Paul Thorn’s latest and most excellent album What the Hell is Goin’ On is a tribute to the musicians who’ve inspired him. Comprising of twelve covers, the new disc finds the Americana artist and former boxer interpreting everyone from blues great Elvin Bishop to British classic rockers Free. In this special guest blog, Thorn expounds on his love for the source material.
The title cut What the Hell is Goin’ On was written by my good friend Elvin Bishop. He played me this song on his front porch one day while I was visiting him out in California. It is such a powerful song, and it spoke to me. His lyrics and groove really captured the anger and rage that I think we all feel sometimes. It’s a very strong statement about the declining moral and spiritual condition of today’s world.
When I was a kid I saw Elvin on Wolfman Jack’s Midnight Special singing “I’m Struttin My Stuff Y’all.” I never dreamed that I would someday actually know him, or that he would play a blistering solo on this record. It’s so awesome and surreal to me. I also recorded this song because I knew that if I didn’t he would probably stop sending me jars of his homemade kiwi jelly in the mail. I just couldn’t let that happen.
“She’s Got a Crush on Me” was written by my buddy Donnie Fritts, a.k.a. “the leaning man.” He’s a legendary Muscle Shoals, Alabama, songwriter who was also the keyboard player in Kris Kristofferson’s touring band during Kris’s heyday. Donnie’s songs have been covered by great artists like the Rolling Stones, Shelby Lynne, and Ray Charles. This song is so simple and beautiful. It’s a love story about two ordinary people in the courtship phase of their relationship. I think it paints a beautiful picture. Me and Donnie talk on the phone pretty regular and he always encourages me to keep on writing. He’s a great mentor and friend.
“Bull Mountain Bridge” was written by Wild Bill Emerson. He’s a fairly obscure old-school country songwriter who penned tunes for George Jones and many other traditional artists back in the day. He is a world-class storyteller. He was also a mentor to my main songwriting partner, Billy Maddox. A lot of the things that Billy learned from wild bill were shared and passed down to me, which heavily influenced my style of songwriting. This one is a wild bill classic about jealousy and murder in the Deep South. Any song that mentions a marijuana dealer, the Ku Klux Klan, breaking the arms of a wife-stealer and then throwing that same person into a cold river to their death, is a tale that should make just about anybody wanna listen. I would also like to say that it was a true honor that my friend Delbert McClinton added his voice to this track. He helped us rock it out.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s for some unknown reason it was considered cool and sexy for rock star front men to go out on stage wearing tight pants with no underwear on so that all the pretty girls in the front row could see the singer’s mighty anaconda. Paul Rodgers was in one of these type bands —- Free. They were the ultimate blues cock-rock ensemble. At first I was intimidated to try and follow a singer as great as Paul Rogers, but I gave it a shot and just had fun. “Walk in My Shadow” is a primal song about two people in heat who can’t wait to be alone. I will be doing this song in my live shows but don’t expect to see my tic-tac on display. I just don’t have that kind of confidence.