The Chili Pepper, a dance club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is definitely not the place you would expect to see a band like The Fabulous Thunderbirds. With a huge "mosh pit" in front of the stage and about twenty chairs in the entire building, it is not a place to go and listen to music. Despite the obvious drawbacks to the venue, I was excited about the prospect of seeing The Fabulous Thunderbirds for the first time.
After a short opening set by a local band, Michael Ark & The Repeat Offenders, The Fabulous Thunderbirds took the stage in full force. Since the band's formation in 1974 by Jimmie Vaughan and Kim Wilson, the Fabulous Thunderbirds have continued to bring together elements of blues, rock n' roll and R+B, creating their own special sound. The band has gone through numerous personnel changes over the years, including the loss of Jimmie Vaughan in 1990. Kim Wilson remains as the sole original member of the Thunderbirds, backed in the current version by Kid Ramos on guitar; Gene Taylor on keyboards; and the rhythm section of Willie Campbell and Richard Innes on bass and drums respectively. Wilson has a long history with Ramos, Taylor and Innes as the result of his solo efforts as well.
The band put on an excellent 90+ minute show, focusing on material recorded prior to the most recent release, High Water. Given the fact that Wilson is the only current member of the group on the CD, the absence of these songs during the performance was easily understood and seemingly not important to anyone in attendance.
One of the big surprises of the evening was that Kim Wilson did not play harp on every song. Not that he didn't play a lot, but on the two opening numbers, "Trying So Hard" and "High Time," Wilson only sang. This situation occurred several more times during the evening. On the two opening numbers, and throughout the performance, solos were capably handled by Kid Ramos and Gene Taylor when Wilson was not playing his harp.
Interestingly, one of the local weekly entertainment papers, City Links, reported that Jimmie Vaughan would be performing as a Fabulous Thunderbird at The Chili Pepper. Apparently, the source of this false rumor came out of the fact that Vaughan and The Fabulous Thunderbirds were both appearing (but not together) at a blues festival in Tampa, Florida the day before the Thunderbirds appearance in Ft. Lauderdale. I guess this should be filed under the heading of "It Would Have Been Nice But....."
The show was full of favorites from the Thunderbirds songbook, including "Tuff Enuff," "Wrap It Up," "Rock This Place" and "She's Tuff." But, despite all of the personnel changes, the distinctive sound provided by Wilson's vocals and harmonica, left no doubt that this was a performance by The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Kid Ramos is an excellent guitarist who fits in well with the band and maintains the sound of the band, while Gene Taylor offers some fine keyboard work. Campbell and Innes provide a solid backbeat to complete the Thunderbird's sound.
One of the highlights of the show came near the end when Wilson, backed only by Richard Innes on drums, performed an extended harmonica solo that was a real treat for aspiring harp players and fans of Kim Wilson. Wilson worked up a major sweat during the number and thrilled the crowd with his musical virtuosity.
To the band's credit, they did not perform just one fixed set, leaving the crowd wanting more and giving less. Delightfully, The Fabulous Thunderbirds played not one, but three encores!! The end result was an evening of great music and an audience that went home satisfied.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.