Toledo Free Press

Fabulous Thunderbirds to play blues tribute show
Written by Vicki L. Kroll | | news@toledofreepress.com

Kim Wilson remembers meeting Muddy Waters.

“It was at Antone’s [Nightclub in Austin, Texas], and there was a big dressing room with a giant open window over the stage — it was the next story up,” the frontman of The Fabulous Thunderbirds recalled.

“We started playing, we always started with an instrumental and, of course, I was very nervous because it was Muddy Waters I was opening up for. I look up at the dressing room while I’m playing, and here’s the whole band, including Muddy Waters, with their heads out that window looking down at me with big eyes,” he said with a laugh. “That was a thrill.”

The Fabulous Thunderbirds will play at Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on Feb. 9. Photo by Sam Holden.

In fact, the man some regard as the father of modern Chicago blues offered Wilson a job that night, but the singer and harmonica player turned it down.
“It was a real good thing I didn’t take it because I ended up having a real great friendship with him for the rest of his life,” Wilson said during a call from his home in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “He was like a second father to me; I loved him.”

Waters was a huge musical influence on Wilson.

“All the great harmonica players went through Muddy’s band; it was important to get his stamp of approval,” he said.

And what a story Wilson has about that: “I go walking into Antone’s one night, I got no drummer, and I’m opening for Muddy again. I went to [Muddy Waters’ drummer] Willie Smith and I said, ‘Look, I need a drummer tonight, man, I don’t have anybody; go ask the old man if he’ll let you play with me.’ He went up and came back down and said it was cool.

“So we went [on stage] and we just killed it. I mean, the crowd went nuts; probably was the best response I can remember getting ever at that club,” Wilson said. “So, great show, walking out, there’s Muddy up there — I called him Pops — and I said, ‘Hey Pops, how you doing?’ And he started grumbling. And I said, ‘Hey Pops, what’s happening? How you doing?’ And he starts cussing under his breath.

“And I said, ‘Awww, come on, you’re not mad because I used Willie, are you?’ And he went, ‘You, you, you go f*** yourself,’” Wilson said and laughed. “Man, I knew I was in right there: Muddy Waters tells me to go f*** myself.”

The Fabulous Thunderbirds will pay tribute to Waters and Howlin’ Wolf with Blues at the Crossroads at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. Tickets are $40 and $75. Also appearing will be James Cotton, Bob Margolin, JJ Grey and Jody Williams.

“On the Verge,” the T-birds’ new disc that will be released March 19, will be for sale at the show, according to Wilson.

“It’s very R&B, soul, blues, all this stuff. It’s a modern, contemporary record, but it’s got all the juice of the old stuff, too,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always done with this band.”

That special mix of music made the charts in 1986 with “Tuff Enough” and “Wrap It Up.”

“I was mixing soul and blues and R&B and rock ’n’ roll. It’s a hybrid that I created a long, long time ago. That’s what makes this band so unique,” Wilson said.

“With the Thunderbirds, they really are their own genre. People call it blues, people call it rock ’n’ roll, they might even call it soul R&B now, but if you listen to it, it’s a mixture of all these things together.”