The Southern Rambler is getting ready for its next “Ramblin’ Night” event at The Steeple in downtown Mobile. These musical events are dedicated to giving back to the Azalea City, on a variety of levels.
For this installment, The Southern Rambler will be raising funds for a public art project by local artist Chris Cumbie. He will used reclaimed steel to forge a heart that will serve as a “love letter to the people who are bringing back Mobile.” Phil & Foster, Eric Erdman and The Mulligan Brothers will be lending their musical talents. Click here to donate to his effort.
Band: A Ramblin’ Night at The Steeple
Date: Thursday, Oct. 19, 7 p.m.
Venue: The Steeple on St. Francis, 251 St. Francis St., www.thesteeplemobile.com
Tickets: $35 general/$75 balcony/$100 VIP, available through Ticketfly
Singer-songwriter Paul Thorn will headline. Twenty years ago, Thorn released his debut album “Hammer & Nail.” In celebration of this life-changing event, Thorn has refreshed the release with “Hammer & Nail Live,” putting these tracks in a new, spotaneous musical context.
Thorn has also been busy with a personal project that could be his most ambitious to date. Lagniappe discussed Thorn’s return to his roots with the artist himself.
Stephen Centanni: You’re celebrating the 20-year anniversary of your debut “Hammer & Nail.” When you think back on everything, how does it feel to still be out there doing this 20 years later?
Paul Thorn: I feel very fortunate. A lot of people try to get in the music business and have talent and all the things it takes, but sometimes, for whatever reason, they’re not able to keep doing it. I’ve been really fortunate and blessed and lucky, and all those words like that, to have built a fanbase that has stayed with me all this time. At the end of the day, an artist lives or dies by their fans’ support. Because of my fans, I’m still here.
Centanni: You celebrated the occasion with a live version of “Hammer & Nail.” When you were going back through those songs, what were some of your reflections on that music 20 years later?
Thorn: That album changed my life. Prior to that record coming out, I was singing part-time. I was working in a furniture factory and only dreaming of getting to be an artist. It was a pivotal moment for me. So, I’m going to celebrate. That’s why we’re doing the “Hammer & Nail” show. When we do the show, we play the entire album front to back. People who’ve been fans since day one seem to like the songs and enjoy it when we play them. It’s a win-win for everybody.
Centanni: You’ve added depth to these songs and put them in a new context. You’re bringing in new instruments and harmonies and a lot of other great things. What’s it been like hearing the music on that level?
Thorn: I like to think that in 20 years I’ve grown and gotten better. I like to think it’s better now.
Centanni: Besides this project, you’re working on a new album that will focus on gospel sounds.
Thorn: It’s a 100 percent gospel album. I think I’ve put 13 records out. The next one will be the gospel record, and I’ve never done a gospel record. I have some great guests on the record. The Blind Boys of Alabama sang on it and Bonnie Bishop and The McCrary Sisters.
We just basically dug around and found these gospel songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. They’re R&B-style gospel, which is the kind of gospel that I grew up singing. As a kid, I went to the black churches and the white churches. I cut my teeth on black gospel music. It’s something that I’m real comfortable doing. We found these really obscure gospel songs and cut them.
Centanni: To me, the gospel music in places like the Church of God in Christ and the charismatic Pentecostal churches are on a different level. It’s totally different from everything else. For you, what makes that ‘60s and ‘70s R&B gospel so magical?
Thorn: It’s personally what I like. There’s all kinds of gospel music. I like good Southern gospel. When I went to the white churches, they did Southern gospel, which is more country-western style. At the black churches, we did R&B, which I was attracted to.
Centanni: As far as all those guests, how did they get involved?
Thorn: I reached out to these people, and they all accepted my invitation. One other really good thing that has come out of this is when the news got out about this record, PBS came forward and filmed the making of this gospel album. So, we cut half of this album at Sam Phillips’ place in Memphis and the other half at FAME [Studios] in Muscle Shoals. They brought in their cameras and literally spent weeks following us around during the recording sessions. In early 2018, there’s gonna be a documentary on PBS about making this album. It’s like a whole bunch of dreams coming true at once. I’ve never had that kind of exposure. I’m super excited.
Centanni: What was it like bringing them into the mix? Did you already have something for them ready to go?
Thorn: No, we just made it up as we went along. They’re all such professionals, and they’ve been doing it longer than me, especially The Blind Boys. They knew what to do and just jumped right in. Half of the old songs that we sang that were obscure songs in the public’s eye, they already knew them. It was a learning experience. Beyond that, it was fun. We had a great time. We laughed a lot, and it was something. It was one of the most enjoyable things that I’ve ever done in my whole life.
Centanni: You’re also going to have a tour featuring everybody from the album. Is that right?
Thorn: That’s right, we’re gonna do a gospel show. We’ve already done three or four to test the waters, and it went over well. There’s also interest in it. We do it up right.
Keep in mind, it is a show. I’m not a preacher. When I do the gospel show, I wear a suit and take on a preacher persona. I go out there and lead the show. I think about things and mannerisms that my dad used to do. My dad is a Pentecostal preacher, so I know all the banter, the way they talk and the way they step. I’ve studied it and developed it into my own show.
Centanni: I know exactly what you’re talking about. My grandparents were hardcore Southern Baptists, and at one time I went to an Assembly of God private school.
Thorn: Assembly of God is very close to what I grew up in. What I grew up in was actually called the Church of God of Prophecy. It’s so close to the Assembly of God that it might as well be the same thing.
Centanni: So, what kind of songs can we expect from this album?
Thorn: Probably the most well-known song on there is called “You Got to Move.” We did another one that’s kinda familiar called “Don’t Let the Devil Ride.” Then we did a slowed-down version of The O’Jays’ “Love Train.” It really turned out good.
All the other songs are kind of obscure. We got one called “Jesus Make up My Dying Bed,” which is really good. I didn’t really want to do songs that’ve been done a million times, like “Amazing Grace” and “I’ll Fly Away.” They’re good songs, but they’ve been overdone. I wanted something fresh and authentic. I love the songs, but they’ve been overdone. They’re like the “Achy Breaky Heart” of gospel music.
Centanni: Have you got a title yet?
Thorn: It’s not carved in stone, but it’s leaning toward “Don’t Let the Devil Ride.” It says, “If you let the Devil ride, he’s gonna wanna drive. If you let him drive your car, he’ll surely go too far.”