Sounds Like a Winner!

1996 Houston Press Music Awards

As for being the best at what they do ... well, that's when guitarist Tom Potter dons his humble hat, mentions fellow members of the local zydeco community that he holds in high regard and talks about how the Gulf Coast's most endearing and infectious folk music hasn't even touched its commercial potential yet. Still, the Dots can take more credit than most for moving zydeco out of the Houston neighborhoods that were built by Louisiana natives and into clubs that had never dreamed an accordion-based band could pack the house. (J.S.)

Best cover band
Toy Subs

Toy Subs' charismatic frontman Jamie Jahan is likely to be both pleased and a little frustrated with this repeat win. Sure, it's swell that his slick, moneymaking machine continues to purr like a kitten six years after its inception. Still, Jahan and the rest of Toy Subs might have felt more aesthetically fulfilled had their all-original Shed, a project closer to their hearts (and further from their bank accounts), received the same voter attention as its bread-winning Richmond Strip alter-ego. Shed has released a pair of CDs funded largely with earnings from Toy Subs gigs, and has been working overtime to find an audience. But alas, on this year's Music Awards ballot, the group wasn't even a write-in.

As it is now, Toy Subs are suffering through the all-too-common cover band dilemma: they'd rather be artists than impersonators, but they've made more financial headway doing the latter. (And as any artist will admit, it's difficult to create with an empty wallet.) Make no mistake, Toy Subs are a remarkably efficient, often inspired, outfit, and if you go by the numbers, they're far and away the best party in town. Playing someone else's tunes may not be Toy Subs' idea of a respectable living, but damned if it hasn't earned them some respect -- and a living. (H.R.)

Best pianist/keyboardist
Ezra Charles

Sweet justice returns to the Ezra Charles camp. Apparently, the demon spirit of Jerry Lee has been called up to right the wrongs of last year, when Charles was excluded from the Music Awards ballot by a gaggle of unappreciative nominators. But this year he was back on the ballot, and sure enough, he ended up a winner. Whether you credit Charles' success to paranormal activity or to (more likely) a remarkably effective ability to get out the vote, a victory's a victory, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

This could be the beginning of a barnstorming year for Houston's ivory-tinkling, party-blues savior. He's got a brand-new CD, Drive Time, which he plans on shopping to national labels. And he's still hauling his piano and his band, the Works, all over the Gulf Coast as their sphere of influence continues to spread. As for Charles' fervent, key-pounding technique, it's as sharp as ever, his fingers as finely conditioned for endurance as his free-standing coif.

In '96, it appears Ezra is unstoppable, and the proof is now in print: Houston's finest piano man of '96. If you're still skeptical, Charles would be more than happy to show you a video documentary of his life. (H.R.)

Best reggae/world beat
Beat Temple

Beat Temple's roots are more homegrown than international, so imagine our surprise when the group was chosen winner in the Reggae/World Beat category, defeating more globally authentic favorites such as Wazobia and D.R.U.M. To be sure, far stranger things have happened in Music Awards history, but this odd little coup is definitely deserving of mention. We could have sworn that Beat Temple was a funk band and, when the occasion warrants, a hearty, retro jam band.

Maybe the "beat" in Beat Temple's name swayed voters. Who knows? Who cares? This multiracial quintet has certainly stuck its neck out far enough lately to be recognized for something. Last July, Beat Temple released the strong-willed and potent Hands of Mercy CD, which brought to an impressive close a lengthy musical evolution -- and my, how things have evolved. When Beat Temple's founding members -- guitarist Gary Wade, singer Ralz Mathias and bassist Carl Jones -- came together in 1986 as Western Eyes, the ideas that took shape were more along the lines of Prince and Patti LaBelle. By 1990, they'd changed their name to Beat Temple, and the aggressive edge they'd applied to their sound was jibing perfectly with the Chili Peppers-ignited funk-punk movement of the period. In '91, Beat Temple made the finals in a national music search. But despite a number of proposals from hungry labels, they came out of the experience with handshakes, false promises and little else.

Hard lessons learned, Beat Temple went about fleshing out their sound to the soulful, positive experience it is today -- Sly Stone's earth-toned grit set soaring by Earth Wind and Fire's breezy "love rules" optimism. Perhaps most central to Beat Temple's staying happy and sane is the band's sense of take-it-as-it-comes realism. They're making music by and for themselves, and doing it at an easy, enjoyable pace. (H.R.)

Best female vocalist
Miss Molly

Another year, another honor. For some artists who win these prizes like clockwork every year, the whole thing can get a little tiresome. And that's why Miss Molly remains a cut above the rest: not only does she keep winning Press Music Awards, but she never shows any signs of lapsing into babble when she considers that her fans are more than eager to keep crowding her mantel with trophies. That's one of the things we like most about Ms. Elswick, who has won Best Female Vocalist four times in the past five years. Her well-greased business machine is running like clockwork, she has plans to head into the studio this fall to dish out a follow-up to 1994's In the Garden and, in between, she's gigging on the roadhouse circuit like crazy.

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