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Jun 7, 2016

Fabulous Thunderbirds focus on blues

Greenville News

Donna Isbell Walker, [email protected] 11:48 a.m. EDT June 7, 2016

The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson has strong opinions about musical labels.

The singer is happy to hear his music described as rock ’n’ roll, but those last two syllables are the crucial part of the description.

“I don’t use that term ‘rock,’” Wilson said in a recent phone interview. “I don’t use ‘rock.’ If we’re gonna rock the place, that’s different. Yeah, we’ll rock the place. But as a musical term, I don’t use ‘rock.’ We play rock ’n’ roll, yeah, but not rock.”

The Fabulous Thunderbirds, who perform June 16 as part of the Peace Center’s Rock the River series, have been around for more than four decades. The band enjoyed rock-radio hits in the 1980s, thanks to songs like “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up.” But blues is the foundation of its sound.

But over the years, that sound has branched into other directions, as the lineup has shifted, adding and subtracting members and weaving new influences into the music.

“I characterize it as American music, although it’s pretty African,” said Wilson, the band’s co-founder and only remaining original member. “There’s some blues; we do some stuff from the old days too, and a little more R&B these days. Kind of my own version of it. There’s some rock ’n’ roll too. It’s kind of what we’ve always done, but better … The R&B thing is a little more of an addition.”

Blues music has also shifted in recent years, as more of the genre’s originators have died. In Wilson’s view, as blues strays farther from its Delta roots, the art form has become diluted by rockers appropriating and incorporating its various elements.

Even so, Wilson doesn’t view the Fabulous Thunderbirds as carrying the blues torch into the next generation.

“I gave up on that a long time ago. We just do what we like. But as far as standing up on a soapbox and trying to preach to people (about) things that they have no desire to do and they’re not capable of doing, you’re just barking up the wrong tree. So you just do what you like.”

The raw emotion of the the blues is a big part of what draws Wilson to the music again and again. For him, it’s more about feeling than virtuosity, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

“You have to move people. It’s not about, ‘Look what I can do, Mom.’ … I’ve loved this stuff my whole life, so when I get on a bandstand and I’m playing blues, it’s gonna be real.”

It’s been three years since the last Fabulous Thunderbirds album, but that’s about to change. The band’s new album, “Strong Like That,” comes out in August. And fans who come to see the Fabulous Thunderbirds can expect a high-energy, unpredictable performance, Wilson said.

First of all, the band doesn’t use a set list, so there’s a loose, improvisational feel to the shows. And the concert will spotlight songs that span all four decades of the Thunderbirds' career.

“I can doctor the set to each audience that I’m playing for, on the fly. Which is a lot of fun,” Wilson said. “I don’t think I know anybody else who does that, actually. It’s kind of a unique thing. But I love to do it because it makes things very fresh for me.”

YOU CAN GO

What: Rock the River series with the Fabulous Thunderbirds

When: 8 p.m. June 16

Where: Peace Center's TD Stage

How much: $30-$50

For more: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org