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June 3, 2008

Sight Unsound: The Thorn on your side; Bingham’s tactics

Thursday, June 5

Like someone you’d encounter in the world of Gus Van Sant or Townes Van Zandt, Lost Highway recording artist Ryan Bingham is a true original. He brings his brand of outlaw sensibilities and his band, the Dead Horses, to Jim Porter’s Good Time Emporium (2345 Lexington Road, 452-9531) this Thursday for a performance in support of his soulful new record, Mescalito. The Rustlanders open this 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $12 and available at the door.


Saturday, June 7

For a time, Mississippi blues legend Willie Dixon functioned as a professional boxer and was even, briefly, Joe Lewis’ sparring partner. So, the obscure but great Mississippi-born journeyman Paul Thorn is in good company.

“My uncle was a professional boxer,” Thorn explains of his earlier vocation. “As a kid, I idolized my uncle, and so I wanted to learn how to box like him. That’s how it started, just as a hobby. But eventually, I got pretty good at it, and at one point, I was the No. 9-ranked middle-weight fighter in the United States, and got to fight Roberto Duran.”

After a respectable run, Thorn sensed it was time to throw in the towel and pick up the guitar. “I had a few fights after the Duran bout, but I got out of boxing altogether because I realized that, although I was a pretty good boxer, I wasn’t great enough to be a world champion. Rather than stay in the game and get hurt seriously, I let it go when I had taken it as far as I could,” he said.

Fortunately, like Dixon before him, Thorn was always a capable enough music maker to hustle a living from it.

Though the best work on his four albums tends to channel the ghosts of fellow Southern sojourners Elvis Presley, Flannery O’ Connor and Howlin’ Wolf, Thorn actually credits his parental guardians with shaping him most as a performer.

“Musically speaking, my mother and father were definitely my biggest influences. My mom played the accordion, and my dad played the acoustic guitar,” he said. “They’ve been singing together ever since they were 15. And, you know, being a Pentecostal minister and getting up in front of congregations involves more than just talking to people about God. You’ve actually got to entertain them. So, I got a lot of my entertaining chops from my father.” 


No kid gloves: Paul Thorn
No kid gloves: Paul Thorn

Still, Thorn said any of his success as a recording artist has been the karmic fruiting of his diligent toil.

“With music and boxing, talent in the raw is not enough,” he said. “You need to train and to be mentored. To armchair warriors, boxing may look like a couple guys randomly throwing punches at each other, but it is an incredibly strategic game. So is songwriting. In some ways, I don’t really approach songwriting at all anymore. It approaches me. What I mean by that is that I don’t just sit down with a blank piece of paper and just try to pull songs out of the air every day. I pretty much have to have the discipline to wait for ideas to present themselves in the course of ordinary life and then craft them into stories and refine those stories into songs.”

As the well-traveled Thorn returns to town this week with a new batch of tales from the southland, his remarkable journey finds him in a good place.  “The new album recently went to No. 1 on the Americana charts. I just did the ‘Conan O’Brien Show.’ I played the ‘Jimmy Kimmel Show.’ XM has picked me up, and a lot of the NPR shows are taking me on as a guest,” he said. “For an independent artist, things are really looking great.”

Join Thorn at Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088) on Saturday. Doors open at 8 p.m. Music starts at 9 p.m. Advance tickets are $15.


Tuesday, June 10 

Rock-infused western swing is what Cody Canada and his rowdy collective, Cross Canadian Ragweed, have mastered.

In a live setting, this ensemble boasts an eclectic array of fun covers and raucous originals. See why their fan base is rapidly expanding when CCR appears at Headliners at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $12 and available at the door. 


Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com