With their fusion of blues, rock & roll, and R&B, the Fabulous Thunderbirds
helped popularize roadhouse Texas blues with a mass audience in the '80s
and, in the process, they helped kick-start a blues revival during the
mid-'80s. During their heyday in the early '80s, they were the most popular
attraction on the blues bar circuit, which eventually led to a breakthrough
to the pop audience in 1986 with their fifth album, Tuff Enuff. The mass
success didn't last too long, and founding member Jimmie Vaughan left in
1990, but the Fabulous Thunderbirds remained one of the most popular blues
concert acts in America during the '90s.
Guitarist Jimmie Vaughan formed the Fabulous Thunderbirds with
vocalist/harpist Kim Wilson in 1974; in addition to Vaughan and Wilson, the
band's original lineup included bassist Keith Ferguson and drummer Mike
Buck. Initially, the group also featured vocalist Lou Ann Barton, but she
left the band shortly after its formation. Within a few years, the
Thunderbirds became the house band for the Austin club Antone's, where they
would play regular sets and support touring blues musicians. By the end of
the decade, they had built a strong fan base, which led to a record contract
with the local Takoma Records.
In 1979, the Fabulous Thunderbirds released their eponymous debut on Takoma.
The record was successful enough to attract the attention of major labels
and Chrysalis signed the band the following year. What's the Word, the
group's second album, was released in 1980 and it was followed in 1981 by
Butt Rockin'. By the time the Thunderbirds recorded their 1982 album T-Bird
Rhythm, drummer Mike Buck was replaced by Fran Christina, a former member of
Roomful of Blues.
Although the Fabulous Thunderbirds had become favorites of fellow musicians
-- they opened shows for the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton -- and had been
critically well-received, their records didn't sell particularly well.
Chrysalis dropped the band following the release of T-Bird Rhythm, leaving
the band without a record contract for four years. While they were in limbo,
they continued to play concerts across the country. During this time,
bassist Keith Ferguson left the band and was replaced by Preston Hubbard,
another former member of Roomful of Blues. In 1985, they finally landed
another record contract, signing with Epic/Associated.
After the deal with Epic/Associated was complete, the T-Birds entered a
London studio and recorded their fifth album with producer Dave Edmunds. The
resulting album, Tuff Enuff, was released in the spring of 1986 and,
unexpectedly, became a major crossover success. The title track was released
as a single and its accompanying video received heavy play on MTV, which
helped the song reach the American Top Ten. The success of the single sent
the album to number 13 on the charts; Tuff Enuff would eventually receive a
platinum record. "Wrap It Up," a cover of an old Sam & Dave song, was the
album's second single and it became a Top Ten album rock track. Later in
1986, the T-Birds won the W.C. Handy Award for best blues band.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds' follow-up to Tuff Enuff, Hot Number, arrived in
the summer of 1987. Initially, the album did fairly well -- peaking at
number 49 on the charts and spawning the Top Ten album rock hit "Stand Back"
-- but it quickly fell off the charts. Furthermore, its slick, radio-ready
sound alienated their hardcore following of blues fans. "Powerful Stuff," a
single from the soundtrack of the Tom Cruise film Cocktail, became a
number-three-album rock hit in the summer of 1988. It was included on the
following year's Powerful Stuff album, which proved to be a major commercial
disappointment -- it only spent seven weeks on the charts.
After the two poorly received follow-ups to Tuff Enuff, Jimmie Vaughan left
the band to play in a duo with his brother, Stevie Ray Vaughan; following
Stevie Ray's death in the summer of 1990, Jimmie pursued a full-time solo
career. The Fabulous Thunderbirds replaced Vaughan with two guitarists, Duke
Robillard and Kid Bangham. The first album from the new lineup, Walk That
Walk, Talk That Talk, appeared in 1991. Following the release of Walk That
Walk, Talk That Talk, Epic/Associated dropped the Fabulous Thunderbirds from
During the early '90s, the Fabulous Thunderbirds were in limbo, as Kim
Wilson recorded a pair of solo albums -- Tigerman (1993) and That's Life
(1994). Wilson re-assembled the band in late 1994 and the band recorded
their ninth album, Roll of the Dice, which was released on Private Music in
1995. Following its release, the band returned to actively touring the
United States. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
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