Thursday, 1 March 2012

Absolutely Fabulous

Published in the March issue of Rhythms magazine (The Bluesfest Issue).  Excerpt below...

The Fabulous Thunderbirds

The Current Lineup
Around thirty-eight years ago, Kim Wilson met Jimmie Vaughn somewhere in Texas, the result of this fortuitous meeting being the birth of The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  Almost four decades later Vaughn is no longer involved – he left the band in 1989 – but the T-birds, as their legions of fans call them, are still going strong.  Maybe even stronger, in fact, given the mileage they’ve clocked up, the number of shows they’ve played, the records they’ve released.  38 years is no mean feat, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds are a shining example of how you can last that long, remain relevant and show no signs of slowing down, as they zero in on their fifth decade.

Of course, it’s not just been Vaughn who’s left the fold, even the T-birds haven’t retained their original lineup all this time – players (including guitarists Duke Robillard and Kid Ramos and keysman Gene Taylor) have come and gone – but it’s been the new blood that’s come in that’s helped sustain the group, the other element being the continuous presence of the perpetually enigmatic Wilson, the man who basically binds it all together, who’s been there since day one.

“I was hoping,” Wilson laughs heartily when I ask him to cast his mind back to 1974, if he ever envisioned the band lasting this long.  “I mean, that’s the thing you play for, and the beautiful thing about this kind of music is you can do it your whole life and really elevate all the time.  It’s not one of those things you’re supposed to get worse at.”

‘Getting worse’ isn’t even in the T-bird’s lexicon, its polar opposite being the only thing close, and this is what the group have done, from album to album, from gig to gig, even as things have changed and the landscape has become different.  “It was kind of wild [back in the day], crazy stuff happening all the time, a bunch of people being too high all the time,” Wilson laughs, reminiscing.  “It had its moments, that’s all I can tell you.  I don’t think it was a very healthy time, I feel a lot better now than when I was a kid,” he adds with another laugh – yeah, it’s different now, but no less potent.  Musically, of course.

Despite this potency, the T-birds haven’t ever hit commercial heights or crossed over into the mainstream per se, but they’ve developed a cult following that’s swelled the world over and in the course of almost forty years have more than established themselves as among the best purveyors of, as Wilson puts it, “American music”, for despite the fact they began as a flat out blues band, it’s since become all about bringing in a true mélange of influence.

Samuel J. Fell

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