Bite This!

Sink your teeth into the 1997 Houston Press Music Awards

Best C&W
The Hollisters

It's been almost two years since the Hollisters began work on their debut CD, The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure, with veteran Texas guitarist/producer Rick "Casper" Rawls, and still no date has been set for its release. But things are looking up. The group has finally found a home for its effort on the Austin independent Freedom Records. Those who have paid attention might recall that Freedom is the label responsible for releasing the Hollisters' initial foray into recording -- "Good for the Blues," the group's contribution to Freedom's 1995 Texas roots compilation, True Sounds of the New West. Though that song featured the stylized, bullhorn warble of Mike Barfield and the precise twang of guitar ace Eric "Eddie Dale" Danheim, the band's founding members and its songwriting core, it was a teaser at best, offering only a hint of where the Hollisters -- always a slick, potent and vastly entertaining live act -- might take their staunchly Bakersfieldian honky tonky sound. Minus the popping rhythm section of bassist Denny "Cletus" Blakely and Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick, the tune bore little resemblance to the bulked-up Hollisters sound of today.

You would think that might make Hollister fans ( the number of which seems to be multiplying daily) even more antsy for Rhythm and Pleasure. But grumbling over the CD's slow evolution has been minimal. That may be because, while letting their debut disc age like fine wine, the guys have been playing their hearts out on stages all over Houston. After all, who needs digital audio when the living, breathing item is so readily enjoyable? (H.R.)

Best Cover Band
Toy Subs

Inside the accomplished copycat shell of Toy Subs is a burgeoning originality just waiting to emerge. Indeed, it's already shown itself on "Dr. Bre," the alternately angsty and good-timey single from the band's all-original 1995 CD Vim Fuego. Late last year, the tune -- a radio-friendly confection if there ever was one -- grabbed the attention of the Buzz 107.5/FM, which added the song to its playlist. "Dr. Bre" caught on in other parts of the state as well, further boosting Toy Subs' case for a career beyond the gig-a-night confines of the cover circuit.

But don't expect the Subs to abandon their bread and butter just yet, especially when the bookings continue to pour in. And while they may not be the most technically accomplished in the Dennis Lange cover empire, they certainly have the coolest chemistry -- not to mention the most magnetic group of personalities. (H.R.)

Best Blues
Joe "Guitar" Hughes

On this one, may we say it's about damn time? For the past few years, voters have been dutifully noting Joe Hughes's nickname and handing him the Best Guitarist prize. But somehow those same voters never noticed just what sort of music it was that issued out of his instrument. Well, this year they noticed. When it comes to blues, Hughes is about as real as it gets. Beyond that, he deserves credit for sticking by his hometown while Third Ward pals such as Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland left to hunt down fame and fortune elsewhere. Given how blues historians have ignored the Gulf Coast branch of the form, such loyalty may end up proving detrimental to Hughes's rightful place in legend. At the same time, though, it's virtually sealed his status as a local icon. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's a monster on guitar, his fingers negotiating his ax's neck with the blithe swiftness of a blues-slinger a third his age.

It's interesting to note, then, that Hughes originally had designs on becoming a balladeer, and that it was a discomfort with performing in front of an audience that impelled the young singer to find an instrument to hide behind. Soon enough, that instrument became as much Hughes's calling card as the sophisticated big band blues by which he swears. Though the style has yet to pay notable dividends for Hughes here in the States, it has earned him significant fan support in Europe, where he tours frequently. (H.R.)

Best Rock Venue
The Fabulous Satellite Lounge

With nothing left to prove, the Fabulous Satellite Lounge has, nonetheless, gone about the business of improving its digs and overhauling its image. Renovations have included decorative splashes of fresh paint and psychedelic bubble projections on the interior's concrete walls; a revamped PA system with a spiffy enclosed booth for the soundman; even a brand new martini bar stocked with cigars for the club's Monday lounge night. And just in time for summer, the venue has gussied up its back patio with a bigger bar, more chairs and tables and a tent-style roof to keep out the rain.

But the biggest change afoot at the Satellite has come about gradually, month by month, in its live music schedule. More and more, the club is taking risks, booking younger, hipper acts in the hope of attracting new customers. So far, the strategy seems to be working. One weekend last month saw feisty guitar relic Link Wray and arty, ambient noise pioneers Yo La Tengo draw comparably large crowds on back-to-back nights -- and two more divergent sets of clientele you're not likely to witness often. (H.R.)

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