The PDB's were formed in the spring of '91 by Dean and guitarist Porterfield. The band's second gig was at Emo's, opening for a little act called Smashing Pumpkins. "That was also the first show I ever got naked and played," says Dean. "At that point, Mike put his boot in my ass. I smashed my head on a table and wasknocked out in a puddle of beer and blood. Then I got back up and played the rest of the songs."

Since that august beginning, Dean has been the only constant in the group; Porterfield has left and returned three times. The current lineup also includes Ruben Dominguez (guitars), Bob Lederer (drums and nominee for the Press's best in that category) and Jamie McGee (bass).

Asked the obvious question where the band got its name Dean credits Happy Willis. "He was a brilliant guy, a genius with a Ph.D. who was working as a waiter in a restaurant I was managing at the time," Dean says. "I asked him why the hell he was working in a place like that, and he said, `Well, at least I'm not some poor dumb bastard who can't do something else.' I thought that was the coolest thing, and if I ever started a band, that's what I would call it." (Bob Ruggiero)

CRITIC'S CHOICE: Song of the Year, "Orpheus Express," by Japanic; Best Metal/Hard Rock, I Am I

BEST BLUES
SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR
Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys

Houston native Carolyn Wonderland isn't sure why her neo-hippie boogie band consistently wins "best blues" awards. "I like to play a little everything," she says. "A lot of the new [songs] have been almost country-sounding, it's kind of strange to say. But then again, there's also some nice pissed-off rock and roll songs in there."

Nonetheless, her intense performance style on vocals, guitar and even the occasional trumpet draws inspiration from what she has absorbed witnessing blues giants perform live: "Like when I heard Etta James the first time, that floored me. Or Roy Buchanan." Combined with a postpunk attitude, those influences and others (including memories of her mom's amateur singing) infuse her performances with a tone of uninhibited expressionism. "Shoot, we have fun," says Wonderland, when pressed for her own classification of just what it is these Imperial Monkeys do.

As for the songwriting, she got started young, forming an elementary school group to perform her own "love songs as written by a ten-year-old." In eight years as an adult pro, she has filled four CDs (most recently 1997's Bursting with Flavor on Justice) with primarily original material. How has she maintained such a prolific pace? "I guess you have to have some life experience to write this stuff, and life's been raining around me." As for categorization, she says: "I know there's some backlash among some folks whenever I win the blues award, when I'm in Houston, Texas, where there are really some living legends, you know, guys that still play all the time." But she also likes to remind her audience, "We can't play just one kind of music because it's like having a bunch of kids or something, and you can't have a favorite kid. You've got to love them all." (R.W.)

CRITIC'S CHOICE: Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Best Blues; Texas Johnny Brown, Songwriter of the Year

BEST RAP/HIP-HOP
I-45

I-45's Tony Avitia is mad!

Avitia, a.k.a. Tripp Von Slipp, is spitting bullets about a mischaracterization that has plagued him ever since he began performing with his rap trio. "I'm Mexican," he says. "I have nothing against white people, but I am Mexican."

It's easy to lump Avitia in with the current crop of wigger rappers. But Avitia, along with band mates Billy Kinnamon (Tech. Ron B.) and Jason Mienelt (DJ Rudy Martinez 2000), have been busting the comparisons with their signature rap style (everybody say it with me: "slip-hop"). Earlier this year, the group struck a deal with Houston's Fuzzgun Records to cut new albums, including its upcoming sophomore release, Lost Between the Lines. "We're excited 'cause it's kinda like Clash of the Titans, you know," says Avitia. "I-45 is getting together with Fuzzgun and taking over."

The boys are looking to play 200 shows next year, including a possible tour of Europe. ("As long as Y2K don't, like, fuck everything up, it's gonna be all right," says Avitia.) With a 67-city tour in process, Avitia and his I-45 crew couldn't be having a better time. "As long as things are progressing in the right direction," he says, "there ain't no reason for me to stop doing this."

As long as Y2K don't, like, fuck everything up. (C.D.L.)

CRITIC'S CHOICE: K-Otix

BEST TRADITIONAL/ ETHNIC
BEST FEMALE VOCALIST (Jennifer Hamel)
Clandestine

The Clandestine experience is typically divided into two parts, according to vocalist Jennifer Hamel. On the one hand, the band plays traditional Irish-Scottish "tunes." On the other, it performs original "songs" and covers by folks such as Utah Phillips and Leon Russell.

Either way, Hamel draws people to the band. She joined the group, her first, five years ago and has been almost an instant attraction since. Things weren't always so: Jennifer's first shot at public singing was trying out for her high school's musical, and she didn't make the cut. But after a year of practicing in her basement, she landed a primary role on her next attempt. Her current success, she says, comes down to "enjoying singing with my band."

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