Their first two albums, released in 1979 and 1980 with Keith Ferguson on bass guitar and Mike Buck on drums, initially sold poorly, but are now regarded as successful blues recordings. The Thunderbirds' blues style mixed Texas blues with the harmonica laced swamp blues sounds of Slim Harpo and Lazy Lester — both of whom the Thunderbirds covered. The band's third album, Butt-Rockin', released in 1981, took the band closer to old rhythm and blues and added additional musicians playing piano and brass.
Although the Fabulous Thunderbirds had become favorites of fellow musicians — opening shows for the likes of The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton — and had been critically well-received, the band's records did not sell particularly well. Chrysalis dropped the band following the release of T-Bird Rhythm, leaving the band without a contract for four years. While still in limbo, the Fabulous Thunderbirds continued to play concerts across the U.S.. During this time, bassist Keith Ferguson left the band and was replaced by Preston Hubbard, a former member of Roomful of Blues. In 1985, the band finally landed another recording contract with Epic/Associated.
The single, "Tuff Enuff" was featured in the 1986 film Gung Ho. It was also featured in the film Tough Guys, as was the follow-up single "Wrap It Up". "Tuff Enuff" remains as the band's only Top 10 hit, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band's music was also used in the 1987 movie, Hot Pursuit. The Fabulous Thunderbirds' next album, Hot Number, fell off the charts quickly. But following that, their recording of Powerful Stuff was a success, based in part upon its inclusion in the 1988 film Cocktail. The band then embarked on a long series of line-up changes and albums throughout the 1990s.
Jimmie Vaughan left the band to play in a duo with his brother Stevie Ray Vaughan; following Stevie Ray's death in 1990, Jimmie pursued a full-time solo career. The Fabulous Thunderbirds replaced Vaughan with two guitarists, Duke Robillard and Kid Bangham.
In the early 1990s, Kim Wilson recorded a pair of solo albums while continuing to tour with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. In 1994, the band recorded a ninth album, Roll of the Dice, which was released on Private Music in 1995. High Water followed in 1997. On the evening of February 16th, 2000, The Fabulous Thunderbirds made history, becoming the first band ever to be broadcast on the internet using high-definition cameras. The companion DVD, Invitation Only, is one of the first high-resolution multi-track recordings of a live concert event. The companion CD Live! was released in 2001.
The band recorded Painted On in 2005, produced by Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos) and featuring Rachel Nagy of The Detroit Cobras on the track Love Speaks Louder Than Words. Guitarist Nick Curran joined Wilson on vocals for Two Time Fool.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds have maintained an intense touring schedule throughout the United States and Europe since the early 1990s. The band will be returning to Europe again during the spring and summer of 2008, and will also perform at many blues festivals throughout the U.S.