Sounds Like a Winner!

1996 Houston Press Music Awards

"Thanks." (B.T.)

Best drummer
Leesa Harrington

Leesa Harrington has a cool smile, a cool kid and some cool hats of her own. She's an Imperial Monkey, too, which never hurts. She isn't as tightlipped as her bassist bandmate (when she won top honors in this category last year, the first year the category was part of the Music Awards, she allowed that she was happy; she even allowed that she thought it was cool that people would vote for her; and she even modestly allowed that she thought there were other drummers in Houston who were much better than she was -- not that she was going to hand the award over to them), but really, what more can you say once you've let folks know you've drummed for a half-dozen Houston bands over the last few years, have been part of the Imperial Monkeys for close to two and really like banging away at your kit? We're not absolutely positive, but we imagine that about all that's possible is stepping up on the dais, clearing your throat and letting all your emotion emerge unfettered with a passionate:

"Thanks." (B.T.)

Best metal/hard rock
Galactic Cowboys

A nice pat on the back for anything ought to feel pretty comforting to the Galactic Cowboys, whose goose looked to be well-cooked as of last summer. Thoroughly disenchanted with the music industry, the group had all but disintegrated. It was difficult to blame them; they had plenty to be discouraged about.

Circa 1990, the Cowboys appeared ready to make a play for a significant national audience; six years later, they have yet to translate their feverish meld of heavy metal guitars, Fab Four harmonies and often intricate art rock structures into anything more than a rallying point for enthusiastic critics. Even a choice deal with David Geffen's label wasn't enough to get the job done; two Cowboys CDs, Galactic Cowboys and Space in Your Face, met with a flat-line public response before DGC dropped the band. Frustrated, band members began dropping like flies. First to go was guitarist Dane Sonnier; the next was drummer Alan Doss.

Then last June, out of nowhere, a call came from Metal Blade, a California-based label known for nurturing Metallica early on, and the Cowboys were back in business. Doss quickly returned to the fold, while guitar tech Wally Farkas replaced Sonnier. The Cowboys' first Metal Blade CD, Machine Fish, was released this January. Heavy yet heady, catchy yet confounding, it's all the things fans have come to appreciate and expect from the group. With the new disc and the rare club appearance, the Cowboys have reclaimed their local support base (if it ever went away), dislodging dead horse, the band that's had a lock on the Metal/Hard Rock category for the last two years, from the top spot. Their Houston dominance re-established, the Cowboys are now touring with King's X, chasing after a recurring dream of an ever-expanding Galactic universe. (H.R.)

Best New Act
Best C&W
The Hollisters

A funny thing happened to the Hollisters in the process of working their tails off to get established: they've become the city's biggest genre-bending, new-country sensation this side of Jesse Dayton. Here's a band that's as at ease playing to skate-punk crowds at Emo's as they are entertaining the Stetson set at Blanco's. Which just goes to show what sort of pros make up this "new" act. The name and configuration may be fresh, but the Hollisters are far from a band of neophytes. The creative partnership between guitarist Eric "Eddie Dale" Danheim and lead vocalist Mike Barfield began ten years ago, when the two founded Houston nouveau-country favorites the Rounders, an outfit that only hinted at the more satisfying reconciliation of honky-tonk's past and present to come.

For a time, Danheim tried to go after that reconciliation on his own, leaving the Rounders in 1988 to work with Austin acts the Wagoneers and Chaparral. But by the time the Rounders officially disbanded in 1995, Danheim was back with his old mate Barfield and ready to begin anew. The pair found a new rhythm section -- bassist Denny Dale and drummer Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick -- and started from the ground up. The goal was to keep it simple, drawing upon the band members' common affinity for Buck Owens and other purveyors of the Bakersfield sound. For the sake of that simplicity, Danheim would provide the sole electric guitar, while Barfield stuck to vocals, harmonica and his old acoustic. Seasoned from day one, the Hollisters proceeded to pluck and croon for anyone who'd have them.

A year later, that "anyone" has grown to just about everyone, and the Hollisters' fine-tuned bounty of originals is electrifying rooms all over town. With a sound at once rustic and urbane, Barfield and Danheim have finally uncovered the right formula: a classy, roots-reliant approach that can muster up enough immediacy to make country institutions sound clothesline fresh. Infused with Hollisteria, everything old is new again. (H.R.)

Best male vocalist
Mike Barfield

"Naturally, they say I sound like Johnny Cash. Guess it's because I'm a baritone."

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