The Fabulous Thunderbirds were founded in 1974 in Austin, Texas by California-raised harmonica player Kim Wilson and guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. (Older brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan). They were originally envisioned as a straight-up blues band, influenced by the usual suspects – B.B. King, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Little Walter, etc.
Interestingly, while blues was still a popular force in music, that edge was beginning to wane right around this time. And so the band – while remaining at its core a blues band – added more influences to their sound such as cajun, soul, and rock n’ roll.
In addition to being a great group in and of themselves, Wilson and Vaughan are recognized as being two of the great practitioners of blues. Vaughan is not as flashy a player as his more rock-influenced brother but fits more into the traditional laid-back blues guitar mode. (Vaughan left the band in 1989 but these first two numbers include him).
From their 1981 album Butt Rockin’, here’s a hot instrumental, “In Orbit.”
The T-birds were about as popular as a blues band could be, always skirting the edge of popular music. They had a couple of hits, one called “Tuff Enuff,” and, from 1986, the essential “Wrap it Up.”
So how was the show? In a word, awesome! This was about as good a blues show as I can remember seeing in a long, long time. They are one of the best bar bands you will ever hear. Rock-solid rhythm section. Special guest was guitarist Ronnie Earl who was a long-ago guitarist for the band Roomful of Blues.
And Kim Wilson is – as my friend Bill said – a natural, a born entertainer. He’s got one of the great blues voices and he’s on any list of great harmonica players. In fact, Muddy Waters called Wilson his favorite harmonica player and vocalist. “Muddy Waters was very good to me,” Wilson says. “He almost adopted me. I’ll never forget him.” He has fun with the whole thing too, one time walking through the audience, right past our table. (One guy got a selfie with him).
Here’s a video of the band doing the great number, “The Crawl,” live somewhere.
Kim Wilson is the only remaining member of the original band. (As mentioned, Vaughan stayed around for 25 years, ironically leaving just one year before his brother died. Fortunately they were able to record and album together.) The Fabulous Thunderbirds continue to tour around the world. Do not miss this band! Butt-rockin’.