UGA Libraries Logo

Interview with Vernon Thornsberry, March 15, 2018

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:16 - Growing up

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Alrighty, so where'd you grow up?

Segment Synopsis: Vernon Thornsberry remembers growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana. He mentions his cousin, singer Lee Dorsey, who was his main musical influence in his family. While in elementary school, he attempted learning trumpet, but was told he could not play. Because he wasn't able to learn, he continued to paint at home.

Keywords: "Working in the Coal Mine"; Allen Toussaint; Columbus St, New Orleans, LA; Irving Lee Dorsey; N Claiborne Ave, New Orleans, LA; N Derbigny St, New Orleans, LA; Seventh (7th) Ward

00:02:58 - Beginning to Paint

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So, that's when I started hanging out in the French Quarter...

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry, while working in the French Quarter, met George Dureau, who invited him to his art studio. Thornsberry began painting seriously at twenty-two. He had painted all over his house before he began using his brother's garage as an art studio. He later started painting in the courtyard of The Manor in the sixth ward.

Keywords: Diane Carson; Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA; Evelyn Waterman; N Derbigny St, New Orleans, LA

00:08:05 - Playing the Saxophone

Play segment

Partial Transcript: ...and that's when, uh, The Neville Bothers, Charles...

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry explains that he began playing the saxophone because Charles Neville of The Neville Brothers told him he should learn. He taught himself on a borrowed saxophone, making up his own songs. In 1986, he agreed to take a vacation soon after Mardi Gras with Rick Hawkins.

Keywords: Cafe Brasil; French Quarter, New Orleans, LA; New Orleans, LA; Rick the Printer

00:12:55 - Playing the Trumpet and Other Instruments

Play segment

Partial Transcript: That's when I left New Orleans...

Segment Synopsis: After acquiring a trumpet in Athens, Thornsberry taught himself to play by practicing in the late hours of the night and early in the morning. He did the same with his violin and is currently learning the accordion. He continues to practice with a crutch because he injured his arm while vigorously playing. He shares memories of the times he played out his window, despite his neighbors' protests.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Jeremy Ayers; Robert (Robbie) Cucchiaro

00:18:13 - Working at Java

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Well, when you, why did you decide to move to Athens...

Segment Synopsis: Although, Thornsberry originally came to Athens for a vacation, he stayed because he enjoyed the ability to practice his music, as well as the peacefulness of the city. In 1987, Hawkins opened Java, which Thornsberry recalls spending time in with friends after hours. He shares several anecdotes from his late nights serving coffee there after the bars closed. He names a few people whose frequented, such as Vic Chesnutt, Michael Stipe, and Kate Pierson.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Catherine Elizabeth Pierson; Go Bar; James Victor Chesnutt; Javacycles; John Michael Stipe; Rick the Printer; The B-52's

00:30:11 - Painting Pt. 2

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So, were you, were you painting...

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry received hardly any formal training in his artwork. He had decided to learn figure painting, inspired by da Vinci and Michelangelo. Thornsberry attended an Introduction class at Delgado Community College, but already knew everything that was being taught. He shares that his art was stolen out of the classroom before he left New Orleans. The rest of his art was thrown out of his art studio upon selling the building.

Keywords: Athens, GA; City Park; Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci; Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni; New Orleans, LA

00:36:53 - Learning to Sculpt

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Were you, uh, around the Java time...

Segment Synopsis: During Thornsberry's time at Java, he focused mostly on practicing his instruments and painting. He recalls his time in New Orleans after he stopped playing saxophone and returned his attention to painting. Because he couldn't afford supplies, he would paint with paper bags or Dureau's used brushes by candlelight before he had electricity. Upon finding clay near someone's busted pipe, he attempted sculpting, but stopped because they were continuously destroyed. Years later, in Athens, he began again and successfully created twelve sculptures.

Keywords: Athens, GA; George Dureau; Javacycles; New Orleans, LA; Robert (Robbie) Cucchiaro

00:44:33 - Playing Saxophone in Athens

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When did you, uh, when you were, had moved up here to Athens...

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry was still practicing saxophone and trumpet when he came to Athens. He was able to borrow saxophones from Joey Tatum and Laura Andonian in order to practice. He shares experiences meeting Tatum for the first time and mentions that he would play with several different people in Athens.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Baritone; College Ave; True Confession

00:47:06 - Hear It, Love it, Dance It

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Were you thinking abut starting a band at this point or not?

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry describes his time with Hear It, Love It, Dance It (HLD), a sixteen piece band. He helped Jean Wilson, a drummer and guitar player, start the band. He names some of the people he remembers playing with, including Cal Clements. They would practice near Bishop, Ga and opened for Vic Chesnutt at the 40 Watt on several occasions, the first time being Thornsberry's first time on stage.

Keywords: Athens, GA; The 40 Watt Club

00:54:56 - Performances and Releases

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You playing any other gigs...

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry has performed at the 40 Watt several times, as well as Jittery Joe's and local churches. He recorded a record with HLD and two with his group Wild Gumbo. With the help of various people, he was able to release CDs without a record company. With Wild Gumbo, he recorded "Midnight Queens of Athens, Georgia" and "Toe to Toe with the Mockingbird." He has also released a classical CD, "Vernon J. Thornsberry," and his most recent "Jazz, Jazz, Jazz, and more Jazz."

Keywords: Athens Potluck; Athens, Ga; Georgia Theatre; Go Bar; Jennifer Cwiok; Noel Beverly

01:01:43 - Wild Gumbo and Other Performances

Play segment

Partial Transcript: How do you come up with them...

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry shares his experiences recording with the three girls in his band Wild Gumbo, including Noel Beverly and Jennifer Cwiok. He shares that he had to take them off of his CD "Toe to Toe with the Mockingbird" because they did not want to help sell the CD, recording his own six songs to replace them. He also discusses spending time playing all over Athens in Jittery Joe's, parking lots, and with Chris Hogan and Medaglia d’Oro. When he wasn't playing music, he was working on his art.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Deonna Mann; John Waters; Medaglia d’Oro Orchestra; New Orleans, LA; Poetry; Washington St, Athens, Ga

01:10:15 - Other Band Experiences

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So was it different playing with the musicians...

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry says he enjoyed playing with HLD, but playing with musicians in other bands was more his style because he likes jazz. He also played trumpet with Little Red Rocket for one show. He spent some time practicing and playing with Cucchiaro near the Last Resort.

Keywords: Julian Koster; Medaglia d’Oro Orchestra; Robert (Robbie) Cucchiaro; The 40 Watt Club

01:12:54 - Writing Poetry

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And you put out several books of poetry...

Segment Synopsis: After taking an interest in writing poetry in Athens, Thornsberry completed four books of poetry including The Angry Man and The Angry Photographer . He completed his first book while working at Java and spending time with Vic Chesnutt. Jared Ariston completed a drawing for one of his books

Keywords: Athens, Ga; New Orleans, LA; photography

01:15:37 - Playing the Accordion

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Because the squeezebox...

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry discusses deciding to play accordion in 2017. Robbie Superior provided him with an accordion he had for his show with The Orbiting Human Circus at The 40 Watt. The very next day he played it at Jittery Joe's, where he injured his arm. He mentions how he continues to play by using a crutch to hold it rather than his hand.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Julian Koster; Robert (Robbie) Cucchiaro; The 40 Watt Club

01:19:09 - Art Showing

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Uh, talk a little bit more about your painting..,

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry talks about his art shows in New Orleans and Athens. He explains that he had a showing at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, as well as one arrange by Dureau at a coffee house. In Athens, he's had three art showings, one of which was meant to sell art at the old firehouse on Prince Avenue in order for him to afford a house. He last show in 2018 took place at The Lyndon House Arts Center.

Keywords: Athens Heritage Foundation; Athens, Ga; George Dureau; Historic Fire Hall No. 2 Athens GA; New Orleans, LA; Until Waiting Fills Coffeehouse

01:27:42 - Painting of The Grit

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When did you do the painting of The Grit...

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry's painting The Grit features real people he's known, most of which actually worked at the restaurant or were regular customers. He discusses the people in his painting and how they are portrayed.

Keywords: Athens, GA

01:33:28 - Working at The Grit

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When did you start working at The Grit?

Segment Synopsis: Thornsberry explains that after Jittery Joe's moved locations, he began working at The Grit washing dishes. He later began baking cakes, but still enjoys doing both.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Donna Chang; Drive-By Truckers; Five Points; Gus Garcia's; Patterson Hood; Prince Ave