Sounds Like a Winner!

1996 Houston Press Music Awards

Best tejano/latin
La Mafia

Last year, when the Latin and Tejano categories were combined, La Mafia, the 1994 Tejano winner, failed to place. But we knew it was only a matter of time before voters got around to remembering that a) La Mafia is a Houston act; b) they're hugely popular on a scale that dwarfs their competition; and c) they deserve some hometown applause.

It's been a particularly busy year in an active decade for La Mafia's godfather, Oscar De La Rosa, and his slicked-back gang of strapping banditos. The group fell together in 1980 with modest aspirations. But it wasn't long before word about La Mafia's Spanish-sung, Tex-Mex pop spread below the border, and the band began selling out venues all over Mexico. That success led to more widespread Hispanic appeal at home, and the hits started proliferating on both sides of the Rio Grande. By the late '80s, La Mafia had joined Selena in contemporary Tejano's superstar ranks.

Not surprisingly, Tejano's cultural and language barriers worked against La Mafia in some major ways. It wasn't until the second or third platinum release that a large portion of the Anglo media got wind of the group's formidable presence. Now La Mafia's label, Sony Discos, is working to speed the assimilation process. Un Million de Rosas, the group's latest CD, might as well be subtitled the "Oscar De La Rosa Show," its cover photo and interior shots throwing the spotlight on the band's suave, ballad-crooning leader. The hope is, of course, that this singular focus will give De La Rosa -- if not the band -- a better shot at crossing over. Plans for an English-sung La Mafia release are said to be in the works, which should boost the band's multicultural visibility even further. (H.R.)

Best rock/pop
Hadden Sayers

He may look like the kid that, chronologically, he still pretty much is, but that doesn't mean that Hadden Sayers can't lay claim to being a hardy Houston perennial. From his time with Miss Molly as the Whip with the hottest guitar to his 1994 startup of the Hadden Sayers Band (a group that just happened to be selected as the '94 Best New Act in the Music Awards) to his wins last year and this in the Best Rock/Pop category, Sayers has been a steady force in the local music world.

Not that he's been a particularly steady presence of late; like the Imperial Monkeys, Sayers and crew are making their living on the road these days, and trying to figure out how to translate a monster work ethic into a commercially viable CD. Retrofutura is Sayers' latest attempt, and aside from a title that's unfortunately reminiscent of a particularly noxious Neil Young phase, it's a step forward. When he's in town, he puts on a good show, and he means it. (B.T.)

Best rap/hip-hop
Geto Boys

While West Coast rappers get a wealth of credit for bringing to life the realities of the ghetto, the Geto Boys remain gangsta rap's most credible "other coast" link. And now that Bushwick Bill, Scarface and Willie D have finally settled their personal conflicts and reunited, they're back to being not only credible, but dangerous.

Last year, the Geto Boys returned to form in a big way with their The Resurrection CD, unleashing "The World Is a Ghetto" and other blunt, streetwise anti-epics on the public. They also contributed tracks to the soundtrack of Original Gangstas, a movie in which Bushwick had a small (ahem) role. Lastly, the Boys are capping off their comeback season with this summer's "Resurrection Tour." Plain and simple, the Geto Boys put Houston on the rap map, and recent local success stories such as Crime Boss and Eightball and MJG ought to be able to tell you just what that means. For that little piece of history alone, the Geto Boys deserve this award. On 1991's We Can't Be Stopped, Willie D made this demand: "I've sold a lot of records / And a lot of people know me / So where's my goddamn trophy!"

Here you go. (C.D.L.)

Best guitarist
Joe "Guitar" Hughes

Ladeez and gentlemen, in this corner, nattily attired in a spotlight-grabbing neon-green suit and a Fender with smoke coming off the strings, the undisputed champion of the Best Guitarist category of the Press Music Awards for as long as we've been doing this thing ... Houston's own Joe "Guitar" Hughes!

Since winning this award last year -- adding to the ones he won the year before, and the year before that -- Hughes has released another European-produced album (Texas Guitar Slinger, distributed in the U.S. by Rounder/Bullseye) and made his obligatory annual romp across the festival stages of Europe. In the four decades that he's been making his music, Hughes has proven himself the equal of any picker around. If you've never understood what musicians mean when they say music isn't the notes, it's the spaces, go see Hughes: he can make more music with three notes than lesser talents who fill the same length of time with 30. Opportunities to see Hughes around town are ample; he's a regular at Billy Blues, the Shakespeare Pub, the Big Easy and other fortresses and outposts of the blues. Because the same writer -- an unabashedly partisan fan of Hughes' -- has done this profile for the last three years and doesn't want to repeat himself, he's going to take advantage of this opportunity to tip the fedora to Hughes' manager and wife of 35 years, Willie Mae Hughes, who is as sweet and lovely as she is knowledgeable about music -- and deserves at least some portion of the praises so often directed at her husband. (J.S.)

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