There’s an accepted code among musicians: Don’t horn in on another band’s gig. This rule is pretty absolute, and even more so if the prospective offender is already a known douchebag. My friend Tom “Clump” Clifford has been in bands most of his life; He’s fronted The Thangs, The Mistreaters, and currently King Soul, playing rockabilly and blues to R&B from New Orleans to Austin to Washington, D.C. He’s a fantastic dude. Eddie Mahoney was born in Long Island, NY, obnoxiously changed his surname to Money, and sang the seriously lame late-‘70’s song ‘Two Tickets To Paradise.’ He’s a tremendous doosh (spelling intentional). One night many years ago Clump, along with a bunch of his friends, was at the landmark uptown New Orleans music club Jimmy’s, to see one of his (and my) favorite bands, Texas blues and roots powerhouse The Fabulous Thunderbirds. It was late in the Thunderbirds set and…in the door struts Eddie Money (apparently after concluding his own earlier show outside the French Quarter). Mere minutes later, Money broke the code: He hopped up on stage, commandeered a microphone, pulled out a harmonica, and began accompanying co-founders Jimmie Vaughan, Kim Wilson, and the great T-Birds band (quite badly, to boot).
When the show ended shortly thereafter, Clump made his way to the bathroom. After having relieved himself of some fine local Dixie beer, he was ready to return to his group when the bathroom door swung open and, still strutting, in came Money. At which point Clump quickly sized the situation up, and the following brief but opportune exchange took place:
Clump: Hey, rock star (Money doesn’t turn yet). Yeah you, rock star. How long you been playing that thing?
Money (coolly): Oh, don’t worry about it.
Clump: No really, how long you been playing that thing?
Money (with attitude): Don’t worry, a long time. Long time.
Clump: Well I’ve been playing it a pretty short time and I’m a fuck of a lot better than you.
Clump bumped the dumbfounded Money as he walked out the door, and if he had been holding a mic he would’ve dropped it. Take that to paradise, you douchebag.
As for the Thunderbirds, well they were named right, they’re fabulous. At least in their prime. The first four years / four albums – “The Fabulous Thunderbirds” (1979), “What’s The Word” (1980), “Butt Rockin’” (1981), and “T-Bird Rhythm” (1982) – were as good as any band I know. When they made “Tuff Enuff” for a new label in 1986 it was still very good, but they’d taken their shot at mainstream success and it was the beginning of the decline. Jimmie Vaughan left the band in 1990 (he was working on a duo album, “Family Style,” with younger brother Stevie Ray, when the latter died in a helicopter crash that year), and the Thunderbirds have carried on since for nearly another 3 decades – up to the present – with a rotating cast of able bluesmen. But it’s just not the same as those early years.
Here’s one from those years, the steamrolling ‘My Babe’ off of “T-Bird Rhythm,” dominated by Jimmie on guitar. Vocalist Kim Wilson, despite also being one of the preeminent harmonica players of the era – he was influenced and tutored by blues legends such as Little Walter, Slim Harpo, and James Cotton – unfortunately does not break out his harp on this tune. Then again, thank goodness, neither does that giant doosh, Eddie Money.
And finally, for some real Thunderbirds harp playing…