The Fabulous Thunderbirds, James Cotton, Bob Margolin and more join an all-star array saluting Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf at Segerstrom Center for the Arts this week.
Kim Wilson (center) and the Fabulous Thunderbirds will be house band as well as headline.
Anyone hoping to tap into the authentic feel unleashed by blues pioneers Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf doesn’t necessarily need to catch the next flight to Chicago.
The two legendary fathers of that city’s blues will be honored by some beloved musical offspring at a tribute March 13 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
Blues at the Crossroads 2: Muddy & the Wolf, which repeats Saturday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, is no casual affair. The lineup features guitarist Bob Margolin, a longtime member of Waters’ band; harmonica great James Cotton, Muddy’s harp player for a dozen years until embarking on his solo career in 1967; guitarist Jody Williams, who was part of Wolf’s first Chicago-based group; and guitarist Tinsley Ellis, while anchoring the event are perennial favorites the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Kim Wilson, lead singer and harmonica player for the T-Birds, may have been spawned in Austin, Texas, but his long-running outfit’s sound is a true amalgam of Chicago blues, R&B and soul, and early rock ‘n’ roll.
“I’ve known these guys for a long time,” said Wilson of the other artists who will salute Waters (who died in April 1983) and Wolf (who passed in January 1976). He noted that the T-Birds will back up several of the other players, including Cotton and Williams.
“This is way overdue,” he said of the ambitious concert, adding that the posh Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall “is a great place to highlight these talents. I used to see James (Cotton) and Muddy Waters in small clubs. It’s important to see them, period.”
Wilson reminded how so many blues acts are typically relegated to little venues or festival appearances, and the fact that a legend like Cotton, 77, gts to perform in a sterling theater is fitting. Wilson, who has lived in South Orange County since 1994, didn’t have to be asked twice when an invitation came to participate in Costa Mesa.
In addition to functioning as de facto house band and tackling classics from Muddy and the Wolf, the T-Birds also will have a chance to spotlight selections from their forthcoming disc On the Verge, due March 19 from Severn Records.
The record was begun a couple years ago, Wilso explained, but after initial tracking was done on several songs, he didn’t feel like the album would get released. That changed when he was invited by friend David Earl to visit a new studio opened by Severn in Annapolis, Maryland.
“I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” he recalls, “(but) the studio is fantastic, so I went in there.”
Earl, who ultimately co-produced the new album with Wilson, as well as keyboardist Kevin Anker and Steve Gomes, had the band re-record some of those early takes and then cut some new ones. On the Verge will likely surprise casual fans of the T-Birds, best known for ‘80s hits “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up.” The collection of mostly original tunes mines Stax-style soul as much as the Texas roadhouse blues that defined the group’s fundamental work.
“It’s stress-free,” Wilson said of both recording these days and playing shows like Blues at the Crossroads 2. “After all this time, this is a very cool, creative environment.”
Blues at the Crossroads 2: Muddy & the Wolf takes place March 13 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tickets: $29-$79