Before he became a singer-songwriter, Tupelo, Miss.-native Paul Thorn was a middleweight boxer who one time fought champion Roberto Duran.
The story has nothing to do with Thorn’s subsequent musical career, but as far as ice-breakers go, they don’t get much better than that.
“Just trying to hit him was so hard,” said Thorn, who fought Duran for six rounds before the referee ended the bout in Duran’s favor. “It was almost like he read my mind.”
Perhaps more relevant to Thorn’s emergence as a musical artist was his upbringing in Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, and the fact that he was singing in a church run by his dad, a Pentecostalist minister, at the age of 3. That, more than anything, contributed to what he would become: a bluesy, rocking, Southern-style musician with a gift for making people laugh.
Thorn will be performing at 7:30 p.m. May 4 at Mayo Civic Center’s Presentation Hall. Tickets are $23.50 for members of the Riverside Live concert series and $26 for non-members.
“I developed my music playing in a church,” Thorn said. “Even though I’m not a religious singer or, for that matter, even a religious person at this point in my life, everything I do was molded in church music.”
Thorn’s latest release, “Too Blessed to be Stressed,” also reflects his philosophy as an entertainer and showman. A show should be a place where people can put their workaday stresses behind them and have a good time. It’s a also the best way to grow a burgeoning fan base. This will be Thorn’s first performance in Rochester, although he’s played in the Twin Cities many times.
“If you put on a good show, you can come back in that same town a year later, they’ll come back again and they’ll tell their friends and they’ll bring somebody,” Thorn said. “It’s how you build an audience.”
Thorn’s sense of showmanship and his music are flavored by his experiences growing up in Tupelo. His father was a minister, but his uncle was a pimp, a fact that inspired him to write a song about the two most influential men in his life, “Pimps and Preachers.”
When Thorn wasn’t boxing, he worked in a furniture factory, during which time Thorn pumped out song after song. He jumped out of planes and is an avid lunch box collector.
“I built up this huge catalogue of songs that got me noticed and got me out of the factory,” he said.
Thorn also incorporates into his performances tips and techniques that he learned from observing his dad as a church minister. When the show is over, Thorn also makes a point of going out and shaking the hands of audience members, thanking them for coming, just like his dad did.
His father was also a showman and wasn’t above conjuring up the prospect of eternal damnation to motivate his congregation. Thorn applies the the technique in a more humorous fashion.
“It one of the sayings my dad used to use in church to get people to do things,” said Thorn. “If you read this article and you don’t come to the show, you’re going to hell.”
What: Southern musician and raconteur Paul Thorn to perform.
When: Wednesday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Mayo Civic Center’s Presentation Hall.
Tickets cost $23.50 for members; $26 for non-members. Tickets can be purchased on Ticketmaster online and Mayo Civic Center box office, 30 Civic Center Dr., Rochester, Minn. Box office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.