The Fabulous Thunderbirds are still cruising—musically and literally. Still going strong with their fiery R&B, they've become regulars on big-business "blues cruises" alongside Taj Mahal, Ike Turner and Irma Thomas. They just returned from one in Norway, and they hit the high seas again in January.
"It's like The Blues: Disneyland," says T-Birds bassist Ronnie James Weber. "Not your typical blue hair kind of cruise." The biggest worry, Weber adds, is running out of beer. The first Legendary Blues Cruise in 1992 stopped at every port to stock up.
Between cruises last year, The Thunderbirds put out Painted On, their best effort since 1986's definitive Tuff Enuff. Like an unholy alliance of Z. Z. Top, the Stones and the Legendary Blues Band, Painted On is the type of stuff that the Birds once used to fill stadiums. Produced by Los Lobos collaborator Steve Berlin, it's a celebration mixing jet-fueled honky-tonk with Memphis-style soul.
"Us younger guys were influenced by those early ones," says Weber of the original T-Birds, founded in 1974 by Stevie Ray Vaughan's brother Jimmy. Frontman Kim Wilson is now the sole original member. "We wanted to bring some of that back, and Kim wanted to do more of that soul thing that he's been doing ever since the Tuff Enuff record, so it's a good mix."
Keep the engines roaring.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds play The ArtsCenter in Carrboro on Sunday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $36.