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The most Fabulous Thunderbirds ever bring blues to Lake Tahoe

Tim Parsons

The Fabulous Thunderbirds had an anomaly. It is a blues band that had two top-10 hits on the contemporary music charts and a half-dozen on the album-oriented rock stations.

While there are millions of blues devotees, the genre rarely captures the mainstream. With the hit songs “Tough Enough” and “Wrap It Up,” The Fabulous Thunderbirds led the genre’s greatest commercial charge in the mid- and late 1980s along with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray.

Since their inception in 1975, The Fabulous Thunderbirds have had different lineups, but two things have remained the same: The band is a collection of all-star players, and it has always been fronted by harmonica player Kim Wilson.

Wilson said the current group is the most fabulous of them all.

“It’s like the first incarnation of the band,” Wilson said. “There are better players across the board.”

Wilson, of course, formed the band with Jimmy Vaughan after moving from Southern California to Austin, Texas. Vaughan left in 1989 to join the band of his brother Stevie, who died in a helicopter crash the next year. Jimmy Vaughan never rejoined the T-Birds, who now feature Kirk Fletcher and Johnny Moeller on guitar.

“We know Jimmy Vaughan is great; there’s no question about that,” Wilson said. “These guitarists were fans of Jimmy Vaughan, and there’s a lot of respect for him. But they’re their own guys, and they’ve always been their own guys, and they have a lot of influences.”

Moeller joined the band in August when Nick Curran left to start a punk-blues group called Deguello.

While the original T-Birds struggled to make the transition from the clubs to the big stage, Fletcher, 32, and Moeller, 37, took to it naturally, Wilson said.

“I really trust this band,” Wilson said. “It is not something that has happened before. I’ve had world class players in the band from the beginning, but there is such a thing as chemistry, and there is such a thing as a complete team player. And these guys really possess that.”

Longtime Austin player Jay Moeller is on drums, and bassist Randy Bermudes joined the band in October, replacing Ronnie James Weber. Wilson, who has always been the band’s primary songwriter, said Bermudes is contributing a couple of songs to the next album, which will have 13 tracks and is expected to be completed by the end of January.

To be a T-Bird, a musician has to be able to improvise. No two shows are the same.

“If it’s not spontaneous then you’re not doing it,” Wilson said. “I do not use a set list — ever. I just call the songs off as I think of them. If I think the crowd want’s to rock a little more, I’ll rock ’em. If I think they want more blues, I’ll give ’em more blues. I might come out with something nobody has heard, even the band.”

The Fabulous Thunderbirds

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 15

Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room

Tickets: $35, plus fees

Call: (800) 786-8208


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