Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds!

For over three decades, The Fabulous Thunderbirds have evolved from being a straight blues band into a very diversified American music band that still incorporates a very distinctive and powerful sound. Kim Wilson is the lead vocalist/harmonica player and also the group's founder. Now on a big American tour, Kim took time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about the group and his life today....

MICK: You started out working with some of the world's greatest blues players, people like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. What was it like working with those legends?
KIM: There's nothing to compare to it. It's kind of like being with friends and playing basketball with Michael Jordon! Jimmy Rogers was the greatest. I played with everybody! I was a young kid when I got started. When I was 18 years old, I played with Eddie Taylor, Albert Collins, Lowell Pulson, Peewee Crayton, Luther Tucker, I met George Smith, John Lee Hooker, played with Johnny Shines back then. A who's who of blues! It was a dream.
MICK: How did you meet Jimmy Vaughn?
KIM: I was on a trip down to Texas. This gal offered me some gigs down there. I was playing for her boyfriend at the time and he was playing with Lowell Pulson back then. She had told him about me. This was around 1972. I had made a few recordings and Willie Dixon was my manager at the time. Dixon gave me over to Bill Dison, who was Jimmy Reeds' manager. He funded a recording session for me and I made a single. I sent it down to her and she loved it. I had never been on an airplane before! I was in Minneapolis at the time and I didn't want to be there. It was really cold there. I had just come from California and wanted to leave. I went down there but it didn't pan out. But I did meet Jimmy Vaughn at that time. He called me an we got together. The rest is history!
MICK: When Jimmy left the band in 1989, was there any anamosity?
KIM: Not at all.
MICK: You are the only original member left in the band, right Kim?
KIM: That's right!
MICK: As the old members left the band, was it hard to find good replacements?
KIM: No it wasn't! It's a pretty good gig to have. You get a lot of time if you are a soloist, you get to bring songs to the table. There's a lot of things you get with this gig. You get to play blues if you want to but you can also push the envelope if you want to. It's really up to the people in the band on how creative they want to be. The guys I have now are very original. It's been a blessing for me. It's very stimulating for me. I get to write a lot of stuff and sing a lot of stuff.
MICK: I see you have a very busy tour schedule this year.
KIM: They're still piling it on too! I'm happy about that. I'm not complaining.
MICK: You have your Blues Allstars touring South America too!
KIM: I have that and I have the Blues Allstars doing other things. Another tour in the Fall. I have both things going at the same time. The lion's share of it goes to the Thunderbirds obviously. I've got this great new agency that really stepped it up for us. A lot of really good things are happening. We were just in the studio recently in Austin and cut some new tracks. Adding to what we already have but we retracked a few things. It's a very cool atmosphere to be in right now. I hope everybody feels the same way I do! For me, to keep things fresh at this stage of my life, it's not easy. There's a lot of good players out there. I've had almost all of them! For me to really get my jollies, I have to see some creation going on. I'm proud to say I've got some guys here who are great players. I've kind of gone back a step in a way and gone forward at the same time. I'm playing a lot of blues in the set now and all of the other stuff I like as well. I never have a set list. I just call the songs off on the spot as we do the show. I tailor the set to the audience every night that we play.
MICK: So it's never the same each night?
KIM: Never
MICK: When do you expect to release the new album?
KIM: That's a good question! This year for sure. It's a work in progress. We have the advantage of doing this without a label and taking our time to finish it. We've been able to come back and buff it out some more. We've had a chance to play some of the tracks live for a long time. So now we can just walk in and track it in one or two takes. That's what we did on a couple of them. We had a session out here in LA that we felt wasn't the ideal thing. We felt there was some work to be done on the existing tracks we had. We've got them honed down now. It's cost a little bit of money but it's better than putting out a record where you're kicking yourself in the ass. It's going to be a really cool record.
MICK: What are some of your favorite venues to play?
KIM: I used to love The Ritz in New York. I really enjoyed The Bottom Line. I enjoy playing BB Kings now! I think that's a great room. I think that New York is famous for those kinds of rooms. I wish some of them still existed. I remember going to see Jimmy McGriff and King Crawford over at The Blue Note. That's still there. Then there's Max's Kansas City. New York is such a great place to play. There's not much happening out in LA right now. Of course you can still go to the large venues like Universal. Right now the cycle is down in all the big cities. There's some stuff happening in San Fransisco and Chicago now. Those are the cities you always look forward to. There's never been much happening down in Texas. That's why you go out on the road! Austin is the only place in Texas where there's anything remotely going on. Austin has always bragged about it's music scene but they dont really back it up.
MICK: How many harmonicas do you own?
KIM: Enough to get through a night! I happen to own a lot because I don't buy them off the rack. I have them worked on for me. I don't throw harmionicas away anymore. I send them back and they redo them for me. This guy Joe Filisko in Joliet, Illinois. He redoes them for me. He is a genius. I used to throw them all away after they broke down. I have many 60 to 100. Not really sure. They all keep going back and every now and then I get a new batch! There's nothing like a Filisko Harmonica!
MICK: Which harp players do you admire?
KIM: Almost all of them are dead! Little Walter, Big Walter, both Sonnyboys, George Harmonica Smith. James Cotton is a really great friend of mine and was a huge influence on me in a lot of ways. Jimmy Reed, Lazy Lester is a very good friend of mine. Snooky Pryor, Junior Wells, Junior Parker, Slim Harpo. I listened to all of them. There's people like Whispering Smith and Billy Bizer. These are people you don't even know! Most people will never know these people! I'm a really big fan of this jazz guy Mike Turk in Boston. He's a great harmonica player. I love Larry Adler, Toots Thielmans. I'm stubbling upon people all the time that I haven't heard. I'm just a fan of the instrument. I'm a fan of music. I like all music that's cool!
MICK: What do you like to do when you're not touring?
KIM: I play sports. I like to play basketball, go to the gym and work out. I like to go fishing out in the ocean which hasn't been good the last couple of years. I like to ride a bike and play a little golf. I have over 25,000 songs on my computer that I listen to. That's more songs than most people have in their record collections. I just put them on shuffle!
MICK: Are you religious?
KIM: I love gospel music. I am religious. I'm not one of these born again people and like to think I'm a spititual person. Of course I was taught to believe in God. Had my doubts in the past but you go back and say you're sorry. God is somebody to talk to and converse with! You have to start by saying "Listen, I'm not doing this because I want something!". There's lots of times you can thatnk God just for a beautiful day. I live out here in California and have a lot to be thankful for. Everyday is beautiful. I get to travel all over the world, I've played with some of the greatest musicians that ever lived. I've done a lot of cool stuff and it's far from over! I think I'm doing my coolest stuff right now!
MICK: What would be one word that would describe you?
KIM: Relentless!
MICK: What do you see down the road for The Fabulous Thunderbirds?
KIM: All good! I see no reason why we can't have commercial success again. I'm hoping there's going to be a rennescence here of the player. I can see it happening slowly. When I was a kid, that's all I was into was the players. If it were dance music, there had to be players involved with it as well. Before I got into blues, I was into Stax, Motown, Atlantic. I liked the soul music. I had the players in my mind because I started playing with I was very young. I stopped doing it to play athletics. When I got back into playing music again when I was 17, I already had that mindset. Over the years I came to realize that it's ok to have technical ability if you can deliver it. You have to be able to move people.

Kim and his band The Fabulous Thunderbirds continue to move people who come to see them perform! Upcoming shows include...
6/20/2011 B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill New York, New York

7/10/2011 North Fork Theater at Westbury Westbury, L.I., NY
with Dickey Betts!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Here's Lucie!

We came to know and love her as the daughter of America's favorite couple, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. We also knew them as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on "I Love Lucy" in the early days of television. Lucie Arnaz became a huge star in her own right, from her beginnings on the "Here's Lucy " show to her exceptional career as a singer and dancer. Lucie brings her new show "Latin Roots" to the Landmark Theater in Port Washington this Saturday. I was thrilled to speak with Lucie the other evening from her home in Connecticut...

MICK: Please tell me about your show "Latin Roots" coming to the Landmark On Main Street in Port Washington on Saturday, June 18th.
LUCIE: For ten years, I've been trying to put together this Latin Roots show that I've been dreaming about. After my last Cd a few years ago, I thought my next was going to be Latin music and what inspired me to go into the concert business to begin with, which was my father's music. A year ago in January, I got this opportunity to do a tribute to his music based on his original arrangements which is housed at the Library of Congress. We did the show here in New York for Lyric and Lyricists as we opened their 40th season with it. It was a huge success for five nights. Then we were invited down to the big Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami Beach to do it last July. My brother [Desi Arnaz Jr.] was in it with me, Raúl Esparza sang a lot of my father's numbers, Valarie Pettiford danced in it with two other dancers, and a fifteen piece orchestra. The show is called "Babalu". It was spectacular! Simultaneously, as I was directing and producing this show as a tribute to my dad, I was also producing a Latin Roots Cd. They both came out on the same weekend! I am so happy with this music and this type of Cd. It's contemporary music with a Latin flair. I have a song my father wrote, I have Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer and some new stuff. The show I'm bringing to Port Washington is all focused on that. It rocks and it's very sassy and it's kind of sentimental. It's a labor of love and a Valentine for my dad!
MICK: Is this show at the Landmark different from your Babalu show?
LUCIE: The Babalu show had a much bigger orchestra and had the original Desi Arnaz orchestration with his charts from the Desi Arnaz Band. But some of the songs are the same just with a smaller trio. The Babalu Show was five people and two dancers. This show is just me! I can't do the Babalu show alone and I can't do it for cheap! It cost me a lot more money to take that out!
MICK: I read that as a child, you had an early appearance on the "I Love Lucy" show. Do you have any recollection of that?
LUCIE: I have no recollection of that and there's a good reason for that! It was a misprint that somebody put in a book a long time ago. I believed it my whole life! TV Land finally started running the entire "I Love Lucy" shows without any of the cuts or edits for commercials. I couldn't wait to finally see the episode that they told me that both my brother and I were on. It was the final "I Love Lucy" episode where there's a statue out in the park and Lucy is pretending to be the statue. There's a crowd scene and I was always told that me and my brother were in this scene. I looked and sure enough, there's my brother but that's not me! It's some other girl! So that was just an assumption on somebody's part. However, I guess I could say I was in the original 'I Love Lucy" show because my mother was pregnant with me when they did the original pilot!
MICK: Keith Thibodeaux played Little Ricky on "I Love Lucy". Were you friends with him?
LUCIE: Very good friends! I thought he was my brother for the longest time! He practically grew up in our house. He's lived in Jackson, Mississippi for the better part of his life. Desi and Keith were the best of friends. Keith was around 4 years older than Desi but growing up, they were best friends. He virtually was the inspiration for my brother to learn how to play the drums. Keith went everywhere with us. They grew up and went their separate ways. Keith had a little rock band and Desi had Dino, Desi and Billy. That was the only connection. Years later, Desi is watching a talk show and realizes Keith is on the show. Meanwhile, my brother had got married to this lovely lady named Amy Bargiel who was a ballerina and ran a ballet company. So he's watching this talk show and sees Keith and his wife who's a ballerina and runs a ballet company! Desi says "Hey Amy, come in here! There's my friend Keith who played Little Ricky! He got married to a ballerina who runs a ballet company too!"
Amy looks and says "Oh yea! She was my room mate in college!" What are the chances of that? Strange things happen in this world!
MICK: What is your fondest memory of your mom and dad. I know there must be many but is there one that really sticks out?
: That's almost an impossible question. But guess the one that i would choose, at this moment, would be the last time I put the phone up to my father's ear so that my mother could talk to him and they told each other how much they loved each other.
MICK: Your costar on "Here's Lucy" was veteran character actor Gale Gordon. I know he was with your mom throughout her entire TV career. What was he like?
: He was one of the nicest, funniest, dearest men on the planet. I think I only knew two people in the sixty years I've been on this earth that were genuinely nice to everybody and that talented...that was Gale Gordon and Jimmy Durante. He was truly unique and I learned so much from him about how to be professional, to come prepared and keep a good spirit about you. He was the best guy to work with. I'm sure that's why my mother depended on him for so many years. She always knew that whatever you gave him, he could always knock it out of the park.
MICK: You've done numerous stage plays. Do you have a favorite role?
LUCIE: I do have a few. "Lost In Yonkers" was a thrill, one of Neil Simon's best works ever. He won the Pulitzer for it. It's a cathartic, riveting, dark and funny play. I had the wonderful part of Bella. I also loved the fact that I could tap dance with Tommy Tune in "My One and Only". That was a huge undertaking. I had just had my third baby when I went into rehearsals for that. To learn that amount of dancing was a big triumph. That was fun, fun, fun! "They're Playing Our Song" was a pretty perfect show too! It was my first Broadway show. I've had so many parts! I loved "Annie Get Your Gun" and "The Witches Of Eastwick". "Seesaw" was the very first National tour I ever did with Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields music, Michael Bennett directing. That was extremely memorable.
MICK: Are you close with your brother?
LUCIE: Yes! Not physically because he's out in Nevada and I live in Connecticut. We try to get together as often as we can. We're having another family reunion on what would have been my mother's 100th birthday this year. Every Ball of the Ball family comes together. Desi and I will be there with our kids. We've had a wonderful time doing the Babalu Show together. That was great fun!
MICK: Is the family reunion going to be in Jamestown, New York?
LUCIE: We were thinking about going to Jamestown because there's all kinds of festivities there this year. My Aunt Cleo, who was my mother's cousin but really raised as her sister and was also executive producer of "Here's Lucy", is one of two matriarchs left. The other is Zoe. Zoe gets around pretty good for 93 but Cleo not so much. So everybody is going to Cleo in Northern, California!
MICK: are you involved with the Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown?
LUCIE: Yes as much as I possibly can! I was on the board of directors there for over five years and created the place. It's a lot to be a board member. I'm also a board member of The American Theater Wing here in New York. Between my concerts and that, directing, producing, editing and's just too many things. They went through some great changes up there! They have a brand new, very savvy, very smart young creative and artistic executive directer who is doing a fabulous job at the Center. They've come up with some stuff that I think my mother would be very proud of. The original idea that we had, that was sidetracked by the previous administration, was to have a festival of comedy called for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Support comedy into the future! Teach it, find it, honor it, award it! Also, they are creating the first ever "Comedy Hall of Fame" which is being named after Lucy and Desi. That's all happening this year! We support them 100 percent!
MICK: Up until this point in your career, what would you consider your greatest achievement in your career?
LUCIE: I would have to say winning an Emmy Award for directing and producing "The Lucy and Desi Home Movie". That was a cathartic experience to create. I worked on it for four years and you never know what you have. You just follow your heart and make what you think is right, not a trash piece. To be awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary was pretty thrilling. It's hard to beat that!
MICK: Is there anything else you would like to accomplish? You've accomplished so much in your career!
LUCIE: Everything! I have lots to do yet! I'm dancing as fast as I can! I have lots more Cd's I want to make, books I want to write, about ten documentaries I want to make. I have three Broadway shows in the hopper that my husband Larry and I want to produce. I won't live long enough to do all of this so I have to work fast! I've got plenty left to do!

See Lucie Arnaz this Saturday, June 18th at 8pm in "Latin Roots"
The Landmark Theater, 232 Main St., Port Washington (516) 767-6444

For more on

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Get Ready For ReadyIN 10!

There's a new band on the horizon and I'm sure you will be hearing a lot about them very soon. Based in Babylon, "ReadyIn 10" is more than ready to take the world by storm with their unique style of songwriting, musicianship and the lead singing of Sal Nastasi. I had the great pleasure to chat with Sal the other evening...

MICK: Your new CD "31 Strong " sounds great! I've been listening to it quite a bit. How is the CD doing so far?
SAL: It's going really well! We are getting a lot more downloads from this CD than from our previous CD "Face The World". "Face The World" has been around a lot longer but this one is picking up a lot faster.
MICK: The band is very reminiscent of Bon Jovi. I say that in a very positive way. Have other people told you that?
SAL: We hear that all the time. I'm a Bon Jovi fan and I know my voice sounds a little like his. I don't take that as a bad thing. I like Bon Jovi and I buy tickets when they come around.

MICK: How did you guys all get together?
SAL: Marc Viola (the guitar player) and I have known each other for a long time. Our parents are good friends. We were in search of a bass player and we found Mike Elefante, who was playing with another band. We auditioned for a drummer and that's how we found Mike Moore. Our current lineup has been together for three years now!

MICK: Is it true you came up with the name "Ready In 10" from a Chinese menu?

SAL: Yes, that really is true! We booked our first show in February 2005 at The Bitter End in NYC. The venue needed to make a flyer so they asked for the name of the band. Quickly, I looked down at a Chinese menu and thought "ready in 10" sounded cool so we went with it!

MICK: How did you come up with the name of your current CD "31 Strong"?

SAL: 31 Strong is address where our studio is. It's the place where we hang out and everything happens!

MICK: I see that the band did quite a few charity events last year. Are there more planned for this year?

SAL: We are always doing charity events. Right now, we are trying to get together with Wounded Warrior and any other veteran's charities. We just recorded a new song called "Freedom's Cry". We put it up on I-Tunes a few weeks ago and we are going to donate all of the money we make from the downloads of that song from now until September 11 to all sorts of different veterans charities. The song was written by our drummer Mike Moore's uncle, who is a veteran. He wrote the song six or seven years ago and he thought I would sound great singing it. I was messing around with it and I recorded it. It actually came out pretty good! So the CD is out and we are pretty excited about it!

MICK: "Ready In 10" has been announced as the official band for this year's Marcum Workplace Challenge to be held at Jones Beach State Park on July 26, 2011. What exactly is that?

SAL: Workplace Challenge does events all over the world. Originally, Chase was the sponsor but now Marcum does it now. They get many local businesses and companies on Long Island to compete in a 3.5 mile road race at Jones Beach. They do it every year. At least 10 thousand people compete and it's a really nice event. Our band was asked to play this year. A couple of years ago, I sang the National Anthem at this event which was very cool.

MICK: Speaking of the National Anthem, you were also chosen to sing it at the Long Island Ducks home opener this year! How did that go?

SAL: It was great! A little chilly that night but it was great! They had a nice sized crowd that evening.

MICK: Are you a baseball fan?

SAL: Yes I am! I don't really follow the Ducks that closely but I do go to a few of their games. I'm actually a big Mets fan!

MICK: It seems that the band has a close relationship with the New York Jets. Are you doing anything with the team this year?

SAL: I'm not sure if anyone is is the offices right now because of the strike but I assume we will be doing something with the team. I usually sing one National Anthem a year for the Jets. At the end of the season last year, I wrote a theme song for the team. They seemed to have liked it. I sent it to them two days before they lost their last playoff game. I'm hoping they pay some attention to that this year. The song came out great. It's called "Jets Fans Get Up" and you can actually see it on YouTube.

MICK: How long does it take you to write a song?

SAL: Well, that particular song is kind of cool. We played in Times Square at a Jets rally on the Thursday before that big playoff game. Steve Overmyer, who is the award-winning field reporter for Jets Post Game Live and Jets Nation on SNY, came up to me and told me the Jets needed a song. "I don't know how fast you can write one but if you get me a song as soon as possible, I know the Jets are looking for one". So for the next two days, i kept thinking about it. On Saturday morning, I got! I locked myself in my basement, wrote it in two hours, recorded it, did a little video, and got it over to Steve. He said they really liked it! Then the Jets lost the game to the Steelers so that ended the season. So hopefully this year they pick up on it again!
MICK: You've opened up for some pretty big bands such as the Goo Goo Dolls, Fall Out Boy, Incubus, Poison, and Lifehouse.
What was your most memorable opening show?
SAL: It has to be the first one. We opened for Fall Out Boy. That show wasn't on the big stage at Jones Beach. It was on the concourse stage. The place was packed. People just came rushing over to our stage and that was very cool. That was the first time we played in a venue that size with so many people around that we didn't know.
MICK: Who are your influences musically?
SAL: Personally, I listen to everything. From The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, to basically whatever is on the radio. I listen to 101.9 WXRP. Alternative rock and classic rock. I've always been a big Zeppelin fan.
MICK: What's on the agenda for 2011?
SAL: We are probably going to put out a live CD within the next few months. Things from a few different shows that we've recorded in the last year or so. Hopefully it will be out later this year or early next year. We just want to keep playing a lot. The writing is very important to us but we aren't constantly writing. Mark and I are the main song writers in the band. Mike Elefante, our bass player, writes some of the music as well. We don't pressure ourselves writing so when we get a bunch of songs written, that's when we put out another CD. Right now, we are in the performance mode. We want to tour and play as much as we can. We all love being on stage, playing together and traveling together. We are all great friends! Just play, play, play and hopefully there's a CD in there somewhere too!

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