If you tuned into the USA Network's weekly boxing series in April 1988 to watch then-former (and -future) middleweight world champion Roberto Duran fight up-and-comer Paul Thorn, little did you know you would have the chance to see Thorn in Greater Lowell three decades later.

But Thorn isn't involved in the Golden Gloves competition. He isn't sparring with Micky Ward, either.

Thorn's a musician, and a very well-respected one at that. He'll be bringing his unique fusion of Southern rock, country, Americana and blues to the Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32 and are available at www.bullrunrestaurant.com.

Before we talk about the music career, let's talk briefly about that boxing career. He started fighting in 1985 as a 20-year-old. He was 9-1-1 when he stepped into the ring with Duran on April 14, 1988, at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.

He retired from the fight at the end of the sixth round. (There's a 10-minute clip of the USA Network broadcast of the last three rounds on YouTube). He fought two more times in 1988 (one win, one loss) before calling it a career with a 10-3-1 record and five knockouts.


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He spent a few years working in a furniture factory near his home in Tupelo, Miss., and playing in local clubs when he was discovered by Miles Copeland, brother of The Police drummer Stewart Copeland.

"My dad was a Pentecostal preacher, and I started out as a child doing music," Thorn said in a phone interview earlier this week while shopping at Walmart. "I picked up boxing in my teens and did that for as long as I could and took it as far as I could take it. I won a good amount of fights, but the fight I'm most known for is when I fought Roberto Duran in 1988.

"I couldn't win against Duran. He's one of the greatest fighters to put the gloves on. I could win at a certain level, but when you get to the top level, I lacked whatever it is that makes you win at the top level. I got to the point where I realized I wouldn't be a champion, and in a sport like boxing, unless you can get to that level, you're going to get hurt.

"I like to think I didn't quit -- I took it as far as I could take it," he added. "There's a big difference. When I did all I could do in boxing, I refocused on my music, which I never stopped doing."

A few years later, in 1997, he was performing at a singer-songwriter night at a local pizza shop when a record-company exec heard him. Things moved fast from there. He got a gig opening for Sting (again the Copeland connection) and had his first major-label album, "Hammer & Nail," the same year on A&M Records. 

Though he left A&M soon after, he would self-produce and self-release 13 more albums and has toured as an opening act with everyone from Huey Lewis & the News to Mark Knopfler, from Robert Cray to Bonnie Raitt, from Toby Keith to Jeff Beck.

He's touring behind the album he released in March 2018 called "Don't Let the Devil Ride," which features covers of gospel songs that inspired him during his childhood. It features guest appearances from the Blind Boys of Alabama and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the album topped the Billboard blues album chart.

"It took a long time to build an audience," Thorn said. "Everybody's put on Earth to do something, and everybody's special at something. The problem is, people don't realize they're gifted and others are just lazy. God blessed me with the ability to play and sing. I just took it and did something with it."

He's very excited about coming back to Shirley.

"I love the Bull Run," he said. "I know the guys there. The sound guy, Steve, is a fun guy to be around. I look forward to seeing them. That's why I have an audience. When I go to a place, I enjoy seeing those people. I remember every face, man. I build relationships with people."

That positive attitude comes through in Thorn's music.

"Based on the condition of the world and the attitude of people you meet on the street, a lot of people feel all hope is gone," he said. "My songs won't change anybody's life, but if they hear my songs and it has a positive message, it might encourage people to better themselves and get up and do something."