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?
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?
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!