CLEARWATER — Mississippi-bred singer-songwriter Paul Thorn will perform Wednesday, Feb. 17, 8 p.m., at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater.
Tickets start at $29.75. At this time, capacity is being limited to 50% and tickets are only available in pairs. Visit www.rutheckerdhall.com.
Thorn is touring in support of “Don’t Let the Devil Ride,” his latest album, released in 2018. For a complete list of tour dates, visit www.paulthorn.com.
Thorn has created an innovative and impressive career, pleasing crowds with his muscular brand of roots music – bluesy, rocking and thoroughly Southern American, yet also speaking universal truths.
Raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, among the same spirits — and amidst some of the actual people — who nurtured the young Elvis generations before, Thorn has rambled down back roads, jumped out of airplanes, worked for years in a furniture factory, battled four-time world champion boxer Roberto Duran on national television and has signed with, and been dropped by, a major label.
Thorn has performed on stages with Bonnie Raitt, Mark Knopfler, Sting and John Prine among many others and made some of the most emotionally restless yet fully accessible music of our time. He’s also appeared on major television shows such as “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” received numerous National Public Radio features and charted multiple times on the Billboard Top 100 and Americana radio charts.
At age 17, Thorn met songwriter Billy Maddox, who became his friend and mentor. It would take several detours until Thorn committed to the singer-songwriter’s life. But through it all, he and Maddox remained friends, and Maddox became Thorn’s songwriting partner and co-producer.
Still, Thorn possessed the ability to charm audiences right from the start. He did so not only with his music, but also with the stories he tells from the stage.
“Showmanship is a dying art that I learned from watching Dean Martin on TV when I was a kid,” Thorn said in a biographical sketch provided by Blind Ambition Management. “He could tell little jokes and then deliver a serious song, then make you laugh again. And he would look into the camera like he was looking right at you through the TV. That’s what I want to do — make people feel like I’m talking directly to them.”
The son of a preacher, Thorn spent much of his childhood in church, participating in multiple weekly services with his father as well as at neighboring African-American congregations, where he became entranced with the music whose infectious spirit is captured on the new album. “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” collects soulful songs originally cut by black southern gospel groups, and features guests the Blind Boys of Alabama, the McCrary Sisters, the Preservation Hall Jazz Horns, and Bonnie Bishop.
“This is the culmination of my whole life in music, coming back to my gospel roots,” Thorn said of the album in a press release from New Frontier Touring. “My message on this record is, ‘Let’s get together’ — I want to help lighten your load and make you smile.”
The 2018 release marks Thorn’s first time recording gospel music, after a dozen albums in roots-rock mode, though his upbringing has previously been reflected in his creation of a body of strikingly original songs. In his own songwriting, Thorn often addresses the foibles of human relationships, although he doesn’t favor the sacred over the profane.
“We’re bringing Paul’s fans under the tent at a revival,” said Maddox, who co-produced the album with Colin Linden. “A lot of emotion goes on in those places, with people being saved while the band’s playing behind them.”
Few of the songs on “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” are well-known. Maddox found most of them while digging through releases from small gospel labels in Mississippi and Alabama.
“We just picked things that had a great pocket,” Maddox said. “One person described the feel as ‘gospel lyrics set to stripper music’ and that’s pretty close. The songs are slinky and greasy and right in Paul’s wheelhouse.”
According to the venue website, the following safety protocols are currently in place:
• Appropriate face coverings are required for all persons inside the facility, no exceptions.
• All persons will be screened for prohibited items and elevated temperatures above 100.4 degrees using contactless technology.
• The facility will be deep sanitized before your arrival.
• Hand sanitizer stations are readily available. If you are in need of an attendant with cleaning supplies, please ask a staff member.
• Weather permitting, food and beverage service will be offered outdoors.
• Attendees are asked to cooperate with all social distancing measures in place on the day of event.
• All persons are expected to request a refund if they experience flu-like symptoms or have been exposed to someone with symptoms within the prior 14 days, unless they have received medical clearance.
For information on facility safety protocols, visit www.rutheckerdhall.com/facility-safety-protocols.