Paul Thorn Brings A Softer Touch To A Rough Patch On 'Never Too Late To Call'

Aug 9, 2021
Originally published on August 9, 2021 10:42 am

On his newest album, Never Too Late To Call, we find Southern rocker Paul Thorn reflective. Raised in Tupelo, Miss., Thorn worked as a professional boxer and factory worker before becoming a full-time musician in the late 1990s, releasing multiple studio albums since. But his latest record has been seven years in the making.

Over 11 bluesy songs the singer-songwriter explores a mellower sound than his previous works, as characters from Thorn's life — his wife, daughter, father — prominently glide through the music.

Thorn joined NPR's Debbie Elliott to talk about his deeply personal new record, complicated familial love, redemption and gratitude. Listen in the audio player above, and read on for highlights of the interview.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On finding gratitude in the present moment

"I really have [taken stock of things]. You know, nothing in my life has went perfectly, but it's really been good. And I think everybody can get something out of ["Two Tears Of Joy"] by just learning how to be thankful for what they have.

"One of the things that happened for me was I got COVID, and I was in bed for two solid weeks. ... I had my wife to take care of me, which wasn't an easy task because I had been getting on her nerves just by being hard to live with. But now we're back on track, and I've learned that marriage is about cooperation and patience."

On collaborating with his wife

"Well, as I was writing ["Breaking Up For Good Again"], my wife — I could hear her harmonizing through the walls, and it sounded great.

"We lived this song. ... Any married couple lives this song. And [my wife] was really nervous and apprehensive because she'd never been in a recording studio — not too shabby for somebody who only sang in church."

On the mellow nature of the album

"I'm very proud of the stripped-down sound that it has. ... [The title track], 'Never Too Late To Call,' was inspired by my sister Deborah. A little over a year ago she passed away from cancer, but one of the things that I loved about her was any hour of the night I could call her, and she'd be awake. I would often apologize and say, 'Deborah, I'm sorry I'm calling you so late.' More than once she said, 'Don't worry, it's never too late to call.' [It's] such a comforting thing to have somebody that you can reach out to at any hour. I miss my sister, and I think about her, and this song is for her memory. This song will live forever."

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Mississippi singer-songwriter Paul Thorn gets reflective on his new album, "Never Too Late To Call." It's a mellower sound for him with a redemptive thread.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE WE GO")

PAUL THORN: (Singing) I feel good about what the future holds. Take my hand. Here we go.

ELLIOTT: For our listeners who might not know your story, let's have a little background. Now, you grew up there in Tupelo, home to Elvis, right?

THORN: Yeah. You can pay a dollar and walk through the little house he was born in.

ELLIOTT: And you were a professional boxer early in your career. You learned to box from your uncle, who was a pimp.

THORN: At one time, yes.

ELLIOTT: And your dad was a Pentecostal preacher.

THORN: Yep. My dad just recently retired from being a pastor. He's 80 years old. And my uncle who, a former pimp, has certainly redeemed himself. And now he's driving a bus for an old folks home, and he's really turned it around for the better.

ELLIOTT: It sounds like great fodder for songwriting.

THORN: Oh, yeah. I've kind of learned that nobody is all good, and nobody is all bad.

ELLIOTT: I want to play the song "Two Tears Of Joy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWO TEARS OF JOY")

THORN: (Singing) Anybody who knows will tell you it ain't no picnic living with me. So many times I've needed forgiveness from friends and family.

ELLIOTT: It sounds to me like you've taken this moment to sort of take stock of things.

THORN: I really have. You know, nothing in my life has went perfectly, but it's really been good. And I think everybody can get something out of this song by just learning how to be thankful for what they have.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWO TEARS OF JOY")

THORN: (Singing) I don't have everything. But what do I really need? I've been such a lucky boy. I'm crying two tears of joy.

One of the things that happened for me is I got COVID, and I was in the bed for two solid weeks, and I had my wife to take care of me, which wasn't an easy task because I had been getting on her nerves just by being hard to live with.

(LAUGHTER)

THORN: But now we're back on track, and I've learned that marriage is about cooperation and patience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAKING UP FOR GOOD AGAIN")

THORN: (Singing) We've been here before, that slamming door.

ELLIOTT: There's a song that you actually sing with your wife on this album...

THORN: Yes.

ELLIOTT: ..."Breaking Up For Good." How did that come about?

THORN: Well, as I was writing it, my wife, I could hear her harmonizing through the wall, and it sounded great.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAKING UP FOR GOOD AGAIN")

HEATHER THORN AND PAUL THORN: (Singing) We're just breaking up for good again. It's over, but it never ends. We both want out, then we both want in. We're just breaking up for good again.

THORN: We live this song, and any married couple lives this song. And she was really nervous and apprehensive, and she'd never been in a recording studio.

ELLIOTT: Oh.

THORN: Not too shabby for somebody that only sang in church.

ELLIOTT: I want to talk a little bit about "Mess Around & Get A Buzz."

THORN: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: It's a song really about some very hard partying. It even mentions one of the last great juke joints in Mississippi.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU MESS AROUND AND GET A BUZZ")

THORN: (Singing) Down in Clarksdale at the Po' Monkey club, they had cold beer in a clawfoot tub.

ELLIOTT: It sounds to me like it's also a bit of a warning song and that you yourself have sort of changed your lifestyle a bit. How did you come around?

THORN: I quit drinking. Even before the pandemic, my drinking had got a little heavy. And over a period of time, it took a toll on my health. I haven't had a drink in six months, and that might not sound like a long time for a lot of people. But when you've been drinking to excess every day, that's an accomplishment. It's kind of a cautionary tale about how all that stuff spins out of control if you let it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU MESS AROUND AND GET A BUZZ")

THORN: (Singing) You mess around and get a buzz. I know for sure if you mess around and get a buzz, you want some more.

ELLIOTT: This batch of songs seems to have a more mellow feel than some of your earlier records. Was that intentional?

THORN: Yes, ma'am. I'm very proud of the stripped-down sound that it has.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO CALL")

THORN: (Singing) Just remember that I love you, and it's never too late to call.

That song, "Never Too Late To Call," was inspired by my sister, Debra. A little over a year ago, she passed away from cancer.

ELLIOTT: I'm sorry.

THORN: But one of the things that I loved about her is any hour of the night, I could call her, and she'd be awake. I would often apologize and say, Debra, I'm sorry I'm calling you so late. And more than once she said, don't worry. It's never too late to call. Such a comforting thing to have somebody you can reach out to at any hour. And I miss my sister, and I think about her.

ELLIOTT: I bet.

THORN: And this song is for her memory. This song will live forever.

ELLIOTT: Now, it's not all mellow. I want to talk about one particular song that got me moving a little bit, and that was "Sapalo."

THORN: Oh, yeah.

ELLIOTT: But I couldn't figure out what in the world you were singing about.

THORN: I was on YouTube, and I was watching James Brown. He had just gotten out of jail. He had cleaned his act up, and he was getting ready to go back on tour. The anchor, she said, how are things now that you're out of jail, Mr. Brown? And he goes, I feel good. I look good. I smell good. It's all good. He was just saying all this off the top, and he was getting ready to go to Sapalo (ph), Brazil.

ELLIOTT: It's like he made it all one word instead of Sao Paulo.

THORN: That's right. And he was testifying that he was a new man. He had a new lease on life. He was going to Brazil, just sweat running all over his face. But he had an awesome suit on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAPALO")

THORN: (Singing) You're looking good. You're feeling good. You're living good. It's all good. Jam out (ph), Sapalo. Ooh. "Sapalo"

is a song about redemption and starting over with a fresh slate. It's a saying of it's going to be all right. And you know, I'm going to do better than I did in the past. Everybody can start fresh. Look at me. I hadn't drank in six months. I feel good. I look good. I smell good. It's all good. Sapalo.

(LAUGHTER)

THORN: See how happy it makes you.

ELLIOTT: It does. Well, thank you for sharing your story with us.

THORN: Hey, thank you, Debbie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAPALO")

THORN: (Singing) We're looking good. We're feeling good. We're living good. It's all good. Sapalo

(laughter).

ELLIOTT: Sapalo to you.

THORN: That's it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAPALO")

THORN: (Singing) Sapalo. Ooh...

ELLIOTT: Paul Thorn's new album is called "Never Too Late To Call." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.