Austin developed into a hotbed of Texas blues during the 1970s. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a major factor in its rise, but no more so than the Fabulous Thunderbirds, featuring Stevie's older brother Jimmie Vaughan on guitar and harpist/vocalist Kim Wilson. During their early years, the T-Birds were purists, digging their collective teeth into vintage Excello and other blues gems that only serious aficionados were aware of and conjuring up similar pungent originals.
Born January 6, 1951 in Detroit, Wilson grew up in Goleta, California and started wailing on harp at 17, enthralled by George ‘Harmonica' Smith, Lazy Lester, Little Walter, and James Cotton. Wilson ended up in Austin, where he met Vaughan (born in Dallas on March 20, 1951) and formed the T-Birds in 1974 with bassist Keith Ferguson and drummer Mike Buck. ‘Girls Go Wild,' their first Takoma/Chrysalis LP in ‘79, and their 1980 encore ‘What's The Word?' were largely dedicated to highly atmospheric (and high-energy) southern blues, Vaughan's uncommonly crisp, concise guitar work and Wilson's fat-toned harp excursions strongly to the fore. Fran Christina replaced Buck on drums in 1980, and the T-Birds stayed in the same basic groove with ‘Butt Rockin'' in '81 and ‘T-Bird Rhythm' the next year before taking a four-year studio hiatus. Preston Hubbard supplanted Ferguson on bass.
When the quartet returned to recording action in 1986 on the major CBS Associated imprint, producer Dave Edmunds imparted more of a contemporary rock tinge to the T-Birds' sound, though blues remained their bedrock. Tuff Enuff, the rip-roaring title track of that first CBS album, was penned by Wilson and shot the T-Birds straight into the stratosphere, sailing to #10 pop as a single that spring (the album itself went platinum and maxed out at #13). The set also held their next hit, a remake of Sam & Dave's pulsating Wrap It Up.
Vaughan exited the T-Birds in 1989 to form a duo with his brother Stevie Ray, but after releasing the album ‘Family Style,' Stevie Ray died in a 1990 helicopter crash. Since then, Vaughan has piloted a solo career. Wilson has kept the T-Birds alive with a series of guitar slingers: Duke Robillard, Kid Bangham, Kid Ramos, Nick Curran, Kirk Fletcher and Jon Moeller—and a fairly fluid rhythm section.