When Paul Thorn squared off against the legendary Roberto Duran in Atlantic City in April 1988, press coverage of the bout made it seem like a Technicolor massacre.
“Duran Survives Bloodbath,” thundered the headline in the New York Post, which reported, “When this one was over, referee Randy Neumann’s shirt looked as if it had been worn during a 12-hour shift at a Chicago slaughterhouse.”
The inexperienced Thorn, the son of a Church of God minister who hailed from Tupelo, Mississippi, which is also the birthplace of Elvis Presley, had only ten fights going into the Duran fight.
Duran, meanwhile, was a veteran of 89 bouts and had already beaten some of the best fighters of the generation.
Even though Thorn was fighting a living legend, he was competitive until the very end.
Duran landed a straight right hand in the second that sent the game Thorn to the canvas. When he got up, there was a big gash on his lip.
By the sixth round the cut had spread to beneath Thorn’s nose. His uncle, Eddie, who was also his cornerman, later told the press that because the cut “ran like nylon” he wouldn’t let his charge come out for the seventh round.
Thorn officially lost by sixth round TKO, but Duran was far from unscathed. According to the same newspaper article, Duran came out of the bout with “Blood spurting from his eye as if he were auditioning for a victim’s part in Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Thorn compiled a 9-3-1 (4 KOS) record during a career that lasted from 1985-88, and saw him win the Mid-South middleweight title with a unanimous 12-round decision over Knox Brown in Memphis in November 1987.
Afterwards the colorful Thorn went to work for 12 years in a furniture factory. Throughout that time he wrote songs and played out his musical passions at night.
While performing at a Tupelo pizza place, he was discovered by prominent manager Miles Copeland. He recorded his first album in 1997.
“”When I got my first record deal, I was literally plucked from a chair factory and flown to Los Angeles,” said Thorn. “Everyone told me how great I was and how famous I would soon be. You learn pretty quick that everything everyone says isn’t always the whole truth. There can be darkness behind those big, bright lights.”
While Thorn might not yet be a household word, he certainly is making as lot of noise in the music business.
The former boxer, master storyteller, and top-flight musician just reached another career milestone with the release of his CD/DVD called So Far, So Good: The Best of the Paul Thorn Band Live.
Listeners or viewers can revel in Thorn’s beautifully crafted songs about broken schemers, dreamers and lovers. His uncanny attention to detail has resulted in a vast array of idiosyncratic songs that are chest-deep in Southern charm.
It is obvious that Thorn not only loves writing and performing, but he never forgot – nor will he ever forget – his hardscrabble beginnings.
“Back when I failed the sixth grade, I never thought I’d amount to anything in life,” he recalled. “But look at me now. I’m the most famous guy you never heard of. I have a loyal group of core fans who seem to enjoy what I do and love them all.”
There are also a slew of established performers who are equally impressed with him.
Kris Kristofferson says Thorn “may be the best secret in the music business,” and describes his songs as “absolutely Southern, absolutely original, full of heart and humor and surprises and streetwise details of trailer parks and turnip greens and love and lust that have the unmistakable ring of truth.”
Mark Knopfler, with whom Thorn has toured, calls his music, “a rare and addictive mixture of soul, wit, humor and musicality.”
Thorn has also toured with such heavy hitters as Jeff Beck, John Hiatt, Richard Thompson, Robert Cray, Marianne Faithful, and John Prine.
With song titles such as Heart With a Four-Wheel Drive, 800 Pound Jesus, Joanie the Jehovah Witness Stripper, and Burn Down the Trailer Park, you expect soulful, hard-hitting songs about the ambiguities of the American Dream. You will not be the least bit disappointed.
In another song called Double Wide Paradise he laments:
I don’t wanna cry
I don’t wanna walk the floor
This mobile home
Don’t feel like home no more….
I bought a swimming pool
From the man at Sears
He put it together
I filled it up with tears….
Double wide paradise
Double wide, double wide
Double wide paradise
But it is in Hammer and Nail – the title track of his debut album – that he speaks most eloquently of the formative experiences that have made him who he is today.
He describes how he’d rather be a hammer than a nail, whether in personal relationships, the factory from whence he came, or the boxing ring in which he toiled:
I climbed in the ring with Roberto Duran
And the punches began to rain down
He hit me with a dozen hard uppercuts
And my corner threw in the towel
I asked him why he had to knock me out
And he summed it up real well
He said, ‘I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.’
Thorn can rest assured that, from a musical perspective, he is a hammer. He is so good, in fact, it is unfathomable that he won’t become a major musical star.
An added bonus in So Far, So Good is a film by John Kane that chronicles Thorn’s boxing career, including the fight with Duran.
“The bonus film about my fight with Roberto Duran is also something I’m very proud of,” said Thorn. “People sometimes ask me why I gave up boxing. I always have to correct them. Giving up is not in my nature. I simply took it as far as I could and then moved on to something else.”
(Paul Thorn’s web site is: www.paulthorn.com)