Silt concert series opens with The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Arts and Entertainment Contributor
SILT — When Kim Wilson, founding member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, looks back at his near-lifetime career of playing music, he remembers Estonia.
“We played in front of 140,000 people,” he said. “The stage alone held 40,000. I think it was a record stage at the time.”
Wilson said he and the Grammy-nominated blues rock band played the once Soviet-occupied country before and after the Communist collapse.
“I remember it was raining and there was a huge mud pit and people were covered completely in mud,” Wilson said.
In the last 45 years he has been playing professionally, Wilson has been open to change when it comes to his music. He first learned to play the trombone and guitar at nine. He opted for football in high school, and even earned a scholarship to play in college. But at 17, despite an initial bad reaction from his father, Wilson’s love for playing the harmonica prevailed.
“I started playing the music and that was it for me,” he said. “I think my mom supported it, but my dad wasn’t real crazy about it. Once they saw me on Johnny Carson, they were fine with it.”
Growing up in California as a child, Wilson said his father had been a singer.
“He used to sing with Danny Thomas on the radio,” he said. “But it’s hard to be an entertainer, you know? My dad, he had to go to work and support his family. Everything was about us. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a nice house, and we didn’t go hungry.”
Wilson’s father was intent on instilling that hard-working American Dream ethic in his teenaged son.
“I remember my dad gave me this car that had been wrecked by someone while it was parked,” he said. “He told me if I could fix it I could drive it. Back then cars were made out of steel. I envy someone who can fix their own cars.”
From 17, Wilson went on to build a career — what he calls a job — spanning more than four decades making music, playing live worldwide and getting nominated for Grammys.
“To me, I have a job, not a career. My job is not the music,” he said. “My job is getting there, to the place where we play. The music is just pure pleasure.”
Early on while playing the harmonica and writing songs, Wilson met Muddy Waters, who became his close friend and mentor. He also looked to the blues musicians who blazed trails in the genre for his generation.
“Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Albert Collins — these were the guys who invented this music,” he said. “I play all kinds of American music, but I’ve been a blues guy since the get-go.”
Wilson helped form The Fabulous Thunderbirds in Austin, Texas, in 1974. The band got its start at the famous Antone’s club in the live music capital of the world, with Wilson singing and playing the harmonica, Jimmie Vaughan — brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan — on guitar, Keith Ferguson on bass and Mike Buck on drums. Twelve years later, the band was all the rage on latenight talk shows and MTV, playing breakthrough hits for a new crowd of screaming fans. The 1986 hits, “Wrap It Up,” which reached No. 50 in the Billboard Hot 100, and “Tuff Enuff,” that peaked at No. 10, helped the band experience Top 40 hit status.
“I was young then, and I didn’t think we were that famous,” Wilson said. “That all has to do with people’s perception. But we were on MTV when MTV played music.”
The Fabulous Thunderbirds members have come and gone over the years, but Wilson remains a constant as he continues to write songs that the band plays throughout the U.S. and internationally. Current band members Johnny and Jay Moeller, Mike Keller, and Randy Bermudes join Wilson on the road most of the year when they aren’t in the studio recording. This year, the band is touring in support of its new album, “On the Verge.”
“The band is fantastic. These guys have been hearing me play since their moms were coming to see me,” Wilson said. “They used to be so young they’d sneak into our shows. I don’t pick them until they’re ripe.”
The Fabulous Thunderbirds played the historic Wheeler Opera House in Aspen for the first time Thursday. The band continues its “On the Verge” tour through Colorado on their way home by opening the Silt Stoney Ridge Pavilion summer concert series. The show opens with Western Slope rocker Ralph Dinosaur at 6 p.m., with The Fabulous Thunderbirds starting at 8 p.m.
The Stoney Ridge Pavilion is located on Seventh Street, north of Richards Avenue.
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