As the story goes, singer-songwriter Paul Thorn had his first brush with fame when he sang the Lionel Ritchie tune “Three Times a Lady” at a talent show when he was in grade school. He suddenly went from being a social outcast to the most popular kid on the playground.
“Back then, you weren’t cool unless your hair was long,” he explains in a recent phone interview. “My dad was a preacher, so I couldn’t wear my hair long, but I got in the talent show and I sang ‘Three Times’ and I won. All of a sudden, all the girls liked me. I don’t think in the sixth grade that I could think that far ahead [to a career]. I just liked the attention. When men do things, whether it is sports or music, at the core of it all is an attempt to get the female.”
Thorn, who just turned 50, tried his hand at a few different things before becoming a full-time singer-songwriter. He was even a pro boxer at one point and fought world champ Roberto Duran. But his 1997 debut Hammer and Nail established him as a singular talent, thanks in part to his woozy, bluesy voice. While most of his songs center on stories, his new album, Too Blessed To Be Stressed, is less autobiographical and more about trying to get at what he considers to be universal truths.
“ It’s a very happy record,” he says. “There’s a lot of positive songs that I think will make people feel better. [The song] ‘Everything’s Gonna be Alright’ is my philosophy. You also got songs like ‘Everybody Needs Somebody.’ God knows that’s a universal truth no matter who you are. The title cut I got from a lady who I used to go to church with. Her name was Mrs. Johnson. She had all these great one-liners. I once asked her how she was doing and she said she was “too blessed to be stressed.” I hope that this record will make people feel a little bit better.”
He also says that his previous effort, 2012’s What the Hell is Goin’ On influenced the songs on Too Blessed.
“My last record was a departure for me,” he says. “I had never done a covers record. They were just songs I liked from songwriters I admired. It morphed and changed my songwriting style. Throughout my career, I’ve been known as a storyteller. These songs are not stories. They’re anthems. One thing I do on the road is that I get on YouTube and find somebody I admire and listen to them talk and just hear what they have to say. It’s my own devotion. One day, it might be Maya Angelou and the next day it might be Charles Bukowski. I’m interested in other people’s philosophies. It helps me. I tried to make these songs like my little devotion. It’s not a gospel record, just positive things to help people have a better day. I love to study other people and be emphatic and not so judgmental.”
In “Mediocrity’s King,” he talks politics and observes the ways in which our standards have been lowered.
“Mom-and-pop stores used to exist and you used to be friends with the people who owned them,” he says. “Now, if you go to Walmart, there’s an elderly person who says hello to you when you walk through the door. After that, you’re on your own. No one is going to help you. They have 30 cash registers and only two of them are open. Everything is so cold-hearted and detached. Everyone has their iPhones out and they don’t look out at the world. I don’t call it progress. I’m not going to call any names but it’s no secret that a lot of modern popular music is just junk. I call it McMusic. It doesn’t give you anything. It doesn’t say anything. It’s just filler. I’m not a political person but now you see politicians on TV and they’re just reading something that someone else wrote. It’s disheartening. There’s very little spirit in it.”
While Thorn has occasionally done solo dates when he’s played the Beachland, expect him to have his killer band in tow for this show.
“I’ve had the same guys in my band for over 20 years with the exception of my bass player who has been there five years,” he says. “They’re great musicians. We played together a long time and it shows. Some bands hire session guys and it can get the job done. When you hear an AC/DC song, you know it’s an AC/DC song because it’s a real band. That’s missing in the manufacturing of stars. The music itself sounds the same.”
Paul Thorn, 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $20, beachlandballroom.com.