8/15/2013 - The Fabulous Thunderbirds began steeped in the blues; their 1979 debut included covers of Slim Harpo, Mercy Baby’s “Stacked Deck” and the band’s own “C-boy’s Blues,” a simmering jam featuring harp player Kim Wilson trading licks with original guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. Later, with Top 10 hits like “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up,” the Texas four-piece personified 1980s blues-rock.
Fast-forward to 2013 and the T-Birds’ newest album, On The Verge. There are elements of Motown and Muscle Shoals R&B, and front man Kim Wilson sounds like Arthur Conley or Solomon Burke on many of the vocals. But to Wilson, the lone remaining founding member, it’s all connected.
“Everything, all American music excites me,” he said in a recent phone interview. “You can have blues, rock and roll and soul really mixed together in all one song. That’s the beauty of this band; we can do a lot of different things and gauge it to whatever audience we’re in front of.”
Now billed as Kim Wilson & the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the band headlines Saturday night at the White Mountain Boogie & Blues Festival. The three-day event includes pure blues players like Jeremiah Johnson and Tinsley Ellis mixed with gospel, jump, swing, Zydeco and Southern fried hybrids like Too Slim and the Taildraggers, who rip more pages from Lynyrd Skynyrd than Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Wilson is comfortable in the new hyphenate world — up to a point.
“I think you should start calling them music festivals, because blues festivals are gone,” he said. “If you combined all this cool, esoteric music coming down the pipe, I think you could come up with some really cool festivals combining the best of all worlds.”
He and his band haven’t completely let go of the old sound, however, playing a handful of dates every year that hew closely to old-school rules.
“There are no blues purists anymore — I am one,” he said. “Now, you’re on a fresh kind of unchartered territory that’s almost better. I think the people that have a preconceived notion of what blues is these days are going in the wrong direction. I don’t see very many people even playing pure blues anymore. But times change, and people don’t want just tradition. We can do it when we want to.”
An in-demand session player, Wilson has appeared on some widely varied efforts. Along with mandolin player Tim O’Brien and Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jennys, he was a handpicked member of Mark Knopfler’s band on Privateering, a 2012 record that will finally be released stateside Sept. 13.
“It was a gas,” Wilson said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into, and it was one of my favorite sessions, really. I’ve done a lot of them. It was really kind of an honor to be called by him.”
Wilson considers his band’s current release “the best thing I’ve ever done” and is particularly pleased he released it through a small imprint.
“At that level you can control your own destiny,” he said. “I think the big labels have kind of gotten taken out of the picture and [there’s] not much more that [bigger labels] can do for you than an independent label like Severn Records can.”
He’ll keep going forever if he can.
“What I want to do is have a good time playing my music, and I still have a lot to say,” said Wilson. “I’ve got a lot of modern things to say in a modern and cool way. I’m very proud of my band.”