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Unlucky Winners

Is there a Houston Press Music Award jinx?

A recent Sports Illustrated story explored the "cover jinx" legend. According to long-running myth, those who grace that mag's cover are soon headed for a fall. Senior SI writer Alexander Wolff, evidently a man with plenty of time on his hands, conducted a six-month investigation of SI's 2,456 covers dating back to 1954 and concluded that 37 percent of the time the cover subjects came to grief within two weeks of their cover story.

Evidence of the jinx abounds on the mag's Web site. On the very next Monday Night Footballbroadcast after Howard Cosell posed for SI's cameras, the arrogant commentator made the infamous "look at that little monkey go" comment that destroyed his career. The University of Texas seems especially prone to this curse. UT's Ricky Williams appeared on the cover on November 16, 1998; his next game saw his Texas Tech namesake outrush him in a Red Raider upset victory. Twice in the 1970s the Longhorns appeared on the cover of SI. They were 21-0 and poised for national championships in the two seasons preceding their photo shoots and 0-2 for the two weeks after, losing to the dreaded Notre Dame Fighting Irish both times by a combined score of 52-21.

A similar investigation is necessary here at the Houston Press. It seems that those who win big in our Music Awards can expect something bad to happen to either their band or themselves almost immediately. Racket's approximately six-minute traipse through our archives came to a conclusion much the same as -- though infinitely less precise than -- SI's Wolff.

It seems that a hell of a lot of the time, bands that win a Press Music Award either leave Houston, break up, lose their record deal or worse. Labels that win the award are almost guaranteed to founder.

Take 2001, for example. Last year's big winners were South Park Mexican and Japanic, who between them took home six awards, including Best Local Musician (SPM) and Album of the Year (Japanic's Social Disease). Six months later, SPM has a plateful of troubles that could see him in the Graybar Hilton for the rest of his natural life. Japanic merely broke up.

Yes, that's right. Japanic is no more. As a farewell posting on the band's Web site (www.japanic.blogspot.com) dated January 16 reads: "Optimists beware! The rats jumping off this sinking ship sprung leaks…After three years and more than 100 shows the japanic epidemic endemic to houston can be declared over. We had civic pride and pimpled chads. We buttered our bread with boomtime cheer and did a bunch of stuff along the way. Scoop the press and tell your friends. Get a record while you still can, they're almost out of press."

"It had just run its course, and everyone had different ideas about how it should move ahead," says Brandon Davis, Japanic's erstwhile guitarist. "It wasn't really a unified thing anymore." Davis then composes a somewhat muddled yet Zen-like epitaph for many an almost famous band. "The more we were able to do, everybody wanted to do more in different directions, whereas before, whatever we were able to do was what we did."

Davis ponders a moment and then wonders aloud. "Geez, I'm talking in circles here. I sound like that guy on Mystery Men."

So Japanic is now splintered into many bands. Davis has a new group called the Magnum. Drummer Rob Barry and synth man Josh Smith, according to Davis, "are planning a new band with this guy Derek." Vocalist Tex Kerschen, who was in Russia at press time and thus unavailable for comment, has been playing the keys in the Fever as well as working on another project called Nikki Texas. Margeaux Cigainero, who left Japanic in December, is in a band with Rusted Shut drummer Domokos Benczedi called Japanix 2.

Just another band breaking up, or victims of a jinx? You decide. In addition to Japanic and SPM, the Red Cat Jazz Café, last year's winner for Best Jazz Venue, had a bad 2001. Business there plummeted mostly because of the never-ending downtown road projects.

Going back further, Blue October won our Best Rock/Pop category in 2000. The blurb that followed was full of good news; the Houston band had just signed with mega-label Universal. They lost the deal within a year. Los Skarnales took home the Best Horn/Horn Section award in 2000. Soon thereafter they fired the horn section. Best Cover Band Texas Guinness Lovers broke up very soon thereafter, if not even before, the announcement of their win.

In 1999, I-45 won Best Hip-hop, and they soon took I-10 out of town for L.A. and haven't been heard from since. Mark May won Local Musician of the Year; now he's no longer local. Broken Note Records won Best Local Label. Now they're gone, as is Justice Records, a multiple mid-'90s winner.

Carolyn Wonderland, the Hollisters and Jesse Dayton won awards by the barrelful in the mid-'90s, and now they're all in Austin. Do any of these ingrates ever stick around after we vote them Musician of the Year? (Well, at least one has: Jug O' Lightnin' drummer and Imperial Monkey bass player Chris King won the award once.)

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