my bail
She’s such an enabler I love her so much
I kissed her on the cheek, and said let’s keep in touch
Paul, like Jimmy Buffett and other songsmiths, stick to the philosophy of “partly fact, partly fiction.”
I actually met Paul’s dad and mom before I met him. The couple ran a little Christian gift store in Fulton, while I was working at the Itawamba County Times. I knew his mother wouldn’t pay his bail and was pretty sure he hadn’t been in jail.
“She’d leave me there in a heartbeat. No, I’ve never been in the Lee County Jail, but I’ve been around a lot of people who were in that downward spiral with drugs and alcohol You know moderation is a tricky word. You can get in trouble,” Paul said. “Even myself, during the pandemic my drinking, like a lot of people, accelerated. People started drinking more.
“The good news is - I haven’t had a drink in six months. I don’t plan on going back. 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 websites instead of going to Amazon, etc. where they take a cut.
“The venues we’re playing - man, the attendance it’s larger than it’s ever been. There’s more people at my shows now then there’s ever been,” Paul said.
I asked him about the fans and Covid because Paul is truly one of best artists about reaching out to his fanbase, posing for pictures, whatever they want.
“You know I have been hugging them, shaking hands but it’s funny you said that, I am having second thoughts because now they’re saying there’s some other disease that ain’t Covid, some other kind of strain so it’s up in the air now,” Paul said. “I just really don’t know what’s going to happen. I just know we’ve got some momentum right now. All I can do, is play until they tell me I can’t play no more.
“And let me tell you, these people getting all this free money and stuff ... you know ... there isn’t any such thing as free money.
“I appreciate you saying this new one is my best, and I think so too. It’s the first album of original material I’ve put out in six years. Some artists say God gave me this song. I don’t think that’s right. God gave me life, and life gave me the songs. Brother, thank you so much for talking to me and you have a great day.”
I wished my friend Godspeed, to keep Covid in mind and be safe out there on the road.