YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Out & About / Ventura County | pop scene

Still Blues After All These Years

Kim Wilson talks about his long career with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.


Once again the organizers of this weekend's California Strawberry Festival in Oxnard have a handle on the soundtrack, as they offer a liberal mixture of local acts playing original music--plus some cover bands and even famous rock stars.

Among the locals, those rocking Realtors in Acadiana will do their cajun/zydeco dance show, while Euphoria and Papa-Nata will try to get dancers moving. The greatest country band in the area, Caught Red-Handed, will inspire the pointy shoe crowd, and there are plenty of cover bands that will play that same old song one more time.

Also on the nonstop weekend bill are Los Lobos, the Grammy-winning rockers out of East L.A. For blues fans, the event offers a group named for a cool car you can't afford, the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

The T-Birds have been around for 25 years, having scored with such hits as "Tuff Enuff" and "Wrap It Up." While frontman Kim Wilson is the last original member of the band, the T-Birds still have a veteran lineup with Kid Ramos on guitar, Gene Taylor on keyboards, Willie Campbell on bass and Richard Innes hitting the drums.

Wilson was a teenager living in Goleta when he took up singing and playing the harmonica. Since touring musicians were always playing in nearby Isla Vista, Wilson was able to see many of his idols, including Bobby Bland, B.B. King and Muddy Waters. Wilson headed for Minneapolis to play the blues, then ended up in Austin, Texas, where he hooked up with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan and then started the T-Birds in 1974. Their self-titled debut five years later is a classic.

Over the years, Wilson has become a master of his craft, and no less a talent than Muddy Waters called Wilson his favorite singer and harmonica player--which is never a bad item on the old resume. These days, Wilson is back in California, trading Laguna Niguel for Goleta, and the band is still cruising along. The T-Birds will perform Saturday afternoon at the Strawberry Festival. Wilson recently discussed the latest.

Are things still fabulous after 25 years?

We're doing pretty darn good, and we can't really complain about anything. And, yes, sometimes it is fabulous.

How many T-Birds albums are there?

I don't know--that's one for "Jeopardy." The last one was "High Water" from about two years ago, and the next one might be a live thing from the Internet.

So how did you get the blues living in Goleta?

I got exposed to it early, and there were a lot of people coming through town at the time. People wanted to see that stuff then, so I was able to see a lot of these guys firsthand. And I was real lucky when I started because I actually got to play with a lot of these guys. Man, it was like living a dream. I have definitely enjoyed my career.

What was the scene like in Austin in the 1970s?

It was pretty wide open and there wasn't any law. You could do pretty much anything you wanted and that's exactly what we did. Now I'm back in California and I think the scene here is the best blues scene anywhere.

What about the scene in Laguna Niguel?

No, they rock in rocking chairs there.

Has the T-Birds' music changed over the years?

It's pretty much the same plan we had in the beginning, but we're getting back to basics. I used to say we were a blues band that played rock 'n' roll, and now we're a rock 'n' roll band that plays blues.

Is blues getting bigger, smaller or staying the same?

People have a different idea what the blues are all about, and in a sense, it's getting much smaller. There's too many white people that have their own idea of what the blues are. There's only three or four of the old guys left like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, so there's not enough of them to have a blues festival. You can't have the same three or four guys over and over.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

Well, my advice is to learn how to play and don't put out a CD until you're ready. Get into music for the long haul and get deep into it. It's nice to make money at a young age, but sometime you're going to have to learn how to play. We're all just journeymen musicians--that's what we're here for, and we're just now becoming respectable. I'd like to think I learned from the best, the real inventors of American music.


The 17th annual Strawberry Festival, 3250 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard, Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Music on Saturday: Euphoria (10:30 a.m.), Uncle Monkey (10:45 a.m.), Bob Malone (11:50 a.m.), Blowin' Smoke (12:10 p.m.), Acadiana (1:10 p.m.), Starship (2 p.m.), The Long Run (2:30 p.m.), The Fabulous Thunderbirds (3:45 p.m.) and Bob's Yer Uncle (3:50 p.m.). Music on Sunday: Chocolatin (10:30 a.m.), Garrett Wilkins & the Parrot Heads (11 a.m.), Caught Red-Handed (11:50 a.m.), Otis Day & the Knights (12:30 p.m.), Teresa Russell & Cocobilli (1:10 p.m.), the Association (2 p.m.), Batista (2:30 p.m.), Los Lobos (3:30 p.m.) and Papa-Nata (3:50 p.m.). $9 general, $5 ages 5-12, free 4 and under. (888) 288-9242.



Los Angeles Times Articles