Tom Rigney and Paul Thorn: A Double Dose of Puredee Pleasure

I’ve got 500 words to render a “scene report,” and that’s going to be challenge. Last Monday, on my way to see Paul Thorn at the Sierra Nevada Big Room, I stopped off to meet Tom Rigney, singer and fiddler extraordinaire. Tom and his band, Flambeau, set Laxson Hall on fire the previous Saturday as part of Chico Performances’ annual World Music Fest. Rigney hung around Chico for a few days after that bravura Saturday gig, staying with local musician and videographer Peter Berkow. Berkow is mixing a Tom Rigney concert for a PBS special to be aired next year, and I was invited to see a little of how that was being done. Rigney’s a charmer and a musician, right down to his trademark red boots. He’s been touring for more than three decades, and those lucky enough to have seem him at the two Chico shows know full well just how damn good he is.

When Rigney headed home to Sonoma County, I headed over to see Paul Thorn. I’ve seen him play on three previous occasions, so I knew I was in for a good time. Thorn, a former pro boxer, is one of those southern charmers who could persuade a cat to fetch the paper.

I’ve done something like eleventyzillion interviews with musicians, freelancing pieces to a) earn some change so small that chumps would be too proud to take it, and b) to get press passes so I can hear live music for free. Most of those interviews quickly faded from memory, but I remember a Paul Thorn interview I did a couple years ago because the guy is just so natural, unaffected, and entirely authentic. He’d been on tour, opening for a country musician generally known to be a right-wing asshole, so I asked Paul if the guy was as much of an asshole as he seemed. Usually, celebrities dodge that kind of question the way Mitt Romney dodges taxes, but Paul Thorn replied instantly, saying, “yeah, he is.”

Thorn speaks in a Mississippi-molasses accent, and his story/songs are rich in humor, pathos, and good-ol’-boy wisdom. He took the Big Room stage on crutches, having sprained his ankle the week before. He performed all but his encore while seated, though he’s been known to hop down from the bandstand to dance with the patrons. “I like watchin’ y’all dance,” he said. “The girls look so sexy and natural, but you guys mostly look like you’ve just been tasered, or like you’re trying to kill a roach.”

So that’s 470 words, and I haven’t even gotten to how good Thorn’s lead guitarist was, or how funny his songs can be, or how much the women all loved him, and how easy it was for us guys to see why they do. Next time he swings through town, you’re just going to have to go see for yourself. You’ll be damn fool if you miss him again.

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