By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
It's funny, but the septuagenarian Brown didn't even start officially singing the blues until Clinton was in office. Sure, Brown had been in demand from the late 1940s through the early 1960s on stage and in the studio before he quit the biz to take a steady day gig as a forklift driver. But that was as an instrumentalist. It was only after he "retired" and formed a band in 1992 that he stepped up to the mike and began belting out blues in his baritone. "I never sang, but I always could," he says. "I caught a lot of people by surprise. And I only really started because I would hire [singers] who would come to the gig and not know the songs or be late, so I got tired of putting up with it."
Texas Johnny Brown released his long-delayed blues debut CD in 1998, the well-received Nothin' But the Truth. He hopes to have his sophomore effort out by the end of September, just as soon as he can finish tinkering with the horn sections. He took time out to play the HPMA 2000 showcase, whose diverse lineup of acts reminded Brown of "the old package shows, the kind I used to play a long time ago at places like the Apollo Theatre."
When asked what makes great blues vocals, Texas Johnny Brown says it's simple. "All you need is a good blues feeling. It's when you actually feel what you're doing. It just gets up inside of you, and you want to express yourself. Just let it go. That's what I say. Just let it go." -- B.R.
Critic's choice: Best Blues: Jimmy "T-99" Nelson; Best Male Vocalist: Heath Spencer Philip
Well, it has officially become a tradition around this time of year. After winning this category six times, Cactus (which must've been remodeling the year it didn't win) has once again snatched the Pressy. "It's always a thrill to be recognized for our commitment to local and regional music," says general manager Quinn Bishop. It's fitting that as the store approaches its silver anniversary -- yes, kids, it was around when your parents were young, broke and sexually irresponsible -- the famed audio and video shop is still held in the highest regard, more so than those other flashy retailers. "For us, in particular, we just try to be the music lover's store," says Bishop. "At the heart of our business is that we're community-oriented, and that certainly includes the Houston music community." Giving love to local CDs is what the folks at Cactus consider their biggest strength. New CDs from Britney or 'N Sync share prime floor space with works from South Park Mexican or Sisters Morales. "We try to be as nurturing of that as we possibly can," Quinn says, "and provide an avenue of sales for local artists where they are positioned next to whatever the hottest national act is." -- C.D.L.
Critic's choice: Chemistry Records
How darn modest. Carolyn Wonderland is genuinely surprised at winning this award, and figures her victory has more to do with her playing in a band that plays out "all the time" than it does with her actual vocal talents. "I'm not the best singer in town," she says, "but it's still nice. I mean, some of the other people in the category, like Gloria Edwards and Diunna Greenleaf, I couldn't hold a candle to. I'm just happy to get to play the awards show again. That was fun last year." -- C.S.
Critic's choice: Diunna Greenleaf
Occupying the space formerly known as Cody's, the old jazz club that has been closed for several years, Scott Gertner's Skybar is a refurbished version of the defunct Montrose nightclub, and in 15 months it has knocked off Sambuca for this award. Boasting two terraces and one of the best views of the Houston skyline -- okay, even though there are no great views of Houston -- the Skybar is filled with atmosphere and a touch of chic. "[The club] had always been appropriate for the type of jazz and contemporary R&B that has gone in the venue," says Gertner, owner, jazz master and the guy whose name is in the title.
A few nights each week, vocalist/guitarist Gertner and the house band offer smooth jazz/soft R&B, but it's not all about him. Working with national and regional acts, Gertner recently instituted Mondays as Big Band Night and Thursdays as Latin Jazz Night. (And, of course, he has the occasional ladies' night.) The Skybar is one of the few places to host first-tier national jazz artists. In the past year, Chick Corea, Bob James, Acoustic Alchemy, Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria all graced the Skybar's bandstand. Gertner also plans to pull in some top-ranked straight-ahead talent. Between his band, the local groups and the national acts, Gertner is slowly developing a schedule that adds another dimension to the Houston jazz scene. "I'm just trying to find quality entertainment," he says. "I know that people will follow [them] to come into the venue." So far, Gertner's plan is working. -- P.J.M.
Critic's choice: Cézanne